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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Destruction of the Republican Party [feedly]

The Destruction of the Republican Party
https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/trump-end-of-republican-party-by-j--bradford-delong-2018-05

There can no longer be any doubt that America has an unhinged, unqualified kleptocrat presiding in the White House. Nor can there be any question that the Republicans who put him there may be sealing their party's fate as the manifestation of Trumpism, rather than traditional conservatism.

BERKELEY – It has been one and a half years since Donald Trump was elected to the US presidency, so now is as good a time as any for Americans to take a deep breath and contemplate their broken political system.




To be sure, the United States has not experienced any major catastrophes, even though massive policy mistakes always seem to be looming on the horizon. But the country has been suffering a death by a thousand cuts, leaving it weaker and poorer the longer Trump is in office.

Much of the blame for this belongs to the Republicans, who have fallen into line behind Trump for reasons that are still difficult to understand. Trump was elected with over 60 million votes – some three million fewer than his opponent, Hillary Clinton. But he gained public backing from a wide array of Republican mandarins, policy advisers, and activists, all of whom knew that a President Clinton would pose less of a risk to the country.

Why did they do it? The most persuasive hypothesis is that – like former FBI Director James Comey and Dean Baquet, the executive editor of The New York Times – they ignored polling that did not underestimate the risk of a Trump victory. Mainstream Republicans assumed that they had little to lose, and perhaps something to gain, by opposing Clinton, because that is the lesson they took from the experiences of both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

It is worth remembering that in 1964, Nixon backed the Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, while other Republicans, such as then-Governor of Michigan George Romney, did not. Nixon then went on to become the party's presidential nominee in 1968, winning out over Republicans who had alienated the party's activist base by opposing Goldwater.

Likewise, Ronald Reagan backed Nixon until the very end, even as Nixon's impeachment was imminent, while Republicans such as Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee concluded that Nixon would have to go. Reagan went on to become the party's presidential nominee in 1980, winning out over Republicans who had stepped out of line with the party's activist base.


In 2016, the Republicans who backed Trump most likely saw it as a cheap way to advance their future in the party. What they did not count on was that he would actually become president, and that they would still have to look at themselves in the mirror every morning. Now that Republican rank-and-file voters have come to regard themselves more as Trump supporters than as Republicans, the party's leading lights must decide what to do next.

Some have already made their choice. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is retiring at the end of this term. Barring the unlikely possibility that he will mount a presidential run sometime in the future, he is effectively abdicating one of the most powerful positions in the US government, and abandoning his country to the leadership of an unhinged and unqualified kleptocrat. And Ryan is hardly alone: at last count, 43 Republican House members have decided not to seek reelection in November.

Whatever becomes of the Republican Party, it is within the American people's power to mitigate some of the damage from Trump's domestic policies at the local level. That is precisely what California and other Democratic ("blue") states have been doing – and with a great deal of success so far.

But in Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Nebraska, and other red states, the Republican voter base continues to be easily grifted. Farmers in Iowa and other heartland states turned out heavily for Trump in 2016, only to find that he regards them as acceptable casualties in the trade war he wants to launch against China, and perhaps Mexico, too. One should feel sorry for these voters, but not for the Republican politicians who have continued to swindle them by supporting Trump.

What can be done? For starters, we have to educate voters, and keep the spotlight on policies that are against their interests. Normalization is not an option. Pointing out the stupidity and destructiveness of Trump's policies, and making the case for their immediate reversal, should be an everyday occurrence.

Beyond that, Americans should try to persuade Vice President Mike Pence that it's time to invoke Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, which provides for the removal of a president who has been deemed unfit to serve by a majority of his or her cabinet.

Public pressure should also be brought to bear on Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, the co-chairmen of 21st Century Fox, which owns Fox News. Many of Trump's policy decisions and tweets track whatever his favorite Fox News commentators say on any given day. In the long run, though, kleptocrats tend to make prey of plutocrats. If the Murdochs care about their long-term fortunes, their best move may be to have their network tell the president: "You gave it a good try, but you're tired and clearly unhappy in the job, so why not just quit and go play golf, for the sake of your health?"

Finally, Republicans should be made to understand that this is their party's "Pete Wilson" moment. Pete Wilson is a former Republican governor of California who in the 1990s consigned his party to permanent minority status in the state by smearing Latinos as a menace. Today, California's large Latino population – which includes many dedicated, socially conservative churchgoers – have no truck with the Republicans. (Nor do many elderly white men in California, because even they are capable of embarrassment.)

Trump could do to the Republican Party nationally what Wilson did to it in California. Party leaders – already facing the likely loss of the House, and possibly the Senate, in November – need to act before it's too late.



J. Bradford DeLong is Professor of Economics at the University of California at Berkeley and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He was Deputy Assistant US Treasury Secretary during the Clinton Administration, where he was heavily involved in budget and trade negotiations. His role in designing the bailout of Mexico during the 1994 peso crisis placed him at the forefront of Latin America's transformation into a region of open economies, and cemented his stature as a leading voice in economic-policy debates.


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