Mitch McConnell
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Paul Waldman makes a compelling argument that the Republicans’ tax bill will be bad politics if it passes. It’s the kind of bad policy that leaves a lot of victims who will know the cause of their distress and who will easily be able to assign responsibility for their plight.

I suspect Waldman may be a bit optimistic about those latter points, if for no other reason than that the Mighty Right-Wing Wurlitzer seems to still have a powerful ability to deflect blame and throw sand in people’s eyes. But the real question for Republicans is that they’re terrified of the alternative to passing this legislation. No matter how bad it looks, they keep asking themselves, “compared to what?”

It’s a fair point. Doing nothing will be bad politics, too. The real question for the GOP is which lousy option is worse.

There’s definitely some benefit to being able to accomplish something, even if it’s terrible. They can say they did something to harm Obamacare. They can tell their donors that they delivered the truckloads of cash. They can get Trump off their backs and off their case, if only for a little while. For everyone else, there’s two sides to every story, and they can muddy the waters.

The way I see their dilemma, this is a live-to-fight-another-day strategy, and there are two ways it can go wrong. The first is if it is unnecessary and they can live to fight another day without it. The second is if it won’t make a damn bit of difference in the end and it’ll just add to their long-term woes.

The surprising victory of Donald Trump proved that the Republicans are capable of misjudging their short-term chances and thinking they’re in a much worse spot than they really are. So, maybe they’re panicking without enough justification.

On the other hand, perhaps they think this will keep them from drowning but it actually won’t buy them anything in terms of political victories next fall. In that case, it will almost definitely weaken them further.

I think the decisive thing is the donors. The typical large investor in the GOP wants a financial return on investment. If they don’t get it, they’re not going to make more large investments.

The GOP thinks, probably correctly, that they may get wiped out next fall largely due to their idiot president. But as long as the donors feel like they were made whole, they can always make a comeback.

And so their decision to impose really bad policy on the nation is most likely the sanest of two miserable choices.

And, yet, they’re so incompetent that they still might not be able to deliver.

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Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at