American Independents


Word is that former Virginia Senator Jim Webb will be dropping out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, and may consider an independent run for the office.

So far, the Sharf Curse remains intact.  My first two choices for the Republicans were Rick Perry and Scott Walker, so far the only two Republicans to give up their runs.  On the Democratic side, Webb seemed to be the only sane one running.  Although he was well to the left of me on economic policy, he seemed well-grounded on social issues, and was the only Democrat who was remotely connected to the real world when it comes to foreign policy.

I wasn’t the only one who noticed that Webb seemed to be on the wrong stage, and wished that the RNC and DNC general managers could get together and arrange a trade for Trump.

Given that, it’s not surprising that many Republicans are reacting favorably to the idea of Webb running as an independent, particularly as the idea grows that Trump might be the nominee.  (I myself remain serenely unconcerned about that possibility, for much the same reason that I don’t trouble myself over the prospect of a Sharf Administration.)  The reasoning goes that Webb, as a basically reasonable guy, would be able to work with the Republicans on foreign and, to some extent, social policy, and with the Democrats on economic policy.

In some ways, it’s an appealing thought, but it’s not going to happen.

For one thing, Webb can’t possibly get elected.  Even in this day of reduced party organizations, they can still mobilize ground support and GOTV efforts like no other.  It also doesn’t appear that Webb would have the support of any of the independent organizations (the Koch brothers’ AFP, or the Silicon Valley data-mining enterprises).

Even if he were to win, he would find himself without party support in Congress. This might not matter so much during normal times, and if the take-away for the parties from an independent being elected president were that people were tired of drama, we might get back to normal times.

But I don’t think that’s in the cards, with Nancy Pelosi in the House and Chuck Schumer leading the Democrats in the Senate.  There might be a honeymoon of sorts, and it might even last a while.  And for things like Supreme Court nominations, one could even argue that without a partisan target, the parties might be more willing to look at the merits of a nominee.  Personally, I think they’d be even more focused on outcomes rather than background and temperament.

Moreover, President Webb would have no party base of support to fall back on when things get rough.  To do so would be to risk becoming captive to one party or the other in Congress.  Either party would extract a steep price for going to the mat for him and expending political capital on his behalf during a difficult fight.

All of which points to an even more ominous development that a Webb presidency would portend – the extension of executive power even beyond its current, bloated form.

Think about it.  In foreign policy, the executive has primacy.  Webb is more likely to have Republican support for whatever his foreign policy looks like in practice, so they’re not likely to try to clobber him over that the way the Dems did to Reagan over Iran-Contra, or George W. Bush over the Iraq War.  Moreover, Republicans, barring outright catastrophic decisions like those we’ve been seeing since 2013, tend to be gunshy about undercutting the executive in this arena.

What they’re likely to have a problem with is Webb’s domestic policies.  While those policies are unlikely to resemble Obama’s aggressive, transform-the-country-into-Venezuela-cum-Norway approach, they’d still be his own, not Congress’s.

And the power dynamic hasn’t changed.  The executive branch still has broad regulatory authority that acts like legislative power, and Webb would likely, after a year or so of failed cat-wrangling of his own, likely find the temptation to use them to their fullest to be irresistible.

The Senate Democrats are practiced at running interference for liberal executive overreach.  The Republicans will be tempted to do to the same for things like changes to the EPA’s range of authority.  And Webb would have little incentive to seek legislation that would structually revert power back to Congress from the executive or back to the states from Washington.

So while a Webb Administration might provide some sanity and stability, it could probably only do so by entrenching the means for further lawlessness and chaos down the road.