Sunday, November 13, 2016

Republican Now Face the Responsibilities of Power

Again in the calm after the election, I can see why so many people have been eager to support Trump. The man knows nothing about policy and doesn't much care.  That means he will be somebody's puppet.  The question is whose.  Everyone is eager to get in on the act in order to make Trump their puppet.  The Alt Right people gathered round Trump partly because they liked his message and partly because they saw a useful puppet.  Conventional Republicans see a promising puppet and are eager to get in on the act.  If things go sour for the Republicans, even the Democrats might want in on the act. For right now, at least, Trump is looking to govern more or less like a conventional Republican. What is this likely to mean?

Well, just for point of comparison, let us consider what would have happened if Hillary Clinton had won.  The partisan warfare of the Obama years would have continued and even escalated.  Republicans would have honed in on investigating the e-mails and quite possibly impeaching her.  If Republican had kept the Senate majority, they would have blocked all Supreme Court nominees, probably all federal judges, and possibly even executive appointees.  Government shutdowns, and debt ceiling showdowns, going on longer and longer, would have been the order of the day.  Quite possibly, Hillary would have had to declare the debt ceiling unconstitutional to prevent a breach, with Republican outcry of executive tyranny.  In short, Republican would have continued their strategy of the Obama years -- demand to be put in charge, or they will make the country ungovernable.*

It should be obvious by now that no number or amount of defeat will "break the fever" for Republicans.  Now they have experienced the only thing that will -- winning actual power.  Now they will have to face the consequences of their actions.  Here are a few general predictions.

Republicans will decide that deficits only matter when a Democrat is in the White House.  In fact, deficits are important solely as a tool to bash Democrats.  They will forget all about fiscal discipline until the next time a Democrat wins the White House.  And make no mistake, during the honeymoon there will be fantasies about Republicans being so successful as to lock down the White House forever, but it won't happen.  Sooner or later, Democrats will win it back, and at that point Republican will suddenly rediscover fiscal discipline, claim that they only lost because they abandoned it, and start utterly freaking out about those deficits that will ruin us all.

During the Obama years, John Boehner attempted to force over the Republican agenda by threatening a debt ceiling breach if it wasn't adopted.  He failed, at least in part, because the Freedom Caucus refused to raise the debt ceiling under any circumstances whatever.  My guess is, now that the Republicans are in charge, the Freedom Caucus will forget all about what an outrage raising the debt ceiling is and continue to do it as a matter of routine.

Let's face it.  The Freedom Caucus was never about passing any particular agenda, or even cutting spending.  It was about rage over being denied the power members saw as their due, and the desire, either to remove Obama from office, or at least to humiliate him and to force something over that he hated.  The establishment Republicans, by contrast, had a specific agenda that they were interested in passing and willing to make at least some compromises (like, say, not blowing up the world financial system) to get it passed.

Well, now that the Republicans have the triple crown, the party establishment, acting on behalf of its donor class, will have the opportunity to actually pass its agenda.  And once it comes into focus, it should dispel all notions that the establishment/donors are the reasonable or moderate ones.  Yes, they have better manners than the rowdies, but the rowdies basically just wanted dominance for the sake of dominance, which is exactly what Trump stands for.  (Or at least stood for during the election).  In terms of actual agenda, the establishment/donors want to roll back the New Deal as far as is politically feasible.  This is a goal that has the support of basically no one outside the Republican donor class, and certainly not the Republican base, who are major beneficiaries of the New Deal.

Republican donors/establishment despise Eisenhower as a traitor for making peace with the New Deal.  They applaud Barry Goldwater for once again committing Republicans to undo it.  They see Ronald Reagan as their hero for carrying Goldwater's vision into reality.  And they are convinced that the only reason George W. Bush lost popularity and left office in disgrace was that he refused to attack the New Deal and actually expanded entitlement by enacting Medicare D.

This narrative ignores some rather obvious things.  Goldwater's attacks on the New Deal led him to overwhelming defeat.  Ronald Reagan, though he campaigned against Medicare when it was originally enacted, never made any attempt to stop it and quickly scraped any plans to cut Social Security.  George W. Bush actually did make one attempt to roll back the New Deal when he proposed turning Social Security into a defined contribution plan, i.e., a gigantic 401-k.  The attempt was met with such resistance that it was dropped without even going to a vote.  And despite Republicans' firm conviction that Medicare D was the only thing to undermine GWB's popularity, none of them have actually gone so far as to propose to repeal it.

So, Republicans now have the triple crown, just as they did for most of the GWB Presidency.  We will see what use they make of it.  My next few posts will address this issue, continuing to pretend that the President will be an ordinary generic Republican instead of Donald Trump.

*While the chances of Democrat winning the triple crown were essentially nil, if they had I would have had two recommendations for them to do before they inevitably lost it at the midterms.  First would be more subsidies to shore up Obamacare.  The other would be to abolish the debt ceiling to prevent any more threats of a breach.

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