Republican Orthodoxy

When a political party has been out of power for eight years it’s probably a good idea for those folks to figure out why that happened, and fix the problem. And it’s not a good idea to say that the American people are just too stupid for words and voted for the wrong sort of people, twice. Voters don’t like being told they’re stupid. They’ll decide it’s not them. And winning the House and Senate won’t do. The real power is the presidency, and there incumbency is an issue. After eight years of a president from one party, people are ready for change, often just for the sake of change, and after eight years of George W. Bush they were ready for a big change. The two wars, of choice, were a disaster, the economy had collapsed in ruin, and New Orleans had to be written off. Bush had ruined the Republican brand. Obama may have been an extraordinarily gifted politician, and a cool guy, but in 2008 John McCain never stood a chance. The Democrats could have run anyone. No Republican could win that year, and since the party was and still is running on everything he stood for – a muscular bombs-not-talk foreign policy, a hands-off-big-business economic policy, where the government doesn’t do much for its citizens, to assure their existential freedom, and where the government tightly regulates its citizens’ sexual and social behaviors – the party couldn’t win four years later. The Republicans could not break out of their orthodoxies.

In 1992 and particularly in 1996, Bill Clinton solved that problem for the Democrats. After eight years of Ronald Reagan the nation had elected his vice president, George H. W. Bush, to follow him. The Democrats had been locked out for twelve years, but that would change. Bill Clinton – or Dick Morris actually, long before he became the sneering loud guest on Fox News day after day – came up with the idea of triangulation – where “the president needed to take a position that not only blended the best of each party’s views but also transcended them to constitute a third force in the debate.” The traditional policies of the Democratic Party were out. There would be a whole lot of deregulation and talk of balanced budgets, and welfare reform, making it harder for the out of luck to get benefits. Then, in his 1996 State of the Union Address, Clinton declared that the “era of big government is over” – and the Republicans never knew what hit them. He was a better Republican than any of them were. Hell, he was the original compassionate conservative. Many old-school Democrats didn’t like this very much, but they endured it. Democrats will take what they can get.

Obama learned from this. That’s why Andrew Sullivan made his compelling 2012 argument that Obama is the true conservative these days – not the current clowns in the current Republican Party:

Alas, the GOP is stuck in the 1984 of its own fetid imagination, incapable of acknowledging the real failures of the last Republican administration or the new, actual, vital questions we have to answer in this millennium: How do we make our healthcare system much more efficient? How do we best mitigate climate change? How do we tackle the problem of economic hyper-inequality? How do we advance US interests in a time of upheaval and revolution in the Arab world? How do we make government solvent?

There were no answers from the Republicans. All he saw was what he called ideological stridency, and said “we should be grateful a de facto moderate Republican is president while conservatism has a chance to regroup” – assuming, of course, it can.

That is going to be difficult. After Romney lost in 2012, there was the Reince Priebus autopsy – offered after Romney lost almost all the Hispanic and black vote, and lost the women’s vote and the vote of the young, and the vote of anyone with even a year or two of college, by wide margins, and after the Republicans didn’t win back the Senate when two or three of their Tea Party candidates imploded. It was time for outreach to minorities, and women, and the young and maybe even gays. It sounded so hopeful – the Republicans were going to reach out and become inclusive and we’d have two evenly-matched political parties again, espousing their competing philosophies without demonizing anyone at all. There’d be no more angry old white men sneering at anyone unlike them, and sneering at science too. There’d be no more rich white guys sneering at anyone who wasn’t a millionaire just like them – or they’d tone it down, trying to be a bit more sympathetic to the total losers out there. And there’d be no more old men talking about “legitimate rape” and how women’s bodies really work. In fact, the National Republican Congressional Committee had already been training incumbents on how best to interact with women voters – there’s a nice way to tell them they can’t be trusted with moral choices like abortion, or any choices about their own body, and how their accepting less pay than a man for the same work is really good for the economy, so they ought to do their part.

The presumption was that America was basically a conservative country, and everyone actually agreed with them on all the big issues of the day. They just had to explain themselves better. A cynic might say the idea was to show respect when you explain your views, that minorities and women and gays are lesser people, and that wealth is the only reliable indicator of moral worth, and that all science is bunk and you’re a fool if you believe any of it. Respectfully say the new Pope is a Marxist who hates everything America stands for, because he seems to think vast wealth is a moral trap, and respectfully call him a fool for being willing to accept the idea that gays and atheists and even true Marxists are good people, good people with what he considers the wrong views, but good people nonetheless. Be respectful when you tell him he just doesn’t understand Christianity at all.

Needless to say, this didn’t go well. Cynics can be right. Cynics are almost always right. After a few months no one mentioned this autopsy, ever again. The effort shifted to making sure certain people found it very difficult to vote. The Republicans retook the Senate and increased their already massive majority in the House. The presidency was something for later.

Now it’s time to see if, after eight years in the wilderness, they can retake the White House, and that’s where the difficulties begin. Democrats will take what they can get, but Republicans don’t do that triangulation thing. They’re not going to out-Democrat the Democrats, but that leads to some odd moments:

Even self-styled “conservative Republican” Donald Trump had to wag his finger at the potential slate of GOP presidential candidates on Monday after hearing their plans to tackle Social Security.

“Even Tea Party people don’t like it,” he said on Monday morning’s edition of “Fox & Friends.”

“They’re attacking Social Security – the Republicans – they’re attacking Medicare and Medicaid, but they’re not saying how to make the country rich again,” he added.

They are doing that – Chris Christie and Scott Walker and Jeb Bush have all talked about changing Social Security, and Medicare and Medicaid too. Cut back payments and benefits. The country needs the money for other things. But Donald Trump saw an opening:

Co-host Brian Kilmeade had asked Trump why he didn’t support cutting “entitlement” programs “like your buddy Chris Christie.” Trump went on to say that America’s real problem is that it has lost manufacturing jobs to China.

“People have been paying in for years. They’re gonna cut Social Security. They’re gonna cut Medicare. They’re gonna cut Medicaid,” he said. “I’m the one saying that’s saying I’m not gonna do that!”

“I’m gonna make us so rich you don’t have to do those things,” Trump added.

He didn’t say how he’d do that, but Andrew Kirell has an amusing take on what had happened in New Hampshire that started all this:

Among the usual platitudes designed to garner applause in his Saturday afternoon New Hampshire Republican leadership summit speech, Donald Trump included a line railing against cutting Social Security and Medicare. There was no applause from the fiscally conservative crowd for that one. Go figure.

“You look at what is going with the various things that our country is doing and then you hear politicians, and all you hear is all talk, no action,” the mogul said in his speech before the state GOP’s First in the Nation summit.

“I am actually disappointed with a lot of the Republican politicians,” he continued, “I am a conservative Republican.” He then rattled off a series of policy ideas of which he either approves or disproves:

The Affordable Care Act, “which is a disaster,” he said, “has to be repealed and replaced.” That line drew applause.

“Whether it is we are going to cut Social Security, because that’s what they are saying,” he continued. “Every Republican wants to do a big number on Social Security, they want to do it on Medicare, they want to do it on Medicaid. And we can’t do that. And it’s not fair to the people that have been paying in for years and now all of the sudden they want to be cut.”

No applause there. Know your audience, man.

Trump is going nowhere but home to Manhattan again this time, so this doesn’t matter much, but Digby (Heather Parton) looks at the larger issue here:

There is nothing like a big, macho Republican demanding that the government cut the meager benefits of the old and sick to get the Washington press corps stimulated, as Chris Christie proved again last week. The political media couldn’t find enough superlatives to describe him. They excitedly said his plan was “provocative, and risky”, that he was smartly positioning himself as “one guy willing to talk straight about the government’s unsustainable finances” – which was all part of the narrative of him being a hero who is “authentic and brave and tells it like it is.” What a man.

This classic beltway assumption – that cutting the safety net is the very essence of political courage and ideological integrity – goes all the way back to the early days of Ronald Reagan, when he was making stuff up about Social Security going broke in 1964. The trend continued well into the ’90s and ’00s, culminating with the press’s cheerleading for George W. Bush’s ambitious attempt to slash the program in 2005. But it took on even more of a febrile quality when, early in his term, Barack Obama mused about hopes for a Grand Bargain which included cuts to “entitlements.” There had always been Democrats who backed the idea, but it came as a happy surprise to the political establishment that one who was portrayed as being very liberal would join the chorus.

These well-off beltway celebrities couldn’t have been more anxious to see that average Americans, in the midst of the worst economic slump since the Great Depression, should suck it up and sacrifice for the common good.

She has links to all the Important People saying such things, but conventional wisdom is what it is:

So, Chris Christie is probably very smart to be playing to the beltway crowd on this one. There’s nothing they love more than to see some loudmouth bully “tell it like it is” to most vulnerable people in our society. And, needless to say, he won’t be alone. The GOP was stung by Bush’s failure to cut the programs, and the Tea Party has not been willing to let them try it again as long as a Democrat is proposing it. Most of the other 2016 candidates are being careful, but it’s unlikely they won’t go along with a program like Paul Ryan’s latest, which is nothing more than warmed-over privatization. It’s in the Republican DNA.

That’s why she was surprised by Mike Huckabee going the other way:

“I don’t know why Republicans want to insult Americans by pretending they don’t understand what their Social Security program and Medicare program is,” Huckabee said in response to a question about Christie’s proposal to gradually raise the retirement age and implement a means test.

Huckabee said his response to such proposals is “not just no, it’s you-know-what no.”

“I’m not being just specifically critical of Christie but that’s not a reform,” he said. “That’s not some kind of proposal that Republicans need to embrace because what we are really embracing at that point is we are embracing a government that lied to its people – that took money from its people under one pretense and then took it away at the time when they started wanting to actually get what they have paid for all these years.”

This is odd:

He added that he had no intention of endorsing Paul Ryan’s plan either. This is very unusual for a Republican. They may not want to take that vote for cutting the program, especially since their base is very much among those who benefit from it, but they are never this unequivocal about it. It’s extremely rare for them not to issue any disclaimer about THE DEFICIT AND THE GOVERNMENT SPENDING TOO MUCH, etc., etc. To come right out and take the retirement age and means testing off the table – that actually is the “bold” and “authentic” breaking-with-conventional-wisdom for which the beltway media had already Christie all the credit.

Huckabee is, however, a special case:

Of all the declared and undeclared candidates he’s the one with the real populist record. Yes, he is a hardcore social conservative and a very hawkish, pro-military right-winger. But on economics he’s different. As Governor of Arkansas, he did something that the Koch Brothers and Rand Paul would most definitely not approve of: He raised taxes. (Granted, they were regressive sales and gasoline taxes, but still.) He’s extremely hostile to free-trade agreements and like the Tea Party he doesn’t seem to care for government bailouts for Wall Street and Big Business. He has heretically accused industries of “price-gouging” which is something the right normally glorifies as “smart business.” According to the Economist, the Club for Growth was apoplectic about him back in 2008, saying that “nominating him would be ‘an abject rejection’ of the free-market, limited-government principles for which the Republican Party stands. The Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank, gave him a ‘D’ grade for fiscal policy.”

None of this makes him a progressive, of course. He’s as conservative as they come. But he’s always been a populist conservative and that makes him different than the rest of this big field of Republican candidates. If 2016 is a populist moment, as many Democrats believe it is, Huckabee may be the one Republican candidate who can ride that zeitgeist along with them.

Or not:

His main problem (aside from the Big Money Donors shunning him) will be the conservative and mainstream media, both of which characterize this sort of populism as the worst kind of pandering if not an outright betrayal. On the other hand perhaps he, like many in the Democratic Party, are belatedly recognizing that it’s highly unlikely average voters appreciate being lectured about “sacrifice” by people who make more money in a year than many of them will make in their whole lives. Say what you will about Mike Huckabee (and there’s plenty to say) but he’s one of the very few Republicans who seems to understand that.

But it is a break from orthodoxy, and that makes her wonder:

Have the progressives finally made some headway on this issue? Lindsey Graham came out against cutting Social Security too. It’s hard to imagine, but if there’s actually some open discord on this issue among the right wingers, we may finally turned the tide. They’ll never quit, of course. And Wall Street wants that money. But what this does is put a lot more pressure on Democrats to keep their grubby hands off the program. And that’s a big relief.

One can hope, and with Lindsay Graham there is hope:

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz’s argument that the Second Amendment provides the “ultimate check against government tyranny” is a bit too extreme for potential 2016 rival and fellow Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

“Well, we tried that once in South Carolina. I wouldn’t go down that road again,” Graham said, in an apparent reference to the Civil War. “I think an informed electorate is probably a better check than, you know, guns in the streets.”

Speaking to a few reporters near the Senate floor Thursday, Graham was answering questions from TPM about the Texas firebrand and presidential candidate’s argument made in a fundraising email that the Second Amendment confers a right to revolt against the government.

“The 2nd Amendment to the Constitution isn’t for just protecting hunting rights, and it’s not only to safeguard your right to target practice. It is a Constitutional right to protect your children, your family, your home, our lives, and to serve as the ultimate check against governmental tyranny — for the protection of liberty,” Cruz wrote in the email Thursday, with the subject line “2nd Amendment against tyranny.”

Graham demurred. “I’m not looking for an insurrection. I’m looking to defeat Hillary,” he said. “We’re not going to out-gun her.”

While a consistent supporter of gun rights, Graham voiced a more mainstream legal view of the Second Amendment, as the Supreme Court first articulated in the landmark 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller, that individuals have a right to possess a firearm for lawful self-defense.

“I think the Second Amendment allows people to protect their homes and their property and be secure in their persons,” the senator said. “I think in a democracy the best check on government is voter participation. I think the First Amendment probably protects us more there.”

Digby sees that as a harder break from Republican orthodoxy:

There is no more fundamental a belief among the right wingers than that the 2nd Amendment is the super-Amendment that makes all the others possible. The NRA has convinced their followers that they are perpetrating an act of patriotism by owning guns and that democracy is only made possible by their willingness to fight for gun rights. Graham is way behind the curve on this, and if he were running for re-election in the Senate this time, I suspect these comments would make him vulnerable. You are not allowed to have common sense about guns and be an elected Republican, especially not in the South. He might as well have said he was pro-choice and loves Obamacare.

But this is even more curious:

Running for president in New Hampshire over the weekend, Sen. Ted Cruz told a group of gun owners he’s “pressing” Sen. John McCain to convene hearings on whether soldiers should be allowed to carry concealed guns on military bases.

McCain (R-Ariz.) says the request is news to him.

“I was fascinated to hear that because I haven’t heard a thing about it from him. Nor has my staff heard from his staff,” McCain said of Cruz (R-Texas). “It came as a complete surprise to me that he had been pressing me. Maybe it was some medium that I’m not familiar with.”

No one is being nice to the hyper-orthodox Ted Cruz:

Cruz told a crowd of gun owners in Litchfield, New Hampshire, that he was leaning on McCain, the Armed Services Committee chairman, to have “a public discussion about why we’re denying our soldiers the ability to exercise their Second Amendment rights.”

Asked about the status of those hearings, McCain went to great lengths to ridicule Cruz for suggesting the two had discussed the issue. He joked that perhaps Cruz was bouncing messages off the “ozone layer.”

“Maybe it was through, you know, hand telegraph. Maybe sign language,” McCain said. “Ask him how he communicated with me because I’d be very interested. Because who knows what I’m missing.”

Oh, snap! But here the issue really is orthodoxy:

There’s little love lost between the two, given that McCain has denounced Cruz as one of the Senate’s “wacko birds” and Cruz has suggested that McCain lost the presidential race in 2008 because he wasn’t conservative enough. While Cruz pursues the Republican nomination along with Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida, McCain is encouraging his friend, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, to run for the White House.

When a political party has been out of power for eight years it’s probably a good idea for those folks to figure out why that happened, and fix the problem, and McCain and Cruz have two different ideas about that. Guns, guns for everyone, will win the White House. Or is it cutting Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid? Party orthodoxy will win them the White House. Or it won’t. And Bill and Hillary are off in the corner, smiling. Party orthodoxy amuses them. Democrats will take what they can get. Republicans won’t. This is going to be fun.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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