Some recent news items:
• A new law by Missouri Republicans prevents local governments from regulating mega-hog-farms more stringently than the state does. So much for the Republican principle of local control.
• The Republican-held U.S. Senate refuses to consider background checks on all gun purchases to ensure criminals can’t buy them — a no-brainer that’s supported by about 90% of Americans, including most gun owners. So much for the Republican principle of law and order.
• Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., wants government regulation of the big social media companies to make their platforms more friendly to conservatives. So much for the Republican principles of deregulation and free enterprise.
• The massive tax-cut-for-the-rich that Republicans passed in 2017 continues to very much not “pay for itself” as promised, instead driving the federal deficit over $1 trillion for the first time in six years. Yet President Donald Trump is calling for another massive tax cut. So much for the Republican principle of fiscal responsibility.
• And finally, Trump himself — a thrice-married gambling mogul who was caught on video bragging about sexually assaulting women; who has been credibly accused of extramarital affairs with a Playboy model and a porn star; who personally funded a payoff to one of them to shut her up before the 2016 election; and whose catalog of demonstrable public lies now stands at more than 12,000 — enjoys around 80% support among Republicans. So much for the Republican principle of “traditional family values.”
What, exactly, does today’s GOP stand for?
That’s not snark. It’s a real question.
It’s been half a century since Richard Nixon’s racist “southern strategy” ditched the civil rights mantle that the Party of Lincoln had held since its inception. But until relatively recently, Republicans could still be counted upon to live up to their remaining principles.
They were genuinely obsessed with law and order, which is why Ronald Reagan signed legislation all but banning civilian ownership of machine guns. Would today’s Republican Senate pass that?
When Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole angrily asked, regarding Bill Clinton’s scandals, “Where is the outrage in America?,” he meant it. So where, today, is the Republican outrage at a chief executive who makes Clinton look positively pious? Even (especially!) evangelical Republicans are standing firm behind President Caligula.
And do we even have to talk about the Republican Party’s traditional commitment to national security? Let’s ask “Moscow Mitch.”
It seems there are only two major GOP principles that, in 2019, any Republican politician could still articulate with a straight face: the party’s fervent opposition to abortion rights, and its fervent support of tax cuts. The former is a quagmire for another time. The latter, about tax cuts, is worth exploring, because it has become so fervent that it has decimated that other GOP principle, fiscal responsibility.
When Republicans of old cut taxes, it was because they really believed tax cuts could spur the economy under certain circumstances. But when those cuts became counterproductive, they generally reacted to that reality. Even Saint Reagan raised taxes multiple times, when circumstances called for it.
Now, Republicans cut taxes not because it makes sense under a specific economic circumstance (say, during a recession), but because they’re programmed to cut taxes. Always. Period. Two years ago they slashed taxes in an already-humming economy — no real reason, just because — which will make it harder to cut taxes during the next recession, when it might be needed. That’s fiscal policy by runaway bulldozer, and there’s nothing responsible about it.
Democrats have their own problems, to be sure. But infighting over how to promote core principles like universal health care and education isn’t the same as abandoning those principles altogether.
Outside the issues of abortion and tax cuts, everything the GOP does — everything — seems aimed not toward promoting core principles, but toward consolidating power, at the expense of those principles if necessary.
It’s why Missouri Republicans have abandoned their party’s principle of local control: to appease the big political donors who want to site mega-hog-farms with no pesky interference from the locals. It’s why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell won’t stand up to Russian election interference: If it helps Trump win again, that’s all that matters.
Maybe this is all a reaction to demographic changes that, looking down the road, would seem to doom the GOP in its current form. With America getting younger, more racially diverse and generally more liberal, gerrymandering and the Electoral College won’t keep Republicans in charge forever.
A constructive Republican response would be to refit traditional conservatism for tomorrow’s America. If Republicans still believe that concepts like free enterprise, fiscal responsibility and personal integrity should be among America’s guiding principles, they could press those arguments to the Millennials and the rest. There are cases to be made.
Instead, the GOP is taking the mega-hog-farm approach: Principle, schminciple, power your way in — no matter how much it stinks.