New York Times
By Josh Barro
February 10, 2016
Donald Trump’s rise from joke candidate to likely Republican nominee surprised all the supposed experts, including me. But 2,000 miles from Washington, in the southwestern American desert, we should have seen an early warning.
In Arizona, there was a sign that Republican voters could be drawn to a candidate who combines anger and flexibility, who is a hard-liner on immigration and a moderate on government spending.
Remember Jan Brewer, governor of Arizona from 2009 to 2015? If you don’t live in Arizona, you probably know her for two things: signing Senate Bill 1070, the controversial immigration enforcement law that was partly struck down by the Supreme Court, and wagging her finger at President Obama on an airport tarmac.
You might not know that while Ms. Brewer outraged the left, she also angered the conservative establishment by breaking with small-government orthodoxy. The same Governor Brewer who wanted immigrants to show their papers to any police officer with “reasonable suspicion” also sought a temporary sales tax increase to close a budget gap and for Arizona to accept the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. She won both fights over loud objections from the right.
Long before Mr. Trump began his campaign, Ms. Brewer seemed to understand that Republican voters and conservative elites don’t necessarily care about the same issues. A Republican candidate can thrive while taking an unorthodox approach on taxes and spending if he or she also addresses Republican voters’ outrage over unauthorized immigration and their dislike for President Obama.
“Voters want somebody that can solve the problems and can do it effectively and do it right,” she said in a recent interview. “They just don’t want somebody that says ‘no, no, no.’ ”
National Review, the conservative magazine that devoted an issue last month to anti-Trump arguments, attacked Ms. Brewer in 2013 as “exemplifying that unfortunately common strain of Republican leadership that is uncompromising in rhetoric but opportunistic in reality.” It’s a sentence that could easily have been written about Mr. Trump.
They were writing about Ms. Brewer’s choice to urge her state’s legislature to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. At the time, other Republican governors were turning down the federally funded benefit on their residents’ behalf, thinking that refusals would undermine the health law. That approach did not strike Ms. Brewer as pragmatic.
“Although I didn’t support Obamacare, I support taking care of the poor,” she said. “I was able to bring those millions of dollars into the state. If we didn’t take them, they would go to someplace else.”
There’s something very Trumpian about this approach: You argue your side, sometimes acrimoniously, but you don’t turn down a good deal, even with your sworn opponent.
So she twisted arms — hard — to get the expansion through a resistant, Republican-controlled legislature. She declared that she would veto any budget that did not expand Medicaid, then threatened that she would veto all bills the legislature sent her until it expanded Medicaid. She followed through on the threat, and eventually enough Republicans acquiesced.
Before the Medicaid issue, Ms. Brewer alienated national Republicans by seeking a sales tax increase. In 2010, the anti-tax activist Grover Norquist called Ms. Brewer a “lousy governor” who used immigration politics as part of a “clever strategy to get people to focus on something other than her billion-dollar tax increase.” Again, it was a preview of establishment complaints about Mr. Trump, who combines a hard-line position on immigration with moderate stances on several economic issues.
Ms. Brewer defended her fiscal choices, and noted that voters had sided with her. “I never thought in my worst nightmare I’d go out and ask people to vote for a tax increase, but I knew I had to be pragmatic,” she said. Voters passed it in 2010 with 64 percent of the vote, over the objections of conservatives, including Senator John McCain and Jon Kyl, then Arizona’s other senator.
Ms. Brewer’s tax apostasy fueled support for a primary challenge from the state treasurer, who was competitive with her in early polls. But the fight over the immigration law consolidated Governor Brewer’s support among conservative voters and he ended his campaign; she was easily renominated and re-elected.
Mr. Trump has promised not to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid because he’ll “make us so rich” we won’t have to — not an encouraging message for a conservative establishment that has long sought entitlement reform. And it’s not a message that seems to have hurt him at all with actual Republican voters.
Given their political similarities, you will not be surprised to learn that Ms. Brewer is a fan of Mr. Trump, whom she calls a “truth-teller.” (I asked if he’s telling the truth when he says he’ll get Mexico to pay for a border wall, and she said, “Maybe he’s got a way.”)
The secret with Mr. Trump is not so much that he tells the truth as that he tells the “truth.” He gives voice to ideas held by many Republican voters that have been suppressed by Republican candidates because they’re not shared by Republican elites. Some of these ideas are moderate and some are extreme; some are valid and some are odious. But they are all popular in a Republican primary.
There is a reason that Ms. Brewer won her primary and that the former House majority leader Eric Cantor lost his. It should have been a warning that Mr. Trump would be far more appealing than establishment elites thought he would be.
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