After the release of my book on Republicans becoming a post-political party, there was one central question that I heard quite a bit: WhyExactly, has the GOP abandoned its role as the traditional governing party?
To simplify things a bit, I think there are three parts to the answer. The first is that Republicans don’t want to govern because they are too often hostile to government. As Neil Irwin said a few years ago, “If you make a career of opposing even the basic job of running government, it’s hard to move on to writing major legislation.”
The second is that GOP officials often don’t see the point of engaging in the rigors of real policymaking. Reading political analyses, attending hearings, negotiating with rivals and stakeholders, and pondering the consequences of political decisions requires countless hours of tedious and inglorious work. By contrast, peddling poll-tested, motivational, half-baked, hashtag-ready talking points is painless, ideologically satisfying, and often rewarded by voters.
But the third piece of the puzzle is a detail that tends to make Republicans uncomfortable: They know that many of the party’s fundamental ideas are deeply unpopular. The more they use the levers of power to pursue their goals, the more they risk an electoral backlash from voters who have no use for the regressive beliefs of the GOP.
It is this third point that came to mind this morning as House Republican leaders, more than six years after the party last presented a platform to the public, unveiled a long-awaited plan of GOP priorities. As the Washington Post reported, this is purposely vague:
The conference entered this week preparing to promote their pledge “Pledge to America,” a one-page position paper unveiled to members Thursday that GOP leaders hope to persuade voters to cede control of the House to them. , as well as serving as a guiding touchstone that holds the group together when legislative divisions inevitably emerge. But even this document is intentionally short on policy details…
The Post report noted that ambiguities in the party’s one-page plan reflect internal divisions: Republicans disagree among themselves on key provisions, so leaders had to keep the document vague.
While this is undoubtedly true, it is equally remarkable that GOP lawmakers also had a related incentive to avoid governance details: if they elaborated, they would lose.
The Commitment to America plan, for example, assures voters that Republicans will “protect the lives of unborn children.” How? Perhaps by pursuing some sort of national abortion ban? They did not – and more accurately, would not include any details, well aware that most Americans support reproductive rights and rejected the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.
GOP lawmakers also apparently intend to “save and strengthen” Social Security and Medicare. I’m sure it did well in the party chat groups, but what does it mean? Will social insurance programs be “saved and strengthened” by benefit cuts? Republicans don’t want to talk about it — because if they did, a lot of mainstream voters would run the other way.
The “Pledge to America” plan also lets us know that a far-right GOP majority in the House would “limit unnecessary government spending,” not mentioning spending that the party considers “wasteful.” It came with a promise of “pro-growth” tax policies, with no explanation of what that might entail or how many more breaks the party intends to give millionaires and billionaires.
As part of the same speech, Republican leaders told the audience today:[A]After more than a year of crushing inflation, Democrats still don’t have a plan to fix it. Regardless of the irony, the GOP’s own plan references sticker-style slogans, but it doesn’t include a plan to fight inflation.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer spoke at United Steelworkers headquarters in Pittsburgh this morning and said, referring to the speech of his Republican rivals: “Their new platform, which does not is not really new, is long in slogans and short in details. That’s because the real details of the Republicans’ agenda are too scary for most American voters.
The Maryland Democrat’s criticism resonates because he is right.
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