With fewer than 60 days before the midterms, the stakes could not possibly be higher for the Republican Party. Yet despite the incredible strides President Trump is making for the party as he accomplishes what he set out to do, the GOP leadership seems perfectly content with business as usual. Worse, their focus is on the issues of yesterday rather than looking to the issues that won them the White House against all odds in 2016.
Whose Economy Is It Anyway?
Of course, it goes without saying that the economy is performing at historic levels. Small business optimism, wages, the stock market, and GDP growth are all at record highs, while jobless claims and unemployment are at historic lows.
So as we try to discern who deserves the credit for this roaring economy, it should not be a question of President Trump versus former President Obama (spoiler: It’s Trump); but rather, it should be a question of whether or not this is because of President Trump’s executive actions, or the legislative accomplishments of Congress.
Yes, the GOP’s two major economic bills—the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and the repeal of Dodd-Frank—have played some role in this recovery. But just as much credit, if not more, should go to the president’s historic reductions of federal regulations, generally business-friendly attitude, and tariffs leading to re-negotiated trade deals that have proved much more beneficial to the United States.
To pretend, as the GOP has done for almost a year now, that all of this is the result of one piece of tax cut legislation is delusional at best, and narcissistic at worst. The party simply wishes voter to put all their eggs in the tax cut basket in order to put greater emphasis on their one major legislative accomplishment, while also covering up their feckless failure to keep faith with voters by addressing other legislative goals such as Obamacare, immigration, social issues, and gun rights.
Heads in the Sand
And therein lies the fundamental problem with the congressional GOP. Trump swept the party and the country along in a historic victory with a very clear set of promises that were distinct from the promises made by other candidates. He very clearly defeated those other candidates. Trump vowed to fight along cultural lines rather than economic lines. Republicans in Congress, especially in the leadership, assumed that they could quietly hijack the Trump presidency and turn it into a vehicle for their own bland, retrograde, cut-and-dry fiscal agenda. In other words, the agenda that has hamstrung Republicans since after Reagan. But what congressional GOP swamp dwellers failed to realize is that this isn’t the 1990s, and it’s not “the economy, stupid.”
Yes, the economy is important. But Trump did not win by pledging to cut taxes, or lower the debt-to-GDP ratio, or tweak some other obscure economic number by a few decimal points; he promised that he would restore a new era of American prosperity and stability by protecting our very culture from foreign agents that seek to undermine and ultimately destroy it. He promised to make America great again.
He wants to stop the unfettered immigration, illegal or otherwise, that threatens to change permanently our demographics, and with it, our very culture. He wants to end the era of American workers seeing their jobs outsourced in favor of cheap foreign labor. Decades of allowing these policies may have enriched the few, who now compose our donor class, but it has led to a decline in the quality of life and the mental health of many former manufacturers and blue-collar workers who, in response, have lost themselves to drugs, depression, and suicide. Trump wants to restore a strong America—one ready to defend herself at all costs and with such might that no foreign power, be it another country or a terrorist organization—would dare trifle with us again.
Trump understands what it means to be American, and what needs to be preserved in order to maintain that uniquely American identity and way of life. He sees America as a country with its own culture; while many of the old guard GOP, like libertarians, simply sees it as an economy where profit is the final goal, borders and people be damned.
Trump’s Way or the Highway
Where Republicans candidates have adapted and adopted Trump’s message, they’ve done well. Where they have equivocated, they’ve either failed or eked out close victories in districts that should have been easy wins. Even in the face of Trump’s high approval ratings among Republicans and the clear lessons from Ohio’s 12th Congressional District and elsewhere, GOP leadership seems insulated, hamstrung, and intent on hearing what it wants to hear while ignoring clear signs of what voters really want.
The House GOP recently unveiled its proposal for a second round of tax cuts, following the previous tax cut law that passed in December. In so doing, they have utterly missed the point about why their party is succeeding again after being on the brink of extinction in 2016. The upshot? Trump won in spite of their policies, not vice-versa. They would not have even been able to pass their tax cuts, or their repeal of Dodd-Frank, or get all of these judicial nominees, were it not for Trump.
If they really want to continue with their boring fiscal agenda that does nothing to inspire the voters Trump was able to energize, then they would be better-served by sitting back and playing the long game. In the short-term, they should get behind Trump’s agenda on immigration and trade; work with him to secure the border and approve new trade deals; and watch their majorities skyrocket.
Then, once they approach Paul Krugman’s dreaded one-party rule with a comfortable majority in both houses, they can start passing their precious tax cuts for sport. Happy Trump voters will not object. But they are tired of lining up to advance an agenda that does more for the upper echelons of the party than it seems to do for them in the near term.
But if the party continues blindly pushing such boring and uninspiring fiscal policies in these final months before the midterms, they will find themselves once again clutching defeat from the jaws of victory.
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