COVID-19 and . . . 2024?


Charles Fain Lehman has written an assessment for the Washington Free Beacon of the policy divide among congressional Republicans on how best to confront the economic dimension of the coronavirus outbreak. He argues that the debate maps at least partly onto pre-existing political struggles within the Republican Party, pitting those open to greater government intervention, such as senators Mitt Romney, Tom Cotton, and Josh Hawley, against more “libertarian”-leaning members.

This is true, to some extent. One can quibble somewhat with certain aspects of this analyis, however. Certainly, libertarians might resent being stuck with Senator Lindsay Graham as their ostensible philosophical representative. And when a policy expert at a think-tank Lehman describes as libertarian-leaning helps design the plan of one of the supposedly anti-libertarian members, one wonders how severe and serious the distinctions his assessment focuses on are, at least amid coronavirus. (Even if Samuel Hammond isn’t exactly a libertarian.)

There’s something meaningful to the fact that no one in Congress is really arguing for the federal government to do nothing, which is not what most libertarians would be on board with now anyway. Instead, they’re arguing over the best way to increase government involvement. This is an extraordinary crisis. Government does often grow in such times in ways that linger afterward. But we have no way of knowing at this time if the attitudes and policies that emerge now will carry on into the future (or if they should). Right now, we don’t even know what’s going to happen next week.

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Or in 2024. Yet Lehman writes:

Cotton, Hawley, and Rubio are all considered potential contenders for the 2024 Republican presidential primary. A successful run by any of them could shift the balance of power in the party away from its more libertarian, business-oriented wing and into the hands of the nascent populist, worker-focused tendency awakened by, among other things, the electoral success of President Donald Trump.

Whether this framing is correct or not, the amount of things we know for certain is, at this time, incredibly low. We don’t know what Congress is going to do, whether America will successfully limit the spread of coronavirus, or how it will impact the 2020 election (or if it even will). Lehman may be right that politics isn’t stopping completely during this extraordinary event, even if its singular nature suggests caution regarding its utility as a reference point for politics beyond. But whatever happens, speculating about the 2024 presidential primary seems genuinely impossible right now.

Jack Butler is an associate editor at National Review Online.

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