Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes: Trump is campaigning on a platform of abject failure
The GOP in general is remarkably quiet on how it would govern and what it seeks to accomplish in the coming years. Breaking with precedent, the party decided against producing an original platform for the 2020 convention. (Put differently: It no-platformed itself.) And Republican leadership has gone dark on a huge swath of issues: balancing the budget, reforming entitlement programs, tackling climate change, improving public education, reducing student-loan debt, and ameliorating racial inequalities—as well as getting the country through the pandemic and out of the recession.
With the planet burning, the virus killing, the economy collapsing, and millions of Americans preparing to vote, the country’s leading political cabal has moved into a queasy post-policy space: Its aperture has narrowed to just a few issues; its desire to try to pass major, proactive legislation has withered. This is not just proof that a man as interested in his own image as he is uninterested in briefing books should not be president. It is also a sign that American democracy is in peril.
This summer, I asked politicians, think-tank staffers, electoral consultants, political scientists, and pollsters why the Republican Party has felt so small, so devoid of vanward ideas to help Americans. The answer lies with the party as well as the president; this development is due to decades-long demographic, cultural, and political trends, not just the makeup of the Trump administration. And understanding how Republicans moved past policy requires looking not just at the negative space they left behind, but the positive space they have chosen to fill.
Norm Ornstein: I’ve witnessed the decline of the Republican Party
Recall that Trump’s 2016 campaign was full of punchy lines: balancing the budget, repealing the Affordable Care Act, replacing it with a forever-TBD universal health plan, reshoring manufacturing, ending the trade deficit, building a beautiful border wall, making America great again. Trump made none of that happen, aside from a few miles of expensive fence.
Nor did Republicans in Congress seize the reins when Trump came into office. Given the gift of a unified government for two years, the GOP did not privatize Social Security, block-grant Medicaid, or pass the balanced-budget amendment. That is, it abandoned the raft of policy plans it developed under House Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan. It did manage a giant tax cut, with little reform of the underlying code; some sanctions; and a criminal-justice bill. Democrats indicated a thousand times that they would vote for a bipartisan infrastructure plan. Even that went nowhere.
Comparing today’s GOP with that of prior Congresses and prior administrations is instructive. The Obama White House in its first term brought to fruition the children’s health-insurance expansion, the Affordable Care Act, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the Dodd-Frank financial-reform bill, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, while also pushing hard on immigration reform and major jobs legislation, and nearly completing a deal with Republicans on the debt. The George W. Bush administration got sweeping tax cuts, the Patriot Act, the Homeland Security Act, the No Child Left Behind Act, Medicare Part D, and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, all while prosecuting two major wars.