The Anti-Republican Republicans

Trump isn’t the only Republican with a blatant disregard for our democratic norms.

Vox’s Matthew Yglesias reminds us that during the campaign, Donald Trump pledged the following: “No tax cut for the rich, no cut to Medicaid, re-imposition of Glass-Steagall, new tariffs on foreign imports, end to carried interest loophole, universal health coverage.”

Of course, Trump has gone the other direction. He is not an economic nationalist. He is not a small-d democrat. He’s not even a populist. He’s a run-of-the-mill Republican on the lookout for a win.

But it bears repeating—again—that Trump’s con did not occur in a historical vacuum. The GOP has been plowing that soil for ages, but it did so in earnest after the election of the first black president. Some of those who benefited from that white backlash are still around, and they are about to inflict on us things they said they’d never do.

Just like the president.

If anyone bothered to go back and look at the stated principles embraced by “deficit hawks,” they’d find this golden nugget from the early days of the post-crash “revolution” in which “patriots” like Senator Rand Paul declared proudly that the Tea Party came to Washington because “real Americans” were “Taxed Enough Already.”

In a 2011 book about the Tea Party, Paul wrote:

The Tea Party began to gather forces from every direction, from Sarah Palin fans to supporters of former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. They all came with one grievance foremost on their mind—the national debt.

Elsewhere in the book, he wrote:

Taxpayers are sick and tired of being the scapegoat for irresponsible spending by politicians. As the budget deficit mushroom, it’s Joe Taxpayer who gets stuck with the bill. Politicians campaign “Read my lips, no new taxes,” but reading between lips, we find that the politicians really meant “Yes, new taxes, many new taxes.” My distaste for the big government promoted by both parties—”read my lips, no new taxes” was George H.W. Bush’s broken promise—has never wavered.

Well, Paul has overcome his distaste. The Senate bill he favors squeaked through committee Tuesday. It will raise taxes on most people making under $75,000 a year, according to analysis by Congress’s own policy shop. It will eliminate a battery of income tax deductions in order to lower rates for corporations and the very rich.

Senate Republicans are pushing back against this analysis, and against public opinion opposing the bill, by saying tax cuts will spur growth and zero out the $1.5 trillion it would add to the $20 trillion national debt.

To the surprise of no one who has not drunk deeply from the well of misinformation, corporations are signaling the good times are about to get better. Bloomberg reported that they have no plans for investments that would create jobs and boost spending. They plan to further accommodate their already very comfortable shareholders.

But if we paid attention only to the laws Republicans hope to pass, we’d ignore half of what makes the current incarnation of the GOP so insufferable. The president gets all the attention when he attacks democratic process and norms, but we forget these unpopular Republicans are about to ram through an unpopular tax bill with almost no public airing, with almost no deliberation, which is the hallmark on any society worthy of the name “republic.”

Mitch McConnell vowed in 2014 that if the Republicans won control of the Senate, he would lead the way back to “regular order.”

 We are going to treat senators with respect — we are going to work harder and accomplish more. The Senate can be returned to the place of great debates, contentious debates, but where you can still get outcomes on things where you have at least 60 Senators.

Yeah, no.

Aside from must-pass spending bills, every piece of legislation that has come to the floor of the Senate has been voted on without the involvement, much less the input, of Democrats. This latest bill was designed to pass with a simple majority, thus setting the stage in the coming years for the Senate’s irrelevance as deliberative body.

The pattern is worse when it comes to the judiciary. McConnell has vaporized traditions, such as blue slips, to continue what can only be described as a rearguard action to place as many conservatives on the bench as possible before popular opinion, and electoral politics, overwhelms the Republican Party. McConnell surely knows the backlash that met President Obama will pale when compared in retrospect to the backlash that is awaiting President Trump.

The American people want “regular order,” and they are going to get it eventually, with or without the Republican Party.

John Stoehr

John Stoehr is a Washington Monthly contributing writer.