Rep. Chris Stewart says Democrats’ ‘socialist’ agenda would bankrupt nation, destroy freedom — and help reelect Donald Trump

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart in a 2018 photo. He attacked Democratic-proposed socialist programs such as Medicare for all on Tuesday, saying they would bankrupt the nation and destroy freedom.

Rep. Chris Stewart said Tuesday that socialist proposals pushed by many Democratic presidential candidates would bankrupt America and destroy its freedom — and may give President Donald Trump a better chance at reelection than his bombastic style might otherwise allow.

The Utah Republican also said the parts of the free enterprise system that are broken are where socialism has intruded — such as “corporate welfare,” which he calls “crony capitalism,” where government subsidies, tax breaks or rules give some firms unfair advantages.

The growing free enterprise vs. socialism debate between Republicans and Democrats “is a choice between an imperfect system with enormous benefits and abject failure,” Stewart said in a speech at the Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank in Salt Lake City.

He said proposals such as “Medicare for all,” the “Green New Deal,” forgiving student debt and free higher education all take away freedom for some people. “You can’t accomplish any of that without compulsion,” including perhaps doing away with private health insurance, requiring electric cars or forcing people who did not go to college to pay for those who do.

He said such programs are so expensive that even doubling taxes would not pay for them and warned the cost would bankrupt the country and destroy millions of jobs.

Stewart said when he was a young Air Force pilot in the 1980s and ‘90s, “I expected we might fight the Communists-Socialists in the Fulda Gap in Germany. I did not think we would be fighting that idea in Congress in my own country, but we truly are.”

He complained, for example, that when Trump told Congress that America will never be a socialist country, “almost every one of my Democratic colleagues sat on their hands. They would not clap for that idea.”

(Doug Mills | The New York Times via AP Pool file photo ) President Donald Trump gives his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Feb. 5, 2019.

Stewart said Democrats pushing socialist ideas may end up reelecting Trump.

“His demeanor would in normal circumstances make it hard for him to be reelected,” said Stewart, who during the 2016 campaign called Trump “our Mussolini" — months later saying it was a joke — but who since Trump’s election has been among his staunchest supporters.

“He probably would not have been elected were it not for Hillary Clinton. She was just a bad candidate,” he added. “My Democratic friends and colleagues may choose someone who gives him that same argument and advocate for policies that most Americans just won’t accept.”

Stewart said history has shown that socialism “is an absolute fantasy,” and it has failed whenever a country tries to implement it — which he said is at least 78 times. “Socialism always leads to misery and oppression and pain for people.” He said free enterprise elevates them.

Some people are responding favorably to socialist proposals “out of a compassionate heart” to help the poor, Stewart said. “To be fair, we need to recognize they are not being nefarious or evil intended.”

He said America “has blessed so many people’s lives with our generosity,” but “no nation can do that if they are broke” — and insisted that the proposed programs would bankrupt the nation.

Utah House Democratic leader Brian King, in a panel discussion after Stewart’s speech, said, “The fact is that every one of us [is] deeply engaged in capitalism and socialism every day. ... This is a mixed economy that we have in this country.”

(Chris Detrick | Tribune file photo) Rep. Brian King (D-Salt Lake City) on Jan. 30, 2018.

The Salt Lake City Democrat said an example of socialism is a local water system “that was provided through a communal socialist effort that we together as Utah and Salt Lake City residents said we want to have a water system that is clean, that is cheap, that is readily accessible.”

King said Americans do not face a choice between capitalism and socialism, but how aspects of each are used and blended.

“Rest assured that there are two worlds that we need to integrate,” he said. “We want the best of both worlds. ... Let’s talk about things that work and make sense.”

King said Republicans and Democrats both are suspicious of concentrating power — Republicans don’t like it in government, and Democrats don’t like economic concentration among the top 1 percent.

“The reality is both Republicans and Democrats have a point,” he said. But “wisely utilized government power” can “bring to pass a lot of things that will really bring benefits in people’s lives.”