The Trouble With Sam's Club

I keep meaning to write this, but in my view the big flaw with Grand New Party qua book is that its analysis of why the GOP is the way it is struck me as very superficial and shallow. The book is very good on the nature of the GOP's predicament and on possible ways out of the predicament, but it seems to view the "how did we get here?" issue as just coming down to random luck -- Bush wasn't very bright or something.

I think that's wrong. And importantly wrong. Chris Hayes and Noam Scheiber both make arguments along the lines of what I would want to say, but I think they both weaken their argument by pitching an overly broad point. It's not the case that the Republicans literally only care about their super-rich financial backers. But what is true is that any other impulses Republicans might have are ultimately undermined by the stranglehold that the tax cut jihad holds over the party.

At the end of the day, a political party whose politicians all need to portray themselves as "tax cutters" is going to be very limited in its ability to do anything constructive. A lot of the models Ross & Reihan point to in their book were governors or mayors during the 1990s who, thanks to the robust economy, were able to cut taxes while also spending non-trivial amounts of new money on programs. That goes to show, I think, that Republicans aren't congenitally incapable of doing useful domestic policy stuff. But in order to do useful domestic policy stuff on any kind of consistent or responsible basis, they would need to be freed from the iron grip of tax cut mania.

How hard would it be to do this? I don't know. As recently as the George HW Bush administration, it was possible for prominent Republicans to act in a responsible manner with regard to tax issues. But John McCain's primary defeat in 2000 and his primary win in 2008 appears to confirm the idea that the GOP is first and foremost a tax cutting party. Maybe this is wrong, maybe Grover Norquist and the Club for Growth are paper tigers. Certainly I hope they are. But while Grand New Party is quite implicitly critical of the tax cuts uber alles forces, its authors seem to believe that those forces are sufficiently powerful that they shouldn't be taken on in a head-on manner. But unless they can be, it's hard to see how the kind of things Ross & Reihan would like to see happen could happen.