We cannot deny that, to our chagrin, many Republicans in a frenzy to ingratiate themselves with President-elect Donald Trump and chase after the affection of his cultlike following have abandoned all pretense of principle. One need only watch Fox Non-News nighttime hosts (we do not recommend it for those of weak constitution) to see cringe-worthy fawning over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and attacks on the credibility of our intelligence community. You would be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled across the official Russian propaganda outlet, RT. (When Trump undercuts them — as he did on the ethics office debacle or seems to be doing in urging a replacement for Obamacare, not just “repeal and delay” — Republicans scramble for cover.)
Nevertheless we would be amiss if we left the impression that there are no conscientious objectors on the right. Here are a few:
The National Taxpayers Union. Unlike partisan high-profile groups (e.g. Heritage Action), this group has been consistent in its support for free-market principles, including trade. Clark Packard, its counsel and government affairs manager, boldly takes issue with trade representative nominee Robert Lighthizer:
Lighthizer is a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom, a prominent law firm with an active trade remedies and enforcement practice, where he filed countless anti-dumping and countervailing duty petitions on behalf of United States companies seeking protection from foreign competition. Specifically, Lighthizer has been a long-time lawyer and lobbyist for U.S. Steel, the largest domestic steel manufacturer. On Nov. 14, 2016, just a week before he was named to Trump’s USTR transition team, Lighthizer filed an anti-dumping petition on behalf of U.S. Steel, seeking protection from carbon and alloy pipes imported from Romania. …
This could be an indication that the administration will pursue enforcement actions rather than exploring new opportunities to reduce tariffs domestically and abroad. Trade liberalization is essential for American prosperity and we hope it will be a high priority for Trump and his deputies. Still, Lighthizer’s nomination for USTR is a potentially ominous sign that Trump’s misguided trade rhetoric on the campaign trail was not bluster.
And of course, that is precisely what Trump’s trade policy amounts to: an anti-trade policy of tariffs, protectionism and preferences. (Remember when conservatives railed against gimmicks such as sugar subsidies?) The National Taxpayers Union is at least consistent in its advocacy.
Packard tells Right Turn that “NTU has been beating the pro-trade drum the last couple years. Along with Cato [Institute], we’ve basically taken the lead on the issue among center-right free market organizations.” He adds, “We will always support good policy that’s in the best interest of taxpayers and will call out bad policy … [and] we’ve never shied away from criticizing Trump’s ideas on trade publicly.” If only more free-market organizations did the same, we might have better policy debates and the other organizations might have more credibility.
Health-care wonks. While right-wing advocacy groups are cheering a “repeal and dawdle” strategy, conservative health-care gurus Joseph Antos and James Capretta write:
“Repeal and delay” would further destabilize an already unstable insurance marketplace. The ACA-regulated insurance markets have been suffering from an unbalanced risk pool in many parts of the country, with many enrollees who need extensive medical attention but few who don’t need much care. Collectively, the insurance industry has lost several billion dollars over the period 2014 to 2016. In response, many large carriers pulled back their participation in the exchanges for 2017, and those that remained increased their premiums by an average of 25 percent. Thirty-six percent of the national marketplace is being served by only one insurer in 2017.
Without rapid action to stabilize the exchange markets, we are likely to see more insurers dropping out and another round of sharply increasing premiums. Insurers must make initial decisions about their participation in the exchange markets by next April. This leaves very little time to take steps that might encourage insurers to offer exchange coverage in 2018. An immediate repeal of the individual mandate’s penalty will lead some younger, healthier enrollees in ACA insurance plans to stop paying premiums. Even if the number of those dropping out in 2017 is small, it will be lead to further losses for insurers, and make it even more difficult for them to justify continued participation in 2018. There is a real danger that many parts of the country would be left with no insurance plans at all offering coverage on the ACA exchanges in 2018.
These advocates of an improved market-based health-care system warn: “A process focused solely on reversing the ACA and not on putting something better in its place could easily backfire on the GOP. The political firestorm that would ensue from several million people losing their insurance could be enough to force the GOP to reverse course and take steps to provide some kind of emergency insurance for this population, which could be even more costly than the ACA.” Republicans likely have only one shot at this, and if they blow it, they could well “sour the public on the whole concept of repeal and replace.”
Anti-Putin conservatives. We certainly hope that more Republicans step forward to condemn Trump’s toadyism on Russia. His continued attacks on our intelligence services, reliance on anti-American Russia stooges such as Assange and insistence that we have no proof of Russia’s attempt to subvert our democratic elections require forceful rebukes. Instead, we see Republicans (including Sens. Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Thom Tillis of North Carolina) tip-toeing on eggshells to condemn Russia and Assange but refrain from castigating Trump for siding with Russia against American intelligence. Exceptions to this unfortunate practice include Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.). Credit also should go to Trump supporters such as former CIA chief James Woolsey who spoke up, chastising the effort to mollify Putin by denying the facts. (“You are not going to get anywhere by just making nice with Vladimir Putin.”)
The rubber will hit the road in confirmation hearings for national security nominees, who reportedly will try to keep things vague and refuse to get into policy specifics. (Will self-described hawks such as Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas refuse to confirm them — or continue to talk a good game but still give the incoming administration cover?)
You see, it’s not impossible, or even hard, for Republicans to call out lies, inanities and miscues on their own side — so long as loyalty to their own side doesn’t dwarf honesty, principles and patriotism.