[While this is basically about the upcoming presidential election in the United States, it does include a lot about New Zealand, so I am also posting it here, too.]
Some members of #NeverTrump are now ripping on House Speaker Paul Ryan. Even though Speaker Ryan has publicly criticized Donald Trump’s appalling complaints about the judge in the Trump University case and is working hard to develop a detailed House Republican program representing real Republican principles, Speaker Ryan has said he will vote for Mr. Trump and that puts him beyond the pale for many #NeverTrump-ers. George Will, for one, did it in his column on Monday.1
I certainly understand Mr. Will’s views on Donald Trump, and I will not be voting for Mr. Trump myself. However, that does not mean I am going to accuse Speaker Ryan of, in effect, selling his soul to the devil (whether the Faust version or “Damn Yankees”). It is easy for columnists like Mr. Will (or bloggers like me) to act morally superior to politicians like Speaker Ryan for the choices they have to make. It’s easy to say #NeverTrump when it won’t affect your life or what you are trying to do in it. But for people such as Paul Ryan, who are in the battle and see some potential to actually do something good at some point, it is not so easy. And it is not for me to criticize the difficult choices they have to make – especially because it is sometimes not so easy to know which decision today will turn out to be the best one ten or fifteen years down the road. Let me give an example. From New Zealand (of course).
In 1984, Prime Minister Muldoon called a snap election, and the opposition Labour Party won. But instead of following what many people would consider traditional left-wing economic policies, the Labour government, under the influence of Finance Minister Roger Douglas, passed some of the most radical, free-market, laissez faire economic reforms in the world.
While the Labour government pursued a strong anti-nuclear, left-oriented foreign policy, domestically its policy was contrary to many traditional Labour policies. The question was: what should traditional Labour members of parliament do in that situation. Most of them, including Helen Clark, who was first elected to the New Zealand parliament in 1981, went along. Ms. Clark, for example, even served as a minister in the Labour government from 1987 to 1990. A few, like Jim Anderton, another member of Parliament, who was first elected in 1984, rebelled. In May of 1989, Mr. Anderton quit the Labour Party to found the NewLabour Party. He felt he had to do it to fight for and protect traditional Labour Party principles.
So what happened to those who swallowed their objections and stayed in the Labour Party, versus those who felt that remaining true to their principles required them to leave?
First, some more background: In 1990, the National Party won the election. National won re-election in 1993. By 1996, New Zealand adopted a form of proportional representation, and National was able to form a coalition government with other parties.
On the other side, Jim Anderton’s NewLabour Party turned into the Alliance, and in 1999, it joined in a coalition to form a center-left government with the Labour Party – now led by Helen Clark and pursuing more traditional Labour principles. Over the next decade, the Alliance slowly became a party of one person, Jim Anderton, while Helen Clark led the Labour Party to nine years in government. By compromising here and holding her nose there, Helen Clark had been able wait out those who were taking the Labour Party in what was, in her opinion, the wrong direction. She took over as leader of Labour in 1993 and won three consecutive three-year terms starting in 1999.
Then, after Labour was defeated in 2008, Helen Clark became head of the United Nations Development Programme, the third highest position in the UN. Now, she is running to be Secretary General of the UN.
In the late 1980s, Jim Anderton felt his principles required him to leave the Labour Part. Helen Clark felt she could do more by staying and working to return the Labour Party to its more traditional principles.
While no situation is ever a perfect example for another situation,2 this story may give us an idea of what Paul Ryan is trying to accomplish. And it may, hopefully, give those on the sidelines a little more humility before they condemn him for making a decision that they don’t have to make.
1 I am sure lots of others are doing it, too, but Mr. Will’s column is a good enough sample that there is no need to search out others.
2 I am certainly not trying to say that anybody thinks Roger Douglas, or “Rogernomics,” as his program became known in New Zealand, was as bad as Donald Trump (I actually thought the program was pretty good), though comments at the time by some people were pretty negative.