Is This the End of the GOP?
Today was another disappointing day in American politics. For most of us, it was just another Tuesday; kids had to go to school, parents had to go to work, errands completed and bills paid. By now, you may be one of the lucky ones finally sitting down to dinner or a night of TV. For political junkies like me, you are trying to get your head around everything that happened in Washington, D.C. today. It started with a Twitter fight between the senior Senator from Tennessee (Bob Corker) and the President of the United States and ended (well, the day is not over quite yet) with the junior Arizona Senator’s (Jeff Flake) announcement that he was not running for re-election in 2018. He gave an impassioned speech on the Senate floor citing the coarseness of the political debate and the President’s bad behavior and poor leadership as reasons for his decision. I would suggest watching it.
Senator Flake got a lot right in his speech today, but of course, it should have been given 18 months ago. Progressive political analysts are currently giving credit to Flake and Corker, applauding them both for speaking out (finally), but once again making the mistake that today’s declarations will somehow trigger an avalanche of Trump rebukes by other GOP leaders. That somehow, these admonishments will make a difference. Regretfully, I have made that same error. N
What did Flake get wrong?
We cannot undo past mistakes, but it would behoove all of us to recognize the root cause of this national nightmare. I have made this point repeatedly: Trump did not just “happen.” Nor was his election the result of “bad candidates last fall.” The core issue is that the Republican electorate (or a majority of it) has rejected the Republican Party’s policy prescriptions. The Republican Party base has rejected the conservative and libertarian agenda that has usurped the entire GOP. This took decades, but the GOP’s platform today is diametrically opposed to the electorate. I liken the current situation to an attempt to herd cats. The GOP establishment knows where it wants to go, but the cats – the voters – are not interested in what their leadership is selling.
Trumpism has overtaken the Republican Party. This is obvious to everyone. Extremism, Islamaphobia, homophobia, xenophobia, and nationalism has infected the base. Republican voters are only interested in small government when it means cuts to programs that other people use. The base wanted a repeal and replace of Obamacare, but became enraged when it was clear that the GOP establishment’s “plan” was to decrease spending, eliminate Medicaid and force them to pay more for their own policies. “Repeal and replace” was supposed to take away benefits from “others,” not the Republican base.
It has become increasingly clear that the Republican base, whatever the coalition, does not agree with their leaders positions on major policy issues. Ask Republican voters (the base) how they feel about corporate tax rates, regulation, and climate change. But you have to be specific. The House has voted to repeal Dodd-Frank, the banking regulation that was passed after the financial crisis of 2008, but the Senate has yet to take it up. Dodd-Frank was a massive bill meant to prevent the same risky behavior that led to the cataclysmic financial disaster that hurt so many American families. Ask a Republican voter if they agree with repealing those regulations. Ask them if they want Wall Street to have unfettered freedom to leverage their firms’ assets to the extent that they are unable to cover losses. Ask them if they agree with dialing back consumer protections that are currently in place. Do not tell them that they were passed under the Obama Administration but rather, that they were invoked to protect middle America from the impact of global financial collapse.
Further, ask a Republican voter how they feel about the environment and whether they agree with gutting the Environmental Protection Agency and any regulation meant to protect the planet. (I would suggest that you ask them in front of their kids or grandkids. Something tells me you will get a different answer). You probably know a Trump voter and an establishment Republican. Did they cast their vote last November to allow the coal industry to dump toxic waste into rivers and streams? What about spending billions of dollars to prop up the coal industry while scaling back incentives for alternative energy development. Lastly, if you are a Republican and voted that way last November, did you do so with the understanding that the bulk of the tax cuts would go to the top 1%? Did you vote for trickle-down economics? Or how about a repeal of a “death tax” for estates worth over $11 million dollars.
Or how about this: did your Republican friends or relatives vote for candidates (including the President) realize that they were voting for a party that would condone Nazi’s and other white supremacists? Did they know that the President and all those who continue to enable him, would declare that some of the white supremacists in Charlottesville were “fine people?” If the answer to this is yes, then we have even bigger problems.
I hope that a good portion of respondents would answer “no” to all of these questions. To be fair, you would need to be clear about the specific regulations and their impact that Trump has so proudly rolled back. You cannot simply provide anecdotes, rather facts about Republican policies and Trump’s executive actions. Anecdotal evidence does not win us any converts. But it is always good to remind Republicans that the establishment is:
- In bed with the fossil fuel industry
- Ideologically opposed to regulation (all regulation), regardless of the public good
Let them draw their own conclusions.
So what did Flake get wrong? That the fundamental root cause of the current GOP dysfunction is that the party base is not in line with the establishment’s platform. The GOP base, or enough of it, disagree with their leadership’s position on trade, taxes, regulation, the environment, and of course immigration. And it would seem that they have a misunderstanding of America’s role in the world and the importance of global leadership.
The Republican coalition cannot survive this disconnect and from where I sit (on my couch, typing away in Connecticut), the party has chosen not to evaluate its positions on any of these issues. The Republican majority is intent on pleasing its donors and ideological warriors. As a result, the Senate is blindly approving Trump appointees who are clearly unprepared and unqualified for the jobs to which they have been appointed. Worse, the rampant corruption discovered in the first nine months of the Trump Administration is significant. No one seems to care. And no – Democrats have not and would not do the same.
What do we do?
I do not know. I am completely at a loss and frankly, worried. The President is on a path toward war with North Korea. The Republicans in Congress are desperate for tax cuts which they truly believe will promote economic growth. It does not matter if all the evidence points to the contrary. The establishment is hell-bent on remaining ideologically pure. Cutting corporate tax rates, by itself, will not result in economic growth. It will result in preferred stockholders getting richer. Empty promises of jobs and wage increases will be masked by an already improving economy. Eventually, the world will crash again after the repealed regulations fail to prevent another financial catastrophe.
But even if Congressional Republicans wanted to have a backbone, I am unsure that a pushback would have the desired result. It might just result in more “Trumps” getting elected. Kelly Ward is running for Jeff Flake’s Arizona Senate seat. Check out her bio. She is not just conservative; rather, she is right in line with Trump. She is probably more dangerous because she knows “how a bill becomes a law.” And then there is Roy Moore, the Alabama judge who will very likely be that state’s next senator. All you need to do is Google and you will realize he has no business sitting the United States Senate. And yet, the GOP has embraced his candidacy and is helping him raise money. Roy Moore, the judge who has been removed from the bench twice for failing to follow federal law has the support of the Republican National Committee and thus, the Republican establishment. Roy Moore, the man who believes homosexuality should be criminalized and Muslims should be thrown out of office. Roy Moore believes that his interpretation of “God’s Law” is superior to the United States Constitution. We definitely should spend time arguing about that in the United States Senate, given that anything that this guy might do would be rebuked as unconstitutional. Good move GOP.
No doubt, the Democratic Party has issues. You will get no argument from me. But the interparty disagreements that we have right now are nothing compared to the Republicans. Dems are disagreeing on how to incorporate single-payer into the Obamacare markets. State parties are clamoring for new and more progressive leadership. Some minority party members are upset that Hispanics and/or black women, etc are not fully represented in party leadership. All of these are legitimate issues and indicative of an evolving party apparatus. But there is no civil war and the Democratic Party is not in revolt.
Jeff Flake’s retirement from the Senate is not the story. Bob Corker’s Twitter fight with the President, while humorous, is not the story. The story is the absolute breakdown of a major political party and the continued enablement of a disastrous presidency which could very well be a national security threat larger and more dangerous than ISIS. The Republican Party is living day by day in hopes of getting tax cuts passed so that incumbents have a chance at reelection in 2018. It is about maintaining their majority. The story is whether we will pass on the democratic traditions and norms that we inherited from previous generations.
When history is written, the Republican Party, Trumpism, and Trump supporters will not be viewed as American heroes. They will not fall into the same category as Teddy Roosevelt, General Eisenhower or Ronald Reagan. I pray that a negative historic portrayal is the worst case scenario. I fear that it could be much more disastrous.