How the Republicans Broke Congress

Republican leaders have been blunt about their motivation: to deliver on their promises to wealthy donors, and down the road, to use the leverage of huge deficits to cut and privatize Medicare and Social Security.

.. the unexpected and rapid nature of the decline in American national politics, and how one-sided its cause.

.. the Republican Party — as an institution, as a movement, as a collection of politicians — that has done unique, extensive and possibly irreparable damage to the American political system.

Even today, many people like to imagine that the damage has all been President Trump’s doing — that he took the Republican Party hostage. But the problem goes much deeper.

.. we can’t help seeing the Republican Party as the root cause of today’s political instability. Three major developments in the party required us to change our view.

.. First, beginning in the 1990s, the Republicans strategically demonized Congress and government more broadly and flouted the norms of lawmaking, fueling a significant decline of trust in government

.. House Republicans showed their colors when they first blocked passage of the Troubled Asset Relief Plan, despite the urgent pleas of their own president, George W. Bush, and the speaker of the House, John Boehner. The seeds of a (largely phony) populist reaction were planted.

.. Second, there was the “Obama effect.”

.. we saw a deliberate Republican strategy to oppose all of his initiatives and frame his attempts to compromise as weak or inauthentic. The Senate under the majority leader Mitch McConnell weaponized the filibuster to obstruct legislation, block judges and upend the policy process. The Obama effect had an ominous twist, an undercurrent of racism that was itself embodied in the “birther” movement led by Donald Trump.

.. repeatedly promised the impossible under divided party government: that if they won, Mr. Obama would be forced to his knees, his policies obliterated and government as we knew it demolished. Their subsequent failures to do so spurred even more rage

.. Third, we have seen the impact of significant changes in the news media, which had a far greater importance on the right than on the left. The development of the modern conservative media echo chamber began with the rise of Rush Limbaugh and talk radio in the late 1980s and ramped up with the birth of Fox News. Matt Drudge, his protégé Andrew Breitbart and Breitbart’s successor Steve Bannon leveraged the power of the internet to espouse their far-right views. And with the advent of social media, we saw the emergence of a radical “alt-right” media ecosystem able to create its own “facts” and build an audience around hostility to the establishment, anti-immigration sentiment and racial resentment. Nothing even close to comparable exists on the left.

Mr. Trump’s election and behavior during his first 10 months in office represent not a break with the past but an extreme acceleration of a process that was long underway in conservative politics.

.. The Republican Party is now rationalizing and enabling Mr. Trump’s autocratic, kleptocratic, dangerous and downright embarrassing behavior in

.. hopes of salvaging key elements of its ideological agenda: cutting taxes for the wealthy (as part of possibly the worst tax bill in American history), hobbling the regulatory regime, gutting core government functions and repealing Obamacare without any reasonable plan to replace it.

.. The failure of Republican members of Congress to resist the anti-democratic behavior of President Trump — including holding not a single hearing on his and his team’s kleptocracy

.. Only conservative intellectuals have acknowledged the bankruptcy of the Republican Party.

The Bannon Revolution

Bannon’s grand ambitions should inspire the same soul-deadening déjà vu, the existential exhaustion, with which Bill Murray’s weatherman greeted every morning in Punxsutawney, Penn. They should bring to mind both Friedrich Nietzsche’s idea of eternal recurrence and his warning that if you stare deep into the abyss, it stares into you.

.. What Bannon is promising is what the Tea Party actually delivered, in a past recent enough to still feel like the present: a dramatic ideological shake-up, an end to D.C. business-as-usual, and the elevation of new leaders with a sweeping vision for a new G.O.P.

.. The ideological shake-up took the form of paper promises, not successful legislation. The end to D.C. business-as-usual just created a new normal of brinkmanship and gridlock. And when the Tea Party’s leaders — Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, above all — reached out to claim their party’s presidential nomination, they found themselves steamrolled by a candidate who scorned all their limited-government ideas and offered, well, Trumpism instead.

.. when it comes to governance, Trumpism turns to have two fatal weaknesses:

  1. the dearth of Trumpists among elected Republicans, and
  2. the total policy incapacity of Trump himself.

So having failed in his appointed role as Trump whisperer and White House brain, Bannon has decided to do the Tea Party insurgency thing all over again, except this time with his

  • nationalist-populist cocktail instead of the
  • last round’s notional libertarianism.

.. Maybe the Tea Party was a dead end, but some Trumpist primary candidates will finally produce a Republican Party capable of doing something with its power.

.. His professed nationalism, with its promise of infrastructure projects and antitrust actions and maybe even tax hikes on the rich, is potentially more popular than the Tea Party vision ..

.. But this imaginative exercise collapses when you look at Bannon’s own record and the candidates he’s recruiting.

.. At the White House, Bannon did not manage to inject much heterodoxy into any part of the same old, same old Republican agenda. But he did encourage the president to pick racialized fights at every chance.
.. his new grass-roots populism promises to be more of the same:
  • a notional commitment to some nebulous new agenda,
  • with white-identity politics and the
  • fear of liberalism supplying the real cultural-political cement.
.. Especially because the would-be senators he’s recruiting are a mix of cynics and fanatics who seem to share no coherent vision, just a common mix of ambition and resentment.
.. if you believe figures like Roy Moore and Erik Prince are going to succeed where Trump is obviously failing, I have some affidavits attesting to Harvey Weinstein’s innocence to sell you.
.. He and his allies are the latest group to recognize the void at the heart of the contemporary Republican Party, the vacuum that somebody, somehow needs to fill.
  • .. The activists and enforcers of the Tea Party era tried with a libertarian style of populism.
  • Paul Ryan tried with his warmed-over Jack Kempism.
  • My friends the “reform conservatives” tried with blueprints for tax credits and wage subsidies.

.. now they, too, need to reckon with a reality that has confounded every kind of Republican reformer since Barack Obama was elected: Our politics are probably too polarized, our legislative branch too gridlocked, and the conservative movement too dysfunctional and self-destructive to build a new agenda from the backbenches of Congress up, or even from the House speaker or Senate majority leader’s office.

.. Our system isn’t really all that republican anymore; it’s imperial, and even an incompetent emperor like Trump is unlikely to restore the legislative branch to its former influence. So if you want to remake the Republican Party as something other than a shambolic repository for anti-liberalism, the only way it’s likely to happen is from the top down —

  1. with the election of an effective, policy-oriented conservative president (which Donald Trump is not),
  2. surrounded by people who understand the ways of power (which Bannon, for all his bluster, didn’t) and
  3. prepared to both negotiate with Democrats and bend his own party to his will.

.. I would not be wasting my time trying to elect a few cranks and gadflies who will make Mitch McConnell’s life more difficult.

Instead I would be looking for the thing that too many people deceived themselves into believing Trump might be, and that Bannonite populism for all its potential strength now lacks: a leader.

The GOP Base Is Beyond Trump’s Control 

You can get elected as an outsider, but once in office, you have to actually govern.

The conservative movement is caught in a Catch-22 of its own making. In the war against “the establishment,” we have made being an outsider the most important qualification for a politician. The problem? Once elected, outsiders by definition become insiders. This isn’t just a semantic point. The Constitution requires politicians to work through the system if they’re going to get anything done.

.. Look at all the senators who rode the tea-party wave into power: Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Ron Johnson, Pat Toomey, Mike Lee. To one extent or another, they are now seen as swamp things, not swamp drainers, by the pitchfork populists.

.. Merely talking like a halfway responsible politician — “we don’t have the votes,” “we have to pay for it” — is proof of selling out. Trump bashes NBC News as ‘Fake News’ on Twitter

.. He wore the animosity of his colleagues, including the GOP leadership, like a badge of honor. He was the leader of the insurrectionists. He had only one problem: He talked like a creature of the establishment — largely because the Princeton- and Harvard-trained former Supreme Court clerk and career politician was one. He knew the lyrics to every populist fight song, but he couldn’t carry the tune.

..But not only did Donald Trump jump into the fray at the height of populist fervor, the field was also divided 17 ways. No one spoke less like a politician. No one who understood how governing works would have promised the things Trump promised

  • health coverage for all, for less money,
  • eliminate the debt,
  • bring all those jobs back, etc. —

because they’d either know or care that such things are literally impossible.

.. The establishment remains the villain and Trump the hero for his willingness to say or tweet things that make all the right people angry. For his most ardent supporters, the fault for his legislative failures lies entirely with the swamp, the establishment, or the “Deep State.”

.. he most important factor was Moore’s demonization of the establishment, particularly Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. The voters valued sticking their thumbs in the establishment’s eye more than giving Trump a win.

.. there is remarkably little intellectual or ideological substance to the current populist fever. Strange was more conservative than Moore but less bombastic. Moore opposed Obamacare repeal and, until recently, couldn’t say what DACA was. In other words, MAGA populism is less of an agenda and more of a mood.

Republicans, Trapped by Their Flimflam

Last week the Trump administration and its congressional allies working on tax reform achieved something remarkable. They released a tax plan — or, actually, a vague sketch of a plan — that manages both to add trillions to the deficit and to raise taxes on a large fraction of the population.

.. The road to this tax-cut turkey began in 2010, when Paul Ryan — now speaker of the House — unveiled the first of a series of much-hyped budget plans, all purporting to offer a blueprint for eliminating the U.S. budget deficit.

In fact, they did no such thing. They proposed major tax cuts — primarily benefiting the rich, of course — then simply asserted that no revenue would be lost, because reduced tax rates would be offset by closing loopholes and eliminating deductions. Which loopholes and deductions? Ryan didn’t say.

.. In other words, it was all a con.

.. Professional “centrists,” whose whole identity is bound up with pretending that there is equivalence between the two parties, desperately wanted a Serious, Honest Conservative to praise. So did much of the news media. So they slotted Ryan into that role, never mind the actual content of his policies.

.. After all, their supposed concern about federal debt was always just a pose, applying only when a Democrat was president.

.. But after all those years of pretending to be deficit hawks, they feel the need to be seen doing something to offset their high-income tax cuts, to close some loophole somewhere.

.. According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, their plan would give huge tax cuts to the top 1 percent, who would receive 79.7 percent of the benefits. But eliminating deductions would make many Americans, especially in the upper reaches of the middle class, directly worse off:
Almost 60 percent of households between the 80th and 90th percentiles of the income distribution would face tax increases.
.. How are the tax plan’s advocates responding to their very big, very bad problem? Partly with evasiveness: You can’t evaluate our plan yet, declared Mick Mulvaney,
.. And partly with outright, ludicrous lies: “Wealthy Americans are not getting a tax cut,” declared Gary Cohn
.. In broad outlines, the tax story is a lot like health care. In both cases, Republicans have spent years getting away with big promises backed by lies. Now, with real policy to be made, the lies won’t work anymore.

Comments

I live in a high-tax state and county, and my family earns enough income that I am fairly sure we would pay more federal tax under this plan. I would be fine with that if it were used to benefit those who have less than us. Pay teachers more, expand healthcare, create a bunch of jobs in places with few, whatever. I would pay a lot more to make our country a better place for everyone. Unfortunately, this plan would take those extra dollars and obscenely direct them to people who already have so much they could never spend it all. It’s unconscionable and shameful. Which is what we sadly have come to expect from the Republican party.

 

.. The basis of the Republican position on health care and taxes is “Trust me”. Well, based on experience we can’t and shouldn’t.

Given we have a “businessman” in the White House, if any group of executives proposed programs in the same vein as the Republicans have proposed healthcare and tax reform they would be fired. No board of Directors would accept business plans that are based on fictitious economic theory, increase debt to incalculable levels and hurt their core customers (constituents) where is really counts, in their pocketbooks

The Abbie Hoffman of the Right: Donald Trump

It has to be admitted that Donald Trump is doing exactly what he was elected to do.

He was not elected to be a legislative president. He never showed any real interest in policy during the campaign. He was elected to be a cultural president. He was elected to shred the dominant American culture and to give voice to those who felt voiceless in that culture. He’s doing that every day.

What’s troubling to me is that those who are the targets of his assaults seem to have no clue about what is going on. When they feel the most righteous, like this past weekend, they are actually losing and in the most peril.

.. After World War II the Protestant establishment dominated the high ground of American culture and politics. That establishment eventually failed. It tolerated segregation and sexism, led the nation into war in Vietnam and became stultifying.

.. So in the late 1960s along came a group of provocateurs like Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and the rest of the counterculture to upend the Protestant establishment. People like Hoffman were buffoons, but also masters of political theater.

They never attracted majority support for their antics, but they didn’t have to. All they had to do was provoke, offend the crew-cut crowd, generate outrage and set off a cycle that ripped apart the cultural consensus.

The late 1960s were a time of intense cultural conflict, which left a lot of wreckage in its wake. But eventually a new establishment came into being, which we will call the meritocratic establishment.

.. It has developed its own brand of cultural snobbery. Its media, film and music industries make members of the working class feel invisible and disrespected.

So in 2016, members of the outraged working class elected their own Abbie Hoffman as president. Trump is not good at much, but he is wickedly good at sticking his thumb in the eye of the educated elites. He doesn’t have to build a new culture, or even attract a majority. He just has to tear down the old one.

.. He has a nose for every wound in the body politic and day after day he sticks a red-hot poker in one wound or another and rips it open.

.. The members of the educated class saw this past weekend’s N.F.L. fracas as a fight over racism. They felt mobilized and unified in that fight and full of righteous energy. Members of the working class saw the fracas as a fight about American identity. They saw Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin try to dissuade Alejandro Villanueva, a three-time combat veteran, from celebrating the flag he risked his life for. Members of this class also felt mobilized, unified and full of righteous energy.

.. All that matters is that Trump is shredding the culture and ending the dominance of the meritocratic establishment.

He continually goes after racial matters in part because he’s a bigot but also in part because multiculturalism is the theology of the educated class and it’s the leverage point he can most effectively use to isolate the educated class from everyone else.

.. He is so destructive because his enemies help him. He ramps up the aggression. His enemies ramp it up more, to preserve their own dignity. But the ensuing cultural violence only serves Trump’s long-term destructive purpose. America is seeing nearly as much cultural conflict as it did in the late 1960s. It’s quite possible that after four years of this Trump will have effectively destroyed the prevailing culture. The reign of the meritocratic establishment will be just as over as the reign of the Protestant establishment now is.

.. Because of him, a new culture will have to be built, new values promulgated and a new social fabric will have to be woven, one that brings the different planets back into relation with one another.

That’s the work of the next 20 years.

Politicians, Promises, and Getting Real

both stories raise the question of how much, if at all, policy clarity matters for politicians’ ability to win elections and, maybe more important, to govern.

About elections: The fact that Trump is in the White House suggests that politicians can get away with telling voters just about anything that sounds good. After all, Trump promised to cut taxes, protect Social Security and Medicare from cuts, provide health insurance to all Americans and pay off the national debt, and he paid no price for the obvious inconsistency of these promises.

.. True, Republicans long paid no price for lying about Obamacare; in fact, those lies helped them take control of Congress. But when they gained control of the White House, too, so that the prospect of repealing the Affordable Care Act became real, the lies caught up with them.

.. During the campaign Trump could get away with posing as an economic populist while offering a tax plan that would add $6 trillion to the deficit, with half the benefit going to the richest 1 percent of the population. But this kind of bait-and-switch may not work once an actual bill is on the table.

.. Medicare for all is a substantively good idea. Yet actually making it happen would probably mean facing down a serious political backlash. For one thing, it would require a substantial increase in taxes. For another, it would mean telling scores of millions of Americans who get health coverage though their employers, and are generally satisfied with their coverage, that they need to give it up and accept something different. You can say that the new system would be better — but will they believe it?

Donald Trump’s Identity Politics

Millions of white voters began to see themselves more openly not as white supremacists but as white identified.

It is no secret that the president has capitalized on the increasing salience of race and ethnicity in recent years. The furious reaction to many different historical and cultural developments — mass immigration; the success of the civil rights and women’s rights movements; the election and re-election of a black president; and the approaching end of white majority status in the United States — has created a political environment ripe for the growth of white identity politics.

The vast majority of white Americans who feel threatened by the country’s growing racial and ethnic diversity are not members of the KKK or neo-Nazis. They are much greater in number, and far more mainstream, than the white supremacists who protested in Virginia over the weekend.

..  total of 36 percent of whites described their racial identity as either “very important” (16 percent) or “extremely important” (20 percent), according to an American National Election Studies survey in January 2016. Another 25 percent said it was “moderately important.”

.. The survey, they write,

asked four questions that captured dimensions of white identity: the importance of white identity, how much whites are being discriminated against, the likelihood that whites are losing jobs to nonwhites, and the importance of whites working together to change laws unfair to whites. We combined those questions into a scale capturing the strength of white identity and found that it was strongly related to Republicans’ support for Donald Trump.

.. In a separate essay on the Post’s Monkey Cage site in March 2016, Tesler and Sides explained that

Both white racial identity and beliefs that whites are treated unfairly are powerful predictors of support for Donald Trump in the Republican primaries.

.. What are the views of “white identifiers”?

According to Jardina, these voters

are more likely to think that the growth of racial or ethnic groups in the United States that are not white is having a negative effect on American culture.

And they are

much more likely to rank illegal immigration the most important issue facing the U.S. today, relative to the budget deficit, health care, the economy, unemployment, outsourcing of jobs to other countries, abortion, same-sex marriage, education, gun control, the environment or terrorism.

.. Perhaps most important, Jardina found that white identifiers are

an aggrieved group. They are more likely to agree that American society owes white people a better chance in life than they currently have. And white identifiers would like many of the same benefits of identity politics that they believe other groups enjoy.

In other words, most — though by no means all — white identifiers appear to be driven as much by anger at their sense of lost status as by their animosity toward other groups, although these two feelings are clearly linked.

Tesler argued last November, after the election, that the

Trump effect combined with eight years of racialized politics under President Obama, means that racial attitudes are now more closely aligned with white Americans’ partisan preferences than they have been at any time in the history of polling.

.. Podhoretz recognizes Trump’s adamant refusal to alienate his most dogged backers:

If there’s one thing politicians can feel in their marrow, even a non-pol pol like Trump, it’s who is in their base and what it is that binds the base to them

.. He did so, Podhoretz argues, by capitalizing on media and organizational tools disdained by the establishment: Alex Jones’s Infowars; the American Media supermarket tabloids, including The National Enquirer, Star and the Globe; the WWE professional wrestling network where “Trump intermittently served as a kind of Special Guest Villain.”

.. 43 percent of Republicans said there is a lot of discrimination against whites, compared to 27 percent of Republicans who said that there is a lot of discrimination against blacks.

.. Direct and indirect references to threats to white identity continue to shape Trump’s rhetoric. In his ongoing drive to demonize the media, Trump declared during his rally in Phoenix on Tuesday that “they are trying to take away our history and our heritage.”

his supporters think that whites and Christians are the most oppressed groups of people in the country.

.. No one doubts that it has been unsettling for many Americans to adapt to an increasingly interconnected world. Still, history has not been kind to those who have unequivocally yielded to racial grievance — to our local agitators, the David Dukes and the Father Coughlins, as well as to the even more poisonous propagators of racial hatred overseas. As Trump abandons his campaign promises

he has kept his partially veiled promise to focus on white racial essentialism, to make race divisive again. He has gone where other politicians dared not venture and he has taken the Republican Party with him.