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Ross Douthat Throws In the Towel

Is there any other way to read this column [1] than as a complete abandonment of the Reformicon fight?

In some alternate America, some Earth-2 (or Earth-27), there is a Republican Party capable of putting together a health care bill that isn’t incoherent and unpopular. In some distant, misty Neverland, there is a G.O.P. capable of balancing fiscal responsibility and limited-government principle with the creativity required to address working-class America’s social crisis.

But the world is what it is, and a party that offers nothing, whose ideological sclerosis and internal contradictions allow it to offer nothing, might as well just go pass a tax cut and call it a day.

Not tax reform, which would improve the efficiency of the code. Just a plain old tax cut. That’s all he believes this GOP is capable of:

I’m not saying that Republicans couldn’t still do a comprehensive and permanent tax reform in theory. Set health care aside entirely and there are still lots of clever and plausible ways to overhaul and improve the tax code without sacrificing revenue.

You could cap various perverse deductions that mostly benefit wealthy blue-state taxpayers, like the home-mortgage and state and local tax deductions, and use the savings to lower rates across the board. You could cut the corporate tax rate and raise the capital-gains tax rate to compensate, as Senator Mike Lee has proposed [2]. You could even (gasp, heresy, gasp) raise the top income tax rate, as Steve Bannon reportedly wants to do, and use the savings to cut payroll taxes or fund a new child tax credit.

But Republicans don’t seem equipped to pull off anything complicated, they don’t look united enough to take political risks, and they aren’t ideologically ready to pass anything heretical. So barring a sudden transformation in the party and its leadership, a temporary, deficit-financed tax cut is the only thing that has a decent chance of happening.

Douthat goes on to say that while a tax cut wouldn’t be “not the greatest idea, neither is it a terrible one” — provided that Republicans “focus on corporate and payroll taxes, on business and workers, instead of just aiming for the lowest possible top income tax rate.” But what are the odds of that?

His rousing conclusion:

Personally I can live with a Trump administration that appoints conservative judges [3] and fails at everything else, since judicial appointments are about the only thing I trust this G.O.P. to do.

But if Congress insists on continuing to try legislating, I will give a 10-year tax cut my official Trump-era seal of approval [4]: They could certainly do worse.

And it’s true! A party that borrows from the Chinese to give tax breaks to Wall Street financiers and billionaire heiresses would be an improvement on a party that does those things and starts catastrophic wars in the Middle East. But what are the odds we won’t get more of those, too?

No wonder he longs for a king.

16 Comments (Open | Close)

16 Comments To "Ross Douthat Throws In the Towel"

#1 Comment By Heyseed On July 19, 2017 @ 1:25 pm

Remember, one of the unwritten rules of American government and politics is that any legislative act will be much harder to repeal than it was to enact in the first place. A bill can pass with the slimmest possible majority, but once in place, will require a super-majority to repeal.

#2 Comment By Adriana I Pena On July 19, 2017 @ 1:28 pm

Never mind Ross. It WILL do worse.

For a realistic assessment of what will happen, watch a Three Stooges short.

#3 Comment By R.S. Rogers On July 19, 2017 @ 1:41 pm

Is there any other way to read this column than as a complete abandonment of the Reformicon fight?

It’s not surrender if you’ve already lost the battle. The Reformicon project was always hopeless, to the extent that it aimed to change the policies, values, or behavior of either the Republican Party or the conservative movement. The American right is a radical ideological vanguard, a reactionary form of Jacobinism, and as such it cannot be reformed by any intellectually or morally rigorous conservative ideas. To embrace any form of intellectually legitimate conservatism would contradict everything Actually Existing Conservatism stands for. Tory conservatism amounts to intellectual and moral suicide for Actually Existing Conservatism.

And since the Republican Party has come to be dominated by the conservative movement, the hopelessness of the Reformicon project with regard to Actually Existing Conservatism is equally true of the GOP.

The Reformicon project is vital, and indeed I’d go so far as to suggest that the survival of our republic depends in some part on Reformicon success. But it was never going to succeed within the conservative movement or the Republican Party. The word “conservative” is a problem twice over for Reformicons. First, because the American public understands “conservative” to refer to the stew of reactionary radicalism that goes by that name in American politics, and so most who might be receptive to the Toryism of Reformicons are turned off by the use of the “conservative” label. Second, because the use of the term leads Reformicons to waste their energy trying to work within Actually Existing Conservatism to win back control of the terminology. Better to focus on values and policy outcomes to seek allies outside of the radical vanguard that has won control of the “conservative” name.

#4 Comment By Tidewater Virginian On July 19, 2017 @ 2:09 pm

Yet more proof that our general government must do less, not more. As I’ve said before, re-decentralization is key. Our state governments can be more easily held accountable than D.C., and so we should focus there. They should do more; D.C. should do very, very little, both at home and abroad (such as a complete withdrawal from the Middle East and Europe). That would also mean that federal taxes would need to be much less, and so a comprehensive tax code at the federal level would have no use. Think locally, act locally.

New political parties would also be a plus. One such as the Old Republicans that existed when John Randolph and Nathaniel Macon were on the stage (it was more a faction, and not really a political party; parties didn’t exist in a recognizable modern form until Van Buren formed the Democratic party). Radical? Maybe. But radical restoration of old principles of statesmanship is what is needed now.

#5 Comment By Kurt Gayle On July 19, 2017 @ 2:30 pm

Ross Douthat says: “In some alternate America…there is a Republican Party capable of putting together a health care bill that isn’t incoherent and unpopular.”

But in THE REAL AMERICA, Mr. Douthat – the America as those of us in the Trump base see it — there is a coalition of Republicans and Democrats capable of putting together a health care bill that is coherent, popular, and that serves the interests of all Americans.

Make no mistake, Mr. Douthat: On many, many occasions President Trump has said that he is completely open to working with Democrats on health care. And we in the Trump base support President Trump in working with the Democrats to build a good health care system for all Americans.

As for that part of the Republican Party that – as Mr. Douthat says – “offers nothing, whose ideological sclerosis and internal contradictions allow it to offer nothing” – let that part of the Republican Party watch its proverbial hindquarters when it stands for re-election. That’s because we in the Trump base are committed to President Trump’s agenda – not to the “ideological sclerosis” of those Republicans who are blocking a good health care bill that will serve the needs of all Americans.

#6 Comment By Kurt Gayle On July 19, 2017 @ 2:49 pm

Too many Republican politicians have turned that backs on middle America and turned their backs on the poor.

These Republican politicians work for their country-club donors and for the giant cartels that run the American health care system.

#7 Comment By C. L. H. Daniels On July 19, 2017 @ 3:18 pm

Well, what does he expect? The Republican party is hopelessly divided against itself and has been for many years, since at least the end of the last Bush administration. Its base is in a state of flux, which is having the downstream effect of paralyzing its elected politicians. They aren’t confident anymore that they know what the voters want. Furthermore, the voters themselves don’t seem to know. The only thing that everyone can agree on is that the Democrats are the enemy and anything they want to do is probably bad and must be opposed. Thus, the party is great at opposition and absolutely terrible at governing.

#8 Comment By KS On July 19, 2017 @ 3:37 pm

@Kurt Gayle

I’d buy that if I didn’t also hear reflexive tribal support for Republicans from Trump people. What you want is quite in line with what Bernie offered. You went with Trump even though he had so little credibility because he was one of your tribe.

And Trump has boxed himself into a corner by making this a party line loyalty issue. Trump is, if he can be called anything at all, a new york democrat at base and he should have reached out right away.

The GOP will never reach across the aisle for anything. They are too blinkered and egotistical for that. While properly they should lose in the midterms so that Trump can then safely move to the center and get enough democrats on the train. But no matter how bad the GOP is, Trump supports won’t vote for anything with (D) against the name, so we are probably in for 4 years of waffling around in gridlock.

#9 Comment By One Man On July 19, 2017 @ 3:58 pm

“…we in the Trump base support President Trump in working with the Democrats to build a good health care system for all Americans.”

Great. When will Trump actually address this, instead of merely tweeting from a distance?

#10 Comment By Liam On July 19, 2017 @ 4:14 pm

That’s Ross “Esau” Douthat showing his full colours.

#11 Comment By nick On July 19, 2017 @ 4:51 pm

Kurt, when Trump claims that 3-5 million votes for Clinton were fraudulent, the idea that Dems would work with Trump is rather, well, fanciful.

#12 Comment By Kurt Gayle On July 19, 2017 @ 4:53 pm

To KS: You don’t get “reflexive tribal support for Republicans from Trump people”.

Instead, you get “reflexive tribal support for Republicans” from Republicans.

The Republican Party and the Trump base are not the same.

When the Republican Party screws up – as they are doing now with their failure to pass good health care legislation – the Trump base is not bashful about calling them out on it.

We in the Trump base voted for Donald Trump – not for radical Republican Party ideologues and screw-ups!

#13 Comment By Kevin On July 20, 2017 @ 12:07 am

“Make no mistake, Mr. Douthat: On many, many occasions President Trump has said that he is completely open to working with Democrats on health care. And we in the Trump base support President Trump in working with the Democrats to build a good health care system for all Americans.

If Trump wanted to work with Democrats, he could trigger the process by uttering a single phrase: “I will not sign a bill that doesn’t get sixty votes in the Senate.” Instead, his administration spent the last six months working very hard to push the Republican bill as far right as possible. If you think this is all part of a secret strategy to get to a single payer bill, you need to seek help.

And, no offense, but Trump’s base are not idiosyncratic commentators on TAC. They are people who buy his line about 5 million illegal voters. And if you believe Democrats were illegitimately elected, how the hell are you going to work with them?

#14 Comment By KS On July 20, 2017 @ 12:27 am

@Kurt Gayle

We shall see. Will this current crop of useless GOP nothings return to the Congress and Senate? That will tell us what the base is doing. I am skeptical of your claim.

#15 Comment By Uncle Billy On July 20, 2017 @ 12:30 pm

The Republicans in Congress are capable only of carrying water for the very wealthy. Nothing else.

#16 Comment By CharleyCarp On July 20, 2017 @ 12:55 pm

Kurt, no one is making Trump stand by (mostly, except when he’s cheerleading) while congressional Republicans are working to cut health care spending in exchange for big tax cuts. He could have told Ryan back in February that the concept was all wrong, but he didn’t. Instead his position has been ‘pass anything you can so I can sign it.’