Last night was marketed as “Make America Work Again” night at the Republican National Convention, but based on what we heard, the GOP policy for “fixing” our 4.9 percent unemployment rate and all-time record 76 consecutive months of job growth is to bash the record and character of Hillary Clinton, over and over again, with speaker after speaker picking up the same worn cudgels.
Or as the crowd last night put it, “Lock her up! Lock her up!”
It’s a perfect illustration of why the Republican Party finds itself in this predicament.
Let’s acknowledge at the start that partisan politics has never been a game for the thin-skinned, and that harsh attacks on your opponent’s record and character are to be expected. However, there is supposed to be a larger purpose behind it, a set of actual goals that you’re trying to achieve, and the GOP has had few if any. So for more than seven years now, GOP leadership has tried to gin up irrational rage against their opponents, first against Barack Obama and now against Hillary Clinton, as a distraction from the more difficult job of actually proposing and articulating policy.
They’ve railed endlessly against ObamaCare, casting Lord knows how many votes to repeal it, but in all that time they have yet to agree upon a health-care alternative of their own. They control both the House and the Senate, yet they cannot wrangle the minimum level of agreement among themselves that would be needed to pass a budget. President Obama has long sought congressional approval for his ongoing military actions against ISIS, but again Republicans in Congress can’t agree among themselves about what that document should say, so again they’ve chosen to say nothing.
Officially, they do still hew to the most extreme culture-war positions. The 2016 GOP platform opposes abortion, even in situations involving rape, incest and detectable fatal birth defects in the fetus. It wants the Bible taught in public schools, it opposes embryonic stem-cell research, and it still demands an amendment to the Constitution that would outlaw gay marriage. Overall, the Log Cabin Republicans acknowledge it as ““the most anti-L.G.B.T. platform in the party’s 162-year history.”
The 2016 GOP platform also proposes to abolish what little remains of our comatose campaign-finance regulation system, with churches freed to become partisan political actors and contribution limits eliminated. But again, you’ve heard nary a mention of any of that in the convention, not with the whole country watching and listening. Hillary-bashing fills the void nicely.
They also still have an economic policy, which House Speaker Paul Ryan tried to defend last night pretty much alone. But even with everything that has happened, and even with Ryan’s attempts at repackaging, it still amounts to huge tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation of Wall Street banks and proposals to “save” middle-class programs such as Social Security and Medicare by slashing benefits and privatizing them whenever possible. The world has changed, the nature and form of our economic challenges have changed, but they have not. In every single policy area, their solution to the growing power imbalance between workers and corporate America has been to strengthen the hand of corporate America, as if the root of our problems is that the wealthy and powerful are not yet wealthy and powerful enough, and that the rest of us have it too easy.
Trump too is a huge advocate of tax cuts for the wealthy — according to the Tax Policy Center, the average tax cut for the top 1 percent under Trump’s tax plan would be $275,000, or five times the total annual income of the typical American household. However, Trump’s economic “policy” is also founded on a repudiation of free-trade agreements that traditional Republicans have long championed. So rather than expose that nasty little disagreement, they again choose to say little or nothing.
And then there’s Trump. More Republicans voted against him in the primaries than for him, and he remains a deeply divisive figure even within the party that nominated him. Much of the GOP elite has stayed far away from Cleveland, including Ohio Gov. John Kasich, wanting nothing to do with Trump’s coronation as party leader. And if they can’t rally in unity around Trump, they can at least agree that they really really really hate Clinton.
It’s not much of an organizing principle, but you take what can get sometimes.