What a mess. Party loyalty has its limits – and it may be time for me to throw in the towel. In all my years as a loyal Republican, I have never felt more humiliated or helpless about where the party stands on policy, legislation and comportment.
Seriously. If you look at what the Republican Party has always stood for, it's all just being tossed out the window. We used to be a problem-solving party – fiscally disciplined, fully accountable, less strident on social issues, and willing to compromise in order to get things done. We were a party of moral authority and rectitude. Today, all that matters is power, which has led to irresponsibility, abuse and moral bankruptcy.
Policy debacles aside, the most disturbing facet of our current mess is the degenerative behavior exhibited by the president, some GOP members of Congress and many party supporters. Our president has lowered the bar so much – viciously attacking the judiciary, the media, the intelligence community, our long-time allies and anyone who disagrees with him – that what’s considered acceptable now would have been totally inconceivable back in not only the Reagan era, but also for George W. Bush. Although I see it with my own eyes on a daily basis, there‘s still a sense of disbelief that the leaders of the Republican Party can just wink and nod at the deceitfulness and disrespect that has produced such diplomatic tactlessness and political recklessness.
More than most people, I was initially willing to cut Republicans on the Hill a little more slack because it's very rare when you control the White House and both chambers of Congress. It would take time to transform from a party that’s guiding principle was obstruction to one of governance. Here was a chance to break the gridlock and get some sensible initiatives such as infrastructure and tax reform negotiated and passed. But that grace period has long expired, with nothing except a tax break for the wealthy masquerading as a draconian healthcare act.
When I mused out loud that the best 2016 outcome for the Republican party was for Hillary to win as convincingly as possible, I was accused then by my fellow GOPers as being a Republican in Name Only, to which I countered that I was a Republican in Tradition Only. With the Trump Administration in power, and our lack of ethics worse than ever, I stand by that view more than ever and am sad to say that I’m now approaching Republican in Memory Only. My views haven't changed – my party has.
Take tax reform. Our party has always stood for fiscal responsibility and intelligent spending restraint, but that's not what's happening here. Yes, I support having a revenue neutral corporate tax cut from 35 down to 20 percent, a payroll tax cut, as well as closing personal-income loopholes and lowering the effective rate. That's smart tax reform. What the White House is promoting isn't anything close to that and it's not just the level of senselessness; it's the amount of fiscal chicanery we're seeing from this administration.
They propose getting rid of the estate tax, but then count $330 billion in revenue from it. They use a $2 trillion savings twice. They don't even give enough time for the tax cuts to kick in to provide economic stimulus. Worst of all, it’s the same supply-side-give-almost-all-the-savings-to-the-wealthy tomfoolery, which is not about stimulating the economy or reducing the deficit. It's about paying back the moneyed interests that fund the party. Understand this: 158 families in this country have contributed half of all the GOP political contributions – and they expect something in return.
Two more obvious truths: First, when it comes to his budget, the very states that got Trump into office are the ones that are going to be most devastated by his cuts. Second, the aforementioned GOP “healthcare” bill, which transfers $850 billion of Medicaid into tax breaks to the wealthy, will create an electoral train wreck for Republicans. Both rationality and compassion suggest that the healthcare bill should die in the Senate, but I worry that Mitch McConnell, desperate for any legislative accomplishment, is going to try to pass some form of the AHCA. When something is fatally flawed, it doesn't matter if you only partially modify it. It's still deficient legislation that is simply not fit to become law. And this administration’s practice of robbing the very voters that decided the election to feed the rich is not only cruel, but reeks of clumsiness.
Trump sold the working-class people that voted for him a huge clunker. While never expecting him to keep his promises, I hoped he would be a little more discreet in breaking them. He is shamelessly betting that he can stiff his supporters and get away with it. Trump also didn’t hire experienced people to be his sounding boards and advisors. And he certainly didn’t bring aboard anyone who would be unafraid to tell him what he doesn't want to hear. Instead, he has surrounded himself with fellow billionaires, sycophants and loyalist family members like Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Talk about a swamp!
This is not to let the Democrats off the hook. They are themselves floundering in the Trump vortex, focusing more on attack rather than offering electable solutions. They have myriad reasons for why they keep losing, but few ideas to address the needs of their working class voters, many of whom defected to Trump out of neglect or derision. Unbelievably, the Democrats have lost ground despite the train wreck that has been the Trump presidency, which is a pretty amazing feat.
As a practical optimist (two very tough things to be these days), the best news coming out of Washington is that all the chaos, incompetence and duplicity has paralyzed this administration, meaning that a lot of potentially damaging legislation will not likely become law. In politics, inaction is always better than bad action.
While things look pretty bleak nationally, my hope is that some of the more pragmatic leadership we’re seeing on the state and local level in the party will filter up and, along with the changing demographics of the country, require or at least incentivize change. But withdrawing from the Paris climate accord may also irrevocably damage the party’s ability to attract a younger generation of supporters. The question is: when the Trump era ends, will so much damage have been done to the party that it will be too late for the GOP, at least in its current form, to survive?
In the meantime, I will continue to shake my head at the incompetence, dishonesty and heartlessness of this administration, and the lack of integrity and accountability from the party’s leadership. As a longtime Republican, I must now admit, when it comes to shame, the Scarlet Letter is no longer an A, but an R.