Rick Wilson, His Former Party and 1984

I really enjoy Rick Wilson’s thoughts on the Republican Party, his former party until 3 years ago. I don’t know which part of his latest Washington Post Op-ed I like most but here goes:

As the saying goes, you had one job, Republicans. Now? Your job really isn’t representing your districts. It’s backfilling and wallpapering over your president’s latest excesses, outrages, racial arson and verbal Twitter dysentery. Every day is a new crisis, and every day demands their complete attention. When he eventually tweets that he was the first person to arrive at Ground Zero or that he invented the question mark that one summer in Yangon, count on his congressional footmen and the Fox News Ministry of Truth to find a new way to spin it.

For Republicans, it’s an endless summer of crying themselves to sleep at Newspeak immersion camp.

My bolding of references to 1984. Ouch that’s going to leave a mark.

However, like many never Trump Conservatives, Wilson insists that conservative doublethink, duckspeaking and blackwhite are new things. He also has the trait typical of those who recently emerged from the Conservabubble of assuming that universal values are conservative values and that leftists are mirror images of conservatives rejecting what the principles they claim. So I can’t resist fisking his column which I will fair use after the jump.

Before the jump I will just note that it is not clear how much of the following description of Trumpian lunacy is covered by “when it comes to articulating anything close to traditional GOP beliefs, he’s as likely to sound like the lifelong Democrat he was until Republicans tell him what to think.” I don’t think he was ever a sincere Democrat anymore than I think he is now a sincere Republican. He is and was a Trumpian.

But more importantly, Wilson refuses to recognise just how far the GOP had already strayed from its declared principles or any standards of reason, logic or decency long before Donald Trump descended the elevator escalator. He describes Trumps typically Republican actions as betrayals of a tradition that has long since been abandoned (I date the betrayal November 1876 but your mileage may differ).

On Tuesday, President Trump blithely tweeted out his support for voter ID legislation and “Paper Ballots as backup (old fashioned but true!)” just a week after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) killed legislation that included — wait for it — funding for paper ballots.

In one throwaway line, Trump simultaneously reminded us why the election security issue had Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank calling McConnell a “Russian asset” and exposed himself as a simpleton: “old fashioned but true” is a pretty good indicator that in his mind, everything boils down to “newfangled, bad; oldfangled, good.”

Note, Wilson does not contest Milbank’s description of McConnell. Also note that McConnell could not have been lead astray by Trump who demonstrates his lack of familiarity with the party line. On his own, McConnell has long since become an enemy of democracy. Yet Wilson had no problem working with him until 2016.

It’s just the latest example in a career of not-even-half-baked utterances that show just how poorly briefed and shallow he is. He was cunning enough to effect a hostile takeover of the Republican Party, but when it comes to articulating anything close to traditional GOP beliefs, he’s as likely to sound like the lifelong Democrat he was until Republicans tell him what to think.

Not likely to sound like any Democrat I know. He is all over the map, but doesn’t favor Democratic territory over fascism, Imperial empires or Mafia turf. He is capable of saying anything except for criticism of Donald Trump. He says what is most convenient at the moment and tends to agree with the last person to talk to him. But he has never been more attached to the Democratic party than to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

If you need more evidence, go back to last year, when Trump sat down with a group of congressional leaders and said he’d get behind Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) suggestion to pass a “clean DACA bill” until House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) cut him off mid-sentence and reeled him back to the Republican position. A few weeks later, in the course of a single meeting, Trump told members of Congress not to fear the NRA, floated an idea to “take the guns first, go through due process second” as a response to gun violence, and momentarily signed on to an assault-weapons ban, with Feinstein nearly jumping out of her chair in delight while Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.) had to laugh just to keep from crying.

Democrats respect due process. Anti-Gun-Trump maintained his rejection of liberal principles such as the rule of law. A ban on guns does not violate any central liberal principle (the second amendment is peculiar to the USA). Taking guns specifically from one individual based on a hunch, and then going through due process does violate central liberal principle of due process, which Trump detests because he is no more a democrat than he is a Democrat.

Still not convinced? There’s Trump’s protectionist trade policy: tariffs with a heaping helping of soybean farmer welfare. His take on the Constitution: “I have the right to do whatever I want.” (Translation: “When you’re a star, they let you do it.”) His approach to the Bible: Many people are saying it’s a good book. And there’s his foreign policy: NATO, bad; Russia, good; North Korea, let’s be BFFs.

OK here we get to trouble. I think Wilson honestly thinks that three typically Republican positions he lists are Democratic. “protectionist trade policy” starting with a steel tariff just like George W Bush’s. He hasn’t gotten to “voluntary” automobile export quotas like Reagans. Yes he has rejected the Republican accomplishments of the WTO and NAFTA (first negotiated by Clinton and second pushed through congress by Clinton) oh and Obama’s TPP. Welfare for farmers has been a core Republican principle since they began to win all statewide elections in farm states (in the 50s). It was introduced by FDR, but embraced by the GOP decades ago.

Republicans claim to support free markets and free trade, just as they claim to support a Republic not an (absolute monarchy whenever a Republican is in the White House). But everyone with any sense knows they are lying. They are not a pro-market party, they are a pro-business party. They consistently favor concentrated interests. I am not, I repeat not, saying all Republicans are criminals; but I am definitely saying one could guess the party’s position on every controversial issue debated since 1980 by assuming they sell out to the highest bidder. I suppose there must be some exception, but I can’t think of one.

Trump’s take on the Constitution is identical to Bush’s. OK Bush said his most important responsibility was to protect the safety of the American people. He didn’t say “what I want.” He made it clear only by his actions that he meant his hunch as to what to do for our safety trumped the Constitution and all restrictions on his power. I hope this is remembered. I don’t want to go through all the details. It shouldn’t be controversial. Now Wilson seems to think the Bible is a GOP document and disrespect for it is Democratic. I mean a Christian Democrat is as absurd as Jimmy Carter or Martin Luther King Jr. I’d say it is typical of US extreme Conservatives to say the bible is innerrant without knowing what it says.

Democrats do not say “NATO, bad; Russia, good; North Korea, let’s be BFFs.” The fringe of the left fringe of the party opposes NATO (Definitely not including any President and especially not NATO founder Truman). In contrast, there has long been a substantially larger anti-NATO component of the GOP. The right wing (sadly not fringe) didn’t want the USA involved in alliances and wanted to rely on unilateral air power. Neocons are suspicious of any multilateralism which might limit their freedom of action.

Wilson is unclear, but I think he assumes that the bipartisan consensus is Republican and that the left fringe of the Democratic party is the Democratic party. But most of all, he fails to accept the decades of spectaccular almost perfect Republican hypocrisy.

Go far enough back in Trump’s archive, and you get gems like this take on health-care coverage, from a book he wrote 20 years ago called “The America We Deserve” — a title any nanny-stater could love:

“I’m a conservative on most issues but a liberal on this one. … We must have universal healthcare.”

One does not have to go far back. Trump promised that the GOP plan to replace Obamacare would guarantee universal healthcare. That was in 2017 which wasn’t all that long ago. But this passage made me angry. Wilson went from ” North Korea, let’s be BFFs.” to “universal healthcare” which is the current slogan of all leading Democrats. He is not just being sloppy. He is suggesting that Democrats have a Trump like crush on Kim Jong Un. If stated rather than insinuated, this would be libel.

Even when he lands on something Republican-adjacent, like his 2017 tax cut, he forgets the hard part: the budget cuts that are supposed to go with it.

There is nothing, nothing, more typical of the GOP than tax cuts without budget cuts. Wilson has decided that Bush Jr and Reagan are not Republicans. Under Reagan, there were huge tax cuts and a huge defence buildup. There was a shift of spending from Domestic to military, but there was never any serious effort to cut total spending (see the budgets Reagan sent to Congress). But it is only in this century that the absurdity of the idea that budget cuts have anything to do with the GOP became blatant obvious and undeniable. Under Bush there were huge tax cuts, one war of choice, and a rapid increase in domestic discretionary spending. All of this with GOP majorities in the House and Senate. Wilson is gaslighting. He knows that the GOP has long abandoned any interst in balancing the budget when a Republican is in the White House. It is clear that they use centrist distress about deficits as a tool to attack Democrats. Wilson must know this. He is just pretending not to.

He’s so intellectually gelatinous that he’s drained what remained of traditional Republican beliefs out of the party. He’s made a mockery out of every Republican talking point and a hypocrite out of almost every Republican carrying his water, which is almost every elected Republican. He tells them what to think, and they tell him how to say what he thinks so they can still play conservatives on TV.

No he has not made them hypocrites. They were already hypocrites back before he entered politics. They made mockery of their talking points. I suppose there are Republican beliefs. There must be. But there is no evidence that a significant fraction of elected Republicans believe in anything but beating Democrats.

As recently as the Paul Ryan era (Remember that guy? He was House speaker one election ago and on the Republican ticket two presidential elections ago.), the GOP was calling itself the party of ideas. Now all that’s left is the party of Cleanup on Aisle Trump.

Yes they called themselves the party of ideas and Trump calls himself a very stable genius. But Ryan was always a total fraud. Everyone who was actually interested in policy recognized that his core competency was shameless lying. I gues Ryan fooled a lot of fools. It is very possible that Wilson (who does politics not policy) honestly didn’t see through him. But he was transparent.

update: thanks reason

The Republican Party was once bound — at least loosely — to a set of principles, including limiting the reach of government, dedication to the rule of law, the control of taxation and spending, and a certain degree of moral probity. Trump’s GOP is … not that.

“Loosely” is the weasel word of all weasel words, but even with “loosely” the first sentence is nonsense unless “once” refers to some time before 1900. I won’t go before 1980. First George W Bush claimed the authority to lock anyone up indefinitely without trial. That is not limiting the reach of government. George Hanover III of England accepted more limits than George Bush II of the USA. This is simply a fact. He also said the Patriot Act which he personally signed into law did not bind him. He very explicitly declared himself above the law. He had no respect for the rule of law. Zero. He didn’t claim the authority to disburse funds from the US Treasury which had not been appropriated by law by Congress, as Reagan did. He didn’t say “If the President does it, it’s not a crime” as Nixon did. Republican Presidents have demonstrated their contempt for the rule of law starting before Trump’s first divorce. It isn’t just breaking the law, it is proudly claiming to be above it. I have noted above how the GOP has long demonstrated the thrift of a drunken sailor. Notably, both the huge tax cuts and the huge spending increase were Congressional GOP initiatives. Trump was quite upset about the huge 2018 spending increase saying he would threaten the next such bill that came to him (he will have a chance to keep his word in the coming days). The fact is that Republicans love huge spending when a Republican is in the White House. And not just military spending. Recall the Bridge to Nowhere ? Who controlled Congress and the White House when money was appropriated to build it.

On the other hand, I must admit that Joseph McCarthy, Richard Nixon, John Mitchel, Richard Kleindienst, Samuel Pierce, Oliver North, Newt Gingrich, Tom Delay, Jack Abramoff, Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Jerry Falwell Jr, Tedd Stevens, Don Young (still serving) and rep. Dr Scott Scott DesJarlais (still serving) demonstrate the GOP’s longstanding devotion to moral probity.

As the saying goes, you had one job, Republicans. Now? Your job really isn’t representing your districts. It’s backfilling and wallpapering over your president’s latest excesses, outrages, racial arson and verbal Twitter dysentery. Every day is a new crisis, and every day demands their complete attention. When he eventually tweets that he was the first person to arrive at Ground Zero or that he invented the question mark that one summer in Yangon, count on his congressional footmen and the Fox News Ministry of Truth to find a new way to spin it.

For Republicans, it’s an endless summer of crying themselves to sleep at Newspeak immersion camp. Yesterday, paper ballots were out. Today, some poor intern is probably mocking one up in crayon.

OK good closing paragraphs.

I am actually quite optimistic. Once they break ranks, Republican critics of the current Republican party have a strong tendency to eventually figure out that it has been messed up for a long time. I am thinking of Bruce Bartlett and Max Boot.

The point that no Republican reaction to Trump is at all surprising (to anyone who witnessed the past decades unblinded by loyalty or wingnut welfare) does not long remain mysterious to people who no longer feel obliged to defend The Party and place The Party’s Truth above their reading of the evidence.

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