In #Healthcare’s Wake, The #GOP Adrift
Saturday, March 25th, 2017
by Reed Galen
Last week’s Congressional healthcare debacle was the latest and clearest evidence that the Republican Party is now a rudderless political movement. Despite a universal loathing of Obamacare, its namesake and much of its policy, GOP House leaders produced a bill that satisfied neither its hard-right Freedom Caucus members nor those that represent more moderate districts. The failure makes their 50+ Obamacare repeal votes of the past eight years seem that much more hollow. The US House, more than any other elected body, is illustrative of the fault lines that have plagued the American conservative movement for the better part of a decade.
Last week’s failure tells the story of a GOP that cannot agree with itself on policy, has as its titular leader someone who does not believe in its once-core values and continues too often to ignore the vast majority of the American people at the expense of interest groups — be they fire-breathing right-wing activist or well-heeled donors who largely fund their campaigns and the subsequent lobbying efforts members face once in office.
The Tea Party movement was just the first major earthquake to rattle and roll the Republican Party. Awakened by the outrage that was Obamacare’s single-party passage, those voters who were born as Tea Partiers in 2010 became Trump voters in 2016. Long dormant, this self-described ‘Constitutionalist’ wing of the GOP wanted government out of healthcare, out of citizens’ lives and for the state to generally do much less. As time passed, though, this adherence to strict-constructionist values has evolved into the political nihilism now daily displayed by members of the House Freedom Caucus. It doesn’t matter what the issue is, if government has a hand in it, they want no part of it. That’s fine, except the alternative is anarchy. Anarchy isn’t really a good option for anyone.
Though they were powerful in their localities and districts, this grassroots effort was largely disparate in organization and leadership. By the time of the Republican presidential primary in 2015 and 2016, the activist wing of the party had taken over; but it took too many members of the Establishment too long to realize just how big a problem they had. Those middle-of-the-road Republicans that had saved the party from the likes of Mike Huckabee (2008) and Rick Santorum (2012) were gone. Either too dispirited to participate or too radicalized in their own right to believe that Jeb Bush, John Kasich or Marco Rubio were sufficiently ready to take on Washington in any meaningful way.
Enter Donald J. Trump. He offered conservatives something they needed: An outlet for their anger and frustration, ideology be damned. As Republican primary voters by the thousands joined Trump’s effort, they systemically left their own party unmoored from 60 years of political and moral underpinnings. The three pillars of traditional American conservatism, strong national defense, fiscal responsibility and social conservatism, were left at the pier as Republicans boarded the SS Trump for a cruise into the unknown.
Like unknowing settlers headed for a new land in hopes of new lives and prosperity, their captain has no map, no compass and no wind in his sails. They shoved off on a current of anger and resentment and now find themselves stuck in the political Horse Latitudes; bobbing listlessly and praying for a gust that will by providence push them toward their unknown destination. They’re more likely to be pushed up on the rocks of American political history by hurricane of their own making or sunk by icebergs they can neither navigate nor see. When their commodore spoke to Congress last month, they stood and cheered for things that would have made Republicans a generation ago blanch.
Healthcare was the best evidence of their lack of direction. In the aftermath of pulling their repeal and replace bill, Speaker Ryan noted that governing is hard. It is indeed hard. It is made that much harder when a significant part of the ruling party, its leader and that leader’s closest advisors, see the Federal government as a fundamentally illegitimate construction. Not content to simply rail against wasteful spending or bureaucratic ineptitude, problems which are real and addressable, most of the President’s Men openly advocate for allowing the current system to wither on the vine.
The Republican Obamacare repeal plan would have, in one form or another, displaced 24 million Americans from health insurance, according to a Republican-appointed Congressional Budget Office. Even if the plan attempted to represent some semblance of conservatism, it neither looked after the citizenry writ-large nor saved any money. Not content to rest on those laurels, it now appears that both Congress and the President will push a tax reform package that, on its face will do three major things: 1) reduce taxes on rich people 2) give corporations a major haircut on their tax rates and 3) make going to Wal-Mart 20% more expensive for too many Americans already struggling to get by.
These are prime examples of why the Republican party is in its current condition. As its voters have become progressively whiter and less economically well-off, GOPers in Washington continue to operate in a manner that will hurt their own constituents. This is the height of hypocrisy, pure ignorance or further proof that those elected to represent conservative values are beholden to forces they are unwilling or unable to stand up to. Keeping up this course of action will not lead to success or long-term health of America’s conservative party. They will only embolden the roiling and concerning forces that allowed for the rise and election of an anger-fueled president like Donald Trump.
Republicans should not become Democrats. Obamacare no doubt has its issues — many of which Democrats may have been willing to help solve. That is a far cry from displacing millions of voters GOP members actually represent. They should admit, despite their best wishes and efforts, that 1) domestic policy is not their bag and 2) healthcare on a national scale is nearly impossible to fit into a “market-based” system so long as you’re unwilling to take on the nearly-monopolistic insurance industry.
The GOP should focus on ways to shrink the cost of government, reduce arbitrary and capricious regulations and find smart ways to do more with less. Given how many Republicans members of Congress are from rural areas or districts once dominated by heavy industry, they should spend a lot more time figuring out how to put systems in place that do right by those citizens left behind for any number of reasons: long-standing institutional discrimination, the technological revolution and mass outsourcing of manufacturing among them.
No one elected you to solve easy problems. Your constituents elected you to solve the problems we are unable to solve ourselves. This does not mean creating jobs where there aren’t any, or cradle-to-grave government care and oversight of our lives. What it does mean is taking a clear-eyed and honest look at where America is in the early 21st Century and putting the nation on a path to real-time easing of the worst issues and long-term health, viability and stability. It will likely cost you some of your jobs. If that’s the case, you should be willing to put that possibility at the front of your mind. The seats you hold aren’t yours — they belong to the people that elected you. For once, after so many years of gridlock and pointless posturing, start acting like it.
Copyright, 2017. Jedburghs, LLC.
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