From the NYT editorial board:
Of all the things President Trump has destroyed, the Republican Party is among the most dismaying.
“Destroyed” is perhaps too simplistic, though. It would be more precise to say that Mr. Trump accelerated his party’s demise, exposing the rot that has been eating at its core for decades and leaving it a hollowed-out shell devoid of ideas, values or integrity, committed solely to preserving its own power even at the expense of democratic norms, institutions and ideals.
Tomato, tomahto. However you characterize it, the Republican Party’s dissolution under Mr. Trump is bad for American democracy.
A healthy political system needs robust, competing parties to give citizens a choice of ideological, governing and policy visions. More specifically, center-right parties have long been crucial to the health of modern liberal democracies, according to the Harvard political scientist Daniel Ziblatt’s study of the emergence of democracy in Western Europe. Among other benefits, a strong center right can co-opt more palatable aspects of the far right, isolating and draining energy from the more radical elements that threaten to destabilize the system.
Today’s G.O.P. does not come close to serving this function. It has instead allowed itself to be co-opted and radicalized by Trumpism. Its ideology has been reduced to a slurry of paranoia, white grievance and authoritarian populism. Its governing vision is reactionary, a cross between obstructionism and owning the libs. Its policy agenda, as defined by the party platform, is whatever President Trump wants — which might not be so pathetic if Mr. Trump’s interests went beyond “Build a wall!”
The editorial rightly criticizes Trump’s corruption and contempt for the rule of law, and it criticizes the knowing complicity of his Republican enablers in Congress. But the claim that the Republican party has no ideology or policy agenda is completely wrong.
The policy agenda of the GOP is to cut taxes on the rich and to dismantle regulation and social insurance programs. This agenda is driven by the libertarianism of the party’s plutocratic donor class. The two major legislative initiatives of the Trump presidency were 1) a large, regressive cut in corporate taxes (which passed) and 2) the repeal of the ACA without replacement (which failed). These extreme and highly unpopular priorities did not reflect a lack of ideas or values or an ideology, they reflect the capture of the party by a wealthy libertarian elite. And the libertarian ideology of the Republican party is not due to Trump; it preceded him and will quite likely continue to animate the party when he leaves the scene.
It is the extremism of the Republican economic vision that threatens our democracy. It is their economic extremism that forces Republicans to stoke racism and xenophobia to win votes. It is their economic extremism that leads Republicans to reject the legitimacy of Democratic governance and to undermine free and fair elections. Reasonable people can and will disagree about exactly how much to spend on social insurance or the best way to tackle climate change. But Republicans reject the premises of these debates. Given their uncompromising moral beliefs – that regulation is misguided and overbearing, that taxation is theft, and that most Americans are “takers” – what ground is there for reasonable differences of opinion that can be resolved through elections?
It is a serious problem that so many people – including, evidently, the New York Times editorial board – do not understand what is driving the extreme and anti-democratic behavior of the Republican party. The sickness that afflicts our body politic is all too real, and curing the illness will be much more difficult without an accurate diagnosis.