Tuesday, August 1, 2017

GOP's past, present, and future

Paul Waldman of the Washington Post reminds us of the GOP our parents knew and voted for - at least mine did.

It’s remarkable to consider that there was a time not too long ago when the Grand Old Party was known for being serious, sober, a little boring, but above all, responsible. They were conservative in the traditional sense: wanting to conserve what they thought was good and fearful of rapid change. You might not have agreed with them, but there were limits to the damage they could do …

Here I feature various thoughts about what the GOP used to be, what it is now, and what it might be in the future - if it survives at all.

The GOP past

NY Times columnist Paul Krugman asks Who Ate Republicans’ Brains? (h/t Sherry Moreau). Snippets follow.

When the tweeter-in-chief castigated Senate Republicans as “total quitters” for failing to repeal the Affordable Care Act, he couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, they showed zombie-like relentlessness in their determination to take health care away from millions of Americans, shambling forward despite devastating analyses by the Congressional Budget Office, denunciations of their plans by every major medical group, and overwhelming public disapproval.

So where did this zombie horde come from? Who ate Republicans’ brains?

As many people have pointed out, when it came to health care Republicans were basically caught in their own web of lies. They fought against the idea of universal coverage, then denounced the Affordable Care Act for failing to cover enough people; they made “skin in the game,” i.e., high out-of-pocket costs, the centerpiece of their health care ideology, then denounced the act for high deductibles. When they finally got their chance at repeal, the contrast between what they had promised and their actual proposals produced widespread and justified public revulsion.

But the stark dishonesty of the Republican jihad against Obamacare itself demands an explanation. For it went well beyond normal political spin: for seven years a whole party kept insisting that black was white and up was down.

And that kind of behavior doesn’t come out of nowhere. The Republican health care debacle was the culmination of a process of intellectual and moral deterioration that began four decades ago, at the very dawn of modern movement conservatism — that is, during the very era anti-Trump conservatives now point to as the golden age of conservative thought.

A key moment came in the 1970s, when Irving Kristol, the godfather of neoconservatism, embraced supply-side economics — the claim, refuted by all available evidence and experience, that tax cuts pay for themselves by boosting economic growth. Writing years later, he actually boasted about valuing political expediency over intellectual integrity: “I was not certain of its economic merits but quickly saw its political possibilities.” …

The problem is that once you accept the principle that it’s O.K. to lie if it helps you win elections, it gets ever harder to limit the extent of the lying — or even to remember what it’s like to seek the truth.

… looking back, it’s easy to see the rot spreading. Compared with Donald Trump, the elder Bush looks like a paragon — but his administration lied relentlessly about rising inequality. His son’s administration lied consistently about its tax cuts, pretending that they were targeted on the middle class, and — in case you’ve forgotten — took us to war on false pretenses.

And almost the entire G.O.P. either endorsed or refused to condemn the “death panels” slander against Obamacare.

Given this history, the Republican health care disaster was entirely predictable. You can’t expect good or even coherent policy proposals from a party that has spent decades embracing politically useful lies and denigrating expertise.

And let’s be clear: we’re talking about Republicans here, not the “political system.”

Now what? Maybe, just maybe, Republicans will work with Democrats to make the health system work better — after all, polls suggest that voters will, rightly, blame them for any future problems. But it wouldn’t be easy for them to face reality even if their president wasn’t a bloviating bully.

And it’s hard to imagine anything good happening on other policy fronts, either. Republicans have spent decades losing their ability to think straight, and they’re not going to get it back anytime soon.

Consider also that the large swath of Americans, mainly Republicans, who voted for Trump are reluctant to abandon him. They are perfectly happy to overlook - or even embrace - his daily torrent of lies. Changing the direction of this part of the electorate will be like trying to alter the course of an ocean liner with a nudge on the bow. Republican politicians have carefully groomed their base and made the country worse for it. How much worse? Read on.

The GOP present

What do you get when you elect Republicans? Paul Waldman (Washington Post/Plum Line) answers: This is what you get when you elect Republicans

… The devolution from that Republican Party to the one we see today took a couple of decades and had many sources, but its fullest expression was reached with the lifting up of Donald J. Trump to the presidency, this contemptible buffoon who may have been literally the single worst prominent American they could have chosen to be their standard-bearer. I mean that seriously. Can you think of a single person who might have run for president who is more ignorant, more impulsive, more vindictive and more generally dangerous than Donald Trump? And yet they rallied around him with near-unanimity, a worried shake of the head to his endless stream of atrocious statements and actions the strongest dissent most of them could muster.

Republicans don’t care about making an honest case for their priorities; Trump lies nearly every time he opens his mouth. They’re unconcerned about the details of policy; he knows less about how government works than your average sixth-grader. They’re indifferent to human suffering; he literally advocates destroying the individual health-care market so he can blame Barack Obama for the lives that wind up ruined. They advocate a mindless anti-government philosophy; he has so much contempt for governing that he puts his son-in-law in charge of everything from solving the opioid crisis to achieving Middle East peace. They whine endlessly about the liberal media; he spends hours every day watching “Fox & Friends” and takes advice from Sean Hannity. Trump is the essence of the GOP, distilled down to its depraved and odious core.

America was given a reprieve … saved from the Republicans’ cruelest plans by a Democratic Party that stood strong, thousands of activists and ordinary citizens who organized in opposition and the GOP’s own incompetence. …

The actual saviors were only three Republican senators (out of 52) to vote against the “skinny” repeal bill: Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and John McCain. Making this gutsy move played well with their constituents. For example, from the Huffington Post, Collins And Murkowski Receive Thanks From Constituents For Health Care Stance. The two GOP senators consistently opposed party leaders’ efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, often in the face of sexist attacks.

The bad news is that those other senators (like Lindsey Graham) who knew perfectly well the damage that would be done by that bill voted for it anyway.

Waldman winds up with a chilling prediction.

… this what you get when you give today’s Republican Party complete control of the government. Have no doubt: There are more horrors to come.

And here is one. As I noted yesterday in Trump blackmails Congress with cost-caring payments: “they need to pass something”, Trump is set to withhold cost reduction payments in order to bludgeon the senate into voting again to repeal the ACA. All that stands against such a horrific action is just a few lone voices among otherwise compliant Republican senators. (Please forgive the typo: cost-sharing payments.)

Let’s not overlook the House. Last night CD2 Rep. Martha McSally was interviewed by Chris Hayes on MSNBC. He asked her if defunding the ACA cost reduction payments, as Trump has threatened, is the right thing to do. He asked and asked and got only dodges and fog. Former air force pilot McSally is scarfing up all kinds of good PR with her problem solving caucus but does not have the right stuff when it comes standing up to Trump. Shame on her.

Along those lines, Jeet Heer at the New Republic posits that The Rot of the Republican Party Is Nearly Complete. Desperate for a win, and intellectually bankrupt, Trump and the GOP might pass the most domestically destructive law in at least a generation.

The dishonesty of Republicans on health care and other issues, from voter fraud to abortion, allowed the party to be taken over by a shameless charlatan, an interloper who won the party’s nomination and presidency by promising voters the sky. Trump said he’d preserve popular social programs, make sure everyone has health coverage, and bring down insurance rates. When the Republicans unexpectedly found themselves in control of the whole federal government after the last election, they suddenly realized they had to make good on these impossible promises.

The GOP future

Jennifer Rubin (Washington Post/Right Turn) asks Does the GOP deserve to survive?

Since President Trump won the Republican presidential nomination a question hangs over the right: Should the GOP survive or is it morally corrupted and politically deformed to such an extent that those of good conscience on the center-right must start anew? Having engaged in the original sin, if you will, of supporting Trump and then defending his aberrant presidency and helping thereby to define political deviancy down (as the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan described the decline of social and behavioral norms in his lifetime), has the GOP in essence forfeited political legitimacy permanently? There are several aspects to the question that deserve attention.

First, keep in mind the distinction between “should” (normative) vs. can (capacity). The former (should the GOP survive) goes to the moral culpability of those who lifted Trump to power and kept him there. They elevated a very dangerous man who has done and continues to do great damage to our country. They’ve in essence lost legitimacy as a constructive force; the center-right cannot fully purge the stain of Trump unless it sheds (or shreds) the skin of the GOP. Given the enormity of the GOP’s malfeasance, a new party may in fact be required.

Then there is the more practical question (can the GOP survive). Given how toxic the GOP brand has become, the time and cost of rehabilitating the brand may not be worth it. Alternatively, anti-Trump Republicans might conclude that the financial, legal and organizational burden of creating a new party with new state parties may be crippling.

We think a middle ground makes sense. An accountability project (maybe not quite at the level of reconciliation processes in the wake of fallen regimes in South Africa or Chile) certainly is needed; a turnover in leadership is essential. The party must repudiate Trump and the Trump era to go forward. Those intent on turning away from the Trump era will require visible symbols underscoring the party’s repudiation of Trumpism, including perhaps a name change. (The New Republican Party? The Modern Republican Party?)

Second, is such a dramatic break really needed? Yes, if, as #NeverTrump and #NoLongerTrump Republicans believe, the Trump problem is of an entirely different magnitude than, say, Watergate, and has resulted in much more serious, permanent damage to our democracy …

Third, both the specific agenda (a creaky facade left over from the 1980s) and the central values of the party are in need of revamping. Its positions on tax, budget, environmental, law enforcement and immigration policy are outmoded, counterproductive and in many cases not based on reality. …

Fourth, Trump’s presidency should prompt center-right voters and leaders to re-define the purpose, foundational beliefs and role of the party. Civic character and dedication to democratic norms (as opposed to positions on a laundry list of issues) must be elevated in importance. …

Fifth, how Republicans behave from here on out will play a huge role in determining the extent of the housecleaning/destruction of the GOP required. It makes all the difference in the world whether Democrats (by winning elections) save the country from Trump or whether the GOP (by impeachment, support for prosecution, primary challenge) takes matters into its own hands to expunge Trump. The latter would not erase entirely the original sin they committed when they backed him, but a Republican revolt against Trump (finally) would suggest internal reformation is possible. Republicans in office, running for office, in think tanks and other right-leaning groups should think long and hard about how they want the Trump presidency to end; it will become the defining event in their personal and political legacies. And the manner of Trump’s political demise will largely determine whether the 2016 election was the last to produce a Republican president.

To that I would add what I think is fundamental to the GOP’s past, present, and future. My message is simple: stop with the lies already. The nation, and the GOP in particular, needs to commit to an unflinching pursuit of truth, a crusade armed with facts and evidence. Stop with the attacks on the media. Stop with the denigration of our justice system. The Freedom Caucus is misnamed. Politicians who embrace Trumpism will not save America. (But the truth might set us free.) If the GOP will not or cannot commit to truth-based policies and practices, their future looks bleak. Unfortunately, in that event, so does the future of America.

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