The Unbearable Opportunity Cost of Trumpism

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy during a press conference after the passage of the Lower Energy Costs Act on Thursday March 30, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Matt McClain/Washington Post/Getty Images)

Just before noon on March 30, the GOP-led House passed H.R. 1, the Lower Energy Costs Act. The bill would end some restrictions on the import and export of oil and natural gas, prevent the president from banning fracking, streamline permitting processes, and implement other measures to lower energy costs while improving transparency and accountability from the federal government. It’s smart policy and politics, and polling suggests it’s a good decision. While “climate change” doesn’t rank high on voters’ lists of concerns, inflation does. The bill addresses inflation and pocketbook issues in tangible ways by reducing the cost of energy, which affects the costs of everything. 

For about seven hours, the GOP was in a great place. 

Then, at 7:15 p.m., Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Braggs’ office tweeted a statement announcing his indictment of former President Donald Trump. While a majority of Republican members would have preferred to keep talking about H.R. 1, too many regressed into reflexively defending Trump.

In economics, this tension is called “opportunity cost” or, more precisely, “the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.” If you spend too much on a car you might not have enough savings for college, and so on. This principle applies not just to money but to time and attention too. When political communicators use terms like “bandwidth” or something “sucking the oxygen out of the room” they’re really talking about opportunity cost. Anyone who has worked in politics knows that when the media is obsessed with X, you have to work harder to get people to focus on Y. And among GOP leaders, not just the Republican base, there is a widespread and willful blindness to the costs and tradeoffs of defending Trump. 

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