Tell me if you have heard this before: A First Term Conservative Government unveils its first Budget, aiming big cuts at Education, Healthcare, and including other conservative wishlist items and leaving States with the bill. The budget is wildly unpopular as the Conservative Government breaks several key campaign promises with the Budget, yet the Government presses on regardless.
One could easily point to the US and the current Trump Administration’s first budget as the answer to this. But there is another answer I will accept: The First Budget of Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. The Budget he released in 2014 was an unmitigated disaster for the party. From the move to shift health cost to the patient through higher GP fees to slashing Science and education funds, cutting retirement funds, cutting international aid, and raising the budgets for customs and anti-immigration efforts the Abbott Government sought to distinguish itself from the previous Labor administrations in order to show a bold, new conservative era.
It failed miserably.
With the Australian Senate controlled not by Mr. Abbott’s Coalition, but by small and independent parties. He blithely ran into a chainsaw of opposition and tried to strong armed his way into passing the budget. Using bluster and threats of losing their jobs, The measures themselves were highly unpopular by many people and the Abbott Government faced fierce criticism from doctors, teachers, scientists, and others across the Australian public. Still, he stuck to his plans, and pushed as much as he could through the Senate. It lead to a budget hole of billions and lead to a very meager second budget and later, an internal coup which saw Mr. Abbott usurped from the position and replaced with moderate Malcolm Turnbull. The government was barely re-elected (1 vote majority) and is currently looking at major loses in the next election, whenever that happens.
It sounds familiar doesn’t it.
It sometimes feel that people like the *idea* of Conservative Governments, but they don’t like what they actually do once they are in power. As we are seeing in the US, the first major piece of Trump Administration legislation, the AHCA, designed to repeal and replace the ACA aka Obamacare, sit at 17% approval rating. And further, only 6% strongly approve of it. Nonetheless, the Trump Administration is putting a lot of force behind the bill as up to 5 dozen lawmakers hem and haw on whether to support the bill in the House. It seems to me that the GOP would do well in stopping and listening rather than thickheadedly try and force this bill through.
The Abbott Government was similarly blind to the public mood. When he was the Opposition leader, he excelled at attacking his opponents and using slogans to undercut the opposition. When he became Prime Minister however, he couldn’t actually govern, blaming the Labor party for everything that was going wrong with his administration. Each failure emboldened his critics from both the opposition, and within his own party. That first budget was began Mr. Abbott’s downfall as leader.
This is a crucial moment for the Trump Administration, if the AHCA fails in the House, this threatens Mr. Trump’s entire agenda moving forward. With the cloud of investigation hanging over the Administration, they desperately need a win somewhere to gain any sense of momentum. Mr Trump’s budget faces similar roadblocks, and while the GOP has a history targeting certain programs and departments (NEA, Dept. of Education, etc), they face massive resistance whenever they attempt to follow through on their promises. With that in mind, I suspect more GOP members will stand up to Trump despite his tantrums, and when that happens, then we will see the GOP take a collective step in pushing Trump out when they can’t take more of him (or the law catches up with him.)
The other side of Tony Abbott was the “soft” side of being a leader of the country. Almost daily he would say some weird, stupid remark, do something strange like eating a raw onion with skin, dodging the media, avoiding interviews, and when he did an interview, he painted a glowing picture of his administration and the will of the people to adopt his policies, all the while blaming his opponents for everything. Each week, it was some other blunder that Mr. Abbott had done to derail his governments media and government goals. He was often wildly out of touch with the realities of Australians, and even before his term was up, his own party turned against him. He was Prime Minister just shy of 2 years, but his actions still reverberate through the Australian economy and through politics.
Trump would be wise to look at Mr. Abbott’s failed Prime Ministership as a cautionary tale, however, I suspect that Trump rarely reads history that doesn’t involve him. In watching Trump, I see more and more the unbridled wish to just “change things” into what he wants. I saw it with Abbott as well as he tried again and again to push his brand of conservatism that the rest of the country did not want.
When Tony Abbott was elected, I called him “Australian’s George W Bush,” but in reality he was just the forerunner to Donald Trump.We should have been better prepared.