WHAT THE GOP TAX LAW TELLS US ABOUT THE GOALS OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY
The Republican Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has been on my mind a great deal, lately. There’s just something about this bill and the process by which it was passed, that I just can’t seem to shake.
Mostly, I’m taken aback by the sheer audacity of the legislation, especially as we move into the 2018 Midterm Election season. Mitch McConnell, probably the most cynical political figure in our nation’s history, actually out “Palpatined” himself with this bill. No hearings, submitting legislation before margin notes could be incorporated into the final product, not even the pretense of trying to be bipartisan. The GOP so-called tax reform is the result of purely legalistic machinations rather than even the most hardball politics.
All of this wrangling and maneuvering to push through an unpopular piece of legislation. Fivethirtyeight points out that the Trump Tax cut is the least popular tax cut in the last thirty years and is even more unpopular than the tax hikes under George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
So, I have to ask myself, what is the political endgame? I respect nothing about Mitch McConnell but his political acumen. I can’t understand how he could hitch his wagon to this particular swayback. In my mind, there must be something more going on here.
Since the beginning of the tax reform debate, and the clear indication that this bill was not going to be subject to debate as much as it would be constructed around the particular interests of purple-state Republicans like Marco Rubio, I have offered little more than Twitter thinking. I’ve pondered within my word limit if the tax reform bill were an example of a Republican Wish List or a Republican Bucket List. This categorization started out, as most Twitter comments do, as mostly tongue-in-cheek. The consequences of this concept, however, might say a great deal about the coming elections this year.
So what am I talking about?
Well, the Republican Party has simply taken it upon itself to give up any pretense of championing the working man (even the working white man) and just put together a bill that will satisfy the party’s big money donors. They include major tax cuts at the top marginal rate, cuts to capital gains, cuts to real estate investment and no mention of the much-reviled “carried interest loophole” that was such a part of the Trump campaign. They even threw in the end of the Individual Mandate, cutting one of the legs from the three-legged stool that is Obamacare, this time without the whole mess of having to come up with a replacement to compensate for the repeal.
If the corporate elite could have drafted the legislation themselves in such a way that it wouldn’t start a revolution, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is pretty close to what they would have written.
So is this a matter of the Republicans fulfilling a Wish List or a Bucket List.
When looking at how this legislation was passed, rushed through the process as quickly and opaquely as possible, it sure looked like the Republicans were trying to get this gift to their corporate masters now, now, now, before it’s too late. Too late for what? For the 2018 elections when the Republican Party goes the way of the Dodo? If Mitch McConnell and his caucus see a political route in their near future, then the tax deform legislation was an example of a Bucket List. After all, the corporate class spent a lot of money getting their cronies in office. They would want a return on their investment. And all of those future unemployed Republican pols will be looking for something to pad their resumes as they apply for cushy jobs on Wall Street.
This is the “Bucket List” approach to understanding Republican politics. This is the premise underlying Paul Krugman’s recent column in the New York Times in which he describes GOP support for The Orange Don as a natural consequence of a Faustian Bargain they made during the Reagan Revolution:
In essence, since Reagan, the Republicans have benefited from a smiling sort of racism and misogyny, that was just xenophobic enough to keep the base alive, but happy-face enough to provide deniability and cover from the center. All of this funded by the 1%. But Trump let the cat out of the bag with his blatant racism and misogyny. Now the Republican Party is stuck. On the one hand, they largely agree with Trumpism on the basics, that their job is to secure the fortunes of the 1% and to control the 99% with militarized social control. On the other hand, they need the 99% to not know that lest they get voted out of office against what remains of what we call American Democracy. Now that the jig is up, the best they can do is jam in as much of their bucket list of policy priorities as possible before joining the erstwhile Whigs as a party that used to exist in the United States.
Indeed, this narrative more or less follows my much loved Dr. Moreau Theory of Republican Politics. It seems to be further bolstered by Trump’s abysmal approval numbers and the so-called Democratic Wave that we are told is spreading throughout the country.
As attractive as this sounds, I can’t say I’m convinced. First and foremost, institutions like the GOP don’t just roll over and die. The primary function of any institution is to perpetuate itself, and that’s just what the GOP will do. So how it’s responding to what is considered a crisis in the conservative movement may be more telling if we consider the Wish List paradigm. Namely, the Republican Party feels empowered enough that it can satisfy its policy priorities without even the pretense of caring for the common man and woman. That’s the distinguishing feature of the Wish List over the Bucket List. One fulfills the wish list when they feel they are on fortuitous footing.
What if our assumptions about the impact of the Trump Movement are wrong? What if Trump’s openly hate-fueled, proto-fascist campaign, instead of revealing the
conservative con, only empowered the conservative movement to shed the pretext of standing for the working man? After all, Trump did get elected. Furthermore, though his approval numbers are notably low, they are holding steady at a solid 37% or so no matter how outrageous his actions in office. In other words, his base is holding. More than one in three Americans approve of the job that he is doing, and there’s no indication that that will change.
Furthermore, the Trump election demonstrates that he doesn’t have to be popular. He just has to be more popular than his opposition. And even at that, he only has to be slightly more popular in just a few select counties strategically located in key states. A second Trump term is not out of the question, especially if Democrats are stupid enough to run such lackluster, milquetoast candidates as Kamala Harris or Cory Booker–and they are just that stupid!
What about down ballot? Are Republicans really afraid of losing their majorities in the Senate and the House of Representatives? Some analysts are suggesting that 2018 will be a Democratic year, that the GOP is shaking in its boots. Really?
Take, for instance, the choral exultations from the Democrats resulting from Doug Jone’s hairline victory over Roy Moore in the heart of Dixie. A Democrat winning in the South! Nothing short of amazing.
But, really, this is hardly a doomsday scenario for the GOP. If anything, all this election reveals is that the GOP can run a child molester and still get 90% support from their party stalwarts. So running anyone just slightly more appealing than a child molester almost guarantees a win. That’s not a particularly high bar.
And let’s not forget just how the GOP plays politics. The GOP playbook does not stop at messaging and ground game. No. The Republican Party alters the field to favor themselves. Since 2010, the Republican Party has so gerrymandered the districts in the states that they control that it is almost impossible for a Democrat to win. This is why Republicans are disproportionately overrepresented in the House of Representatives and even many state legislatures.
Things are not much better for Democrats in the Senate. According to Andrew Procop at Vox, “The Senate map is so mind-bogglingly awful for [the Democrats] that retaking the chamber in 2018 seems like a major stretch. As luck would have it, in 2018, Democrats must defend 25 seats, ten of which are in Trump states. Republicans are only defending eight.
Electorally, despite the history of midterms turning against the sitting president, especially when that president is unpopular, does not suggest a Democratic wave equivalent to 2006 or anywhere near that of the 2010 Republicans. The GOP may lose some seats, but probably not control at the national level nor even at the state level.
Of course, when all else fails, there’s always good, ol’ fashioned cheating. The Republican Party does this by disenfranchising potentially Democratic voters, namely minorities and the poor. Ari Berman, writing for Mother Jones, explained how Republican Voter ID laws suppressed the vote enough to throw the state into Trump’s column. “…between 12,000 and 23,000 registered voters in Madison and Milwaukee–and as many as 45,000 statewide–were deterred from voting by the ID law…Its impact was particularly acute in Milwaukee, where nearly two-thirds of the state’s African Americans live…”
Berman points out that voter suppression has been given new life now that Jeff Sessions sits at the helm of the Justice Department. He will certainly not defend voting rights by challenging state-level voter suppression. Consequently, according to Berman, “Republican controlled statehouses have already passed more voting restrictions in 2017 than they did in 2016 and 2015 combined.” Just in time for the midterm elections! In the meantime, most mainstream liberals are distracted by Russiagate, fake news, and its minimal influence on our elections.
The bottom line is that the Republican Party doesn’t seem to be acting as if it were on its last legs. If we remember back in 2008, when it was clear that the conservative movement was a scam, when commentators like Rachel Maddow were describing the Republican Party as being in the “political wilderness” the GOP had other plans. They harnessed their most monstrous base, fanned a bogus Tea Party counter-movement, stoked a racist backlash against the nation’s first black president and embarked on a purely cynical tactic of obstruction in order to drag themselves out of oblivion.
Meanwhile, the propaganda arm of the conservative movement at FoxNoise and talk radio spawned even more banal and prurient prophets by which to build their cult, from Sinclair Broadcasting to the madness that is Alex Jones. The Right Wing has its own magic bubble immune from troubling facts and reliable interpretations of reality.
The conservative movement is going strong, and the escape of Dr. Moreau’s Monsters has done little to discredit it. The Democratic Wave and the clear imbecility of Trumpism, in any rational world, should be enough to mark the death knell of the Republican Party. But this is not the rational world. This is the United States of the 21st century. If rational rules applied, we wouldn’t be in this mess. So announcing the end of the Republican Party and its conservative movement is, almost certainly, premature.
It’s likely not a Bucket List.