Three months have passed since America’s last election cycle concluded, and political media is turning its attention to the 2024 presidential primary. Pundits are speculating on the usual flurry of questions about who will eventually run on the Republican side, when they might announce, and who can beat the Democrat nominee — among myriad others. But hanging quietly and almost unnoticed over all the speculation and palace intrigue is a deadly serious, Damoclean question without a clear answer: who among them is actually capable of securing the future of legitimate representative government in the United States?
I began publicly posing the question four years ago, and it is now even more pressing now than it was then. Is there anyone on the right’s political bench right now who could effectively reverse the trajectory of our entrenched administrative state and the myriad bureaucratic fiefdoms contained within it? Who among them can credibly counter the power of our permanent government and reverse over a century of its momentum and growth?
Some may worry that we are engaged in a real-life historical enactment of the end of the Roman civilization. Given the entrenchment of our administrative bureaucracy, one could more plausibly argue that our future is Byzantine. It seems far more likely that, rather than collapsing, the shells of our institutions will continue to rule us ever more totally by means of faceless functionaries. Americans routinely and unironically now ask who is actually in charge of the federal government. We are living in the era of the unaccountable “rule of nobody,” to borrow a term from Philip K. Howard’s prescient book.
Representative government in America may not be past the point of political salvation. The experiment that began with our nation’s founding may not be over. But, after decades of presidents and Congress ceding their vested powers away, we cannot afford to whistle past the graveyard assuming that “the pendulum will swing back” and restoration and renewal will soon arrive via the ballot box.
In other words, regardless of who the next Republican president is — should Republicans manage to win another presidential election — we must openly discuss whether or not any of the current candidates could actually take on the deep state and win. This is the fundamental question the American right should be debating right now, and we owe it to ourselves and children to ask it frankly.
Nor is it a “radical” question. It is the obvious question that arises from any objective observation of the cold, hard political reality of decades of living memory. Richard Nixon won election by the largest margin in American history and not only failed to implement his planned reform of the administrative state but was forced to resign in disgrace.
Ronald Reagan came into power famously vowing, among other things, to eradicate the recently-created Department of Education while it was still in its infancy. He won against Jimmy Carter, but the Department of Education survived him and has survived every Republican administration since while growing in size, scope, and stature in Washington, D.C.
For the “crime” of merely assuming the office of the Presidency, Donald Trump’s surprise of the Washington establishment resulted in a deep state backlash that dogged and hamstrung him throughout his four-year tenure. Not only is the FBI that initially targeted him — and which now likes to target concerned parents and pro-life activists — still intact and wholly unreformed. It was just rewarded for all of its trouble with funding for a shiny new headquarters in the $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill Congress passed in December.
Given this history, and given the landscape of our current reality, we should not be too quick to place our hopes in princes or politics. America has already been effectively refounded, the very structure of our regime bent into the shape of the administrative state, and as I wrote three years ago “We are in need of statesmanship of the highest order to re-found it again.” Congress has long since become a mere creature of that administrative state, whose growth continues at a substantial clip, enjoying reinforcement from the rest of our elites in law, media, popular culture, finance, and elsewhere.
Certainly, the moral and prudential duty to make the best of things can, or, at least, to make things as least bad as possible, always remains. But to do this, we have to take accurate stock of where things are. To those outside of our self-deluded “expert classes,” it is becoming increasingly apparent to all that our current troubles are rooted in something far deeper than a mere lack of political will to change them — and that prevailing, older notions of how power is arranged in this country are wishful thinking.
If true republican government can still be pulled back from our permanent bureaucratic morass, we cannot afford to delude ourselves that such a thing is a certainty. If we indeed find that it cannot, then we need to wake up and start thinking, talking and acting like it. Yet the question remains. Which candidate can answer it? What is their plan? What is the realistic path to actual victory?
And what if neither Donald Trump nor Ron DeSantis can save you?
Matthew Peterson is the Co-Founder of New Founding Org and President of the American Firebrand PAC. He can be reached on Twitter @DocMPJ.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.