POLITICAL CONNECTIONS

Republicans to Blue America: Drop Dead

The GOP turns inward, taking care of core supporters and punishing Democratic constituencies.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (right), accompanied by House Speaker Paul Ryan, speaks with members of the media during a news conference at the Republican congressional retreat in Philadelphia on Jan. 26.
AP Photo/Matt Rourke
Ronald Brownstein
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Ronald Brownstein
Dec. 6, 2017, 8 p.m.

When Ronald Reagan passed his historic tax cut in 1981, he won support from 25 Democrats in the Senate and 113 in the House.

When George W. Bush passed his sweeping tax cut in 2001, he won support from 12 Democrats in the Senate and 28 in the House.

But when President Trump and the Republican leadership muscled their respective tax-cut plans through Congress, not a single Democrat in either chamber voted yes. That shutout came even though 12 House Democrats represent districts that Trump carried last year, and Democrats in 2018 are defending 10 Senate seats in states that the president won.

Across all issues, it’s become less common for legislators to vote across party lines than in the Reagan, and even Bush, era. And Trump has less leverage over Democratic legislators than his predecessors because he has much lower job-approval ratings, especially among Democratic voters.

But there is a more straightforward reason why a single Democrat did not back the legislation: The GOP not only entirely excluded Democrats from the process of drafting the bills, but also punished Democratic constituencies, from residents of high-tax states to graduate students. The tax plans represent a political closed circle: bills written solely by Republicans and passed solely by Republican votes that shower their greatest benefits on Republican constituencies. It’s not just redistribution—the tax bills are also grounded in retribution.

The tax debate offers the clearest measure of how powerfully the Republican Party in the Trump era is folding inward. Neither Trump nor GOP congressional leaders are even pretending to represent the entire country—or to consider perspectives beyond those of their core coalition. Instead, the party has shown that as long as it can maintain internal unity, it will ignore objections from virtually any outside source—not just Democrats, but also independent experts, affected interest groups, and allies abroad.

In several distinct ways, the party is now governing solely of, by, and for Red America. Key among them:

Distorting the legislative process: On the tax and especially the recent health care bills, the GOP Congress short-circuited the legislative process to minimize public input. Leadership negotiated all the key decisions behind closed doors. That dampened public debate and forced legislators to vote on massive packages with little time to consider consequences or mobilize opposition.

Congress has long been growing more partisan, but the tax bills represented a quantum leap in exclusion. President Obama made significant changes to his stimulus plan in 2009 to win support from three GOP senators. He also allowed the Senate Finance Committee to delay consideration of the Affordable Care Act for over three months to conduct extended negotiations with Republicans. (No Republicans ultimately backed the ACA on the floor, but that didn’t erase the effort.)

Punishing Democratic strongholds: The tax bills, as I’ve noted before, are not unusual in benefitting GOP constituencies. But the bills, especially the House version, are unusual in targeting families in blue, high-tax states, who’d be hurt by restrictions on state-tax and local-tax deductibility; homeowners in large, mostly Democratic metro areas, who’d face limits on mortgage deductions; and students, who’d face higher taxes on college debt or graduate-tuition waivers.

This confrontational instinct extends beyond taxes. Violating conservatives’ usual fondness for federalism, the House passed legislation Wednesday that would force every state to recognize a concealed-weapon permit granted in any state.

The administration is seeking to withhold federal grants to pressure so-called sanctuary cities that limit local cooperation with federal immigration authorities. And Trump is trying to undermine blue-state regulatory standards by allowing the interstate sale of health insurance.

Rejecting independent information: Examples range from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan blithely discounting the array of independent analyses of their tax plans, which show they’d massively increase the federal deficit and primarily benefit the wealthy; to Trump’s rejection of climate science; to nearly three-fourths of Alabama Republicans saying they don’t believe detailed allegations of sexual misconduct against Senate candidate Roy Moore.

Disregarding international allies: The widespread international condemnation of Trump’s decision to relocate the U.S. embassy in Israel deepens the isolation from traditional allies already evident in his moves against the Trans-Pacific Partnership and NAFTA trade deals, the Iranian nuclear agreement, and the Paris climate accord. Only a handful of congressional Republicans have questioned any of these breaks with the world.

In all these ways, the Trump-era GOP has grown impervious to virtually any opinion that resists its own internal consensus. November’s midterm elections will begin answering whether the party has drawn that closed circle too narrowly to preserve its upper hand in Washington.




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