Policy proposals and an agenda for the future are apparently for the weak. The Republican Party is President Trump, and Trump is the Republican Party.
To that end, the Republican National Committee adopted this resolution on Saturday, which includes lots of bellyaching about the media being unfair, then reaches its conclusion:
WHEREAS, The RNC enthusiastically supports President Trump and continues to reject the policy positions of the Obama-Biden Administration, as well as those espoused by the Democratic National Committee today; therefore, be itRESOLVED, That the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda;RESOLVED, That the 2020 Republican National Convention will adjourn without adopting a new platform until the 2024 Republican National Convention;
The Republicans still have their 2016 platform, which you can read if you’ve forgotten just how much they loathe Barack Obama. But four years later, they can’t muster up the energy to debate among themselves whether anything in the world has changed, what the party wants to stand for, or what policy proposals ought to be at the forefront of their agenda going forward.
It’s not just that Trump doesn’t care about that kind of policy statement. Nobody else in the party does, either.
After enduring mockery over the weekend — and after weeks in which interviewers would ask Trump to describe his second-term agenda, to which he’d respond as though he’d been asked to explain Fermat’s Last Theorem — the Trump campaign hastily released a list of some second-term priorities. But it’s a mixture of actual policy-esque items (“Block Illegal Immigrants from Becoming Eligible for Taxpayer-Funded Welfare, Healthcare, and Free College Tuition”), sweeping goals (“Wipe Out Global Terrorists Who Threaten to Harm Americans,”), and things Trump either won’t or can’t do (“Pass Congressional Term Limits,” “Prosecute Drive-By Shootings as Acts of Domestic Terrorism”).
The truth is that the resolution more clearly describes today’s Republicans. They have some things they want to do, sure — cut taxes, gut environmental regulations, restrict abortion rights — but mostly, what unites the party is that they hate Democrats and they worship Trump. That’s about all you need to know.
There was a time when the GOP fancied itself “the party of ideas,” a place where serious people seriously considered serious questions of policy and society, working to devise creative plans that would move the country in a conservative direction.
And when it offered itself to the electorate, the GOP could boil it all down to a few declarations of principle that could be repeated by candidates for every office from dogcatcher all the way up to president. What do Republicans believe in? Small government, low taxes, traditional values and a strong military. This was a source of great political strength; some people even wrote books telling Democrats they should learn from their rivals and come up with their own easy-to-grasp summation of their ideology.
But no more. Like so many other things, this intellectual impoverishment of the GOP is of its own making, the seeds sown long before Trump came along. The party always knew most of its voters couldn’t care less about tax cuts for the wealthy and corporate deregulation, so it fed them a steady diet of race-baiting and cultural resentment so they’d keep pulling that Republican lever. It was inevitable that sooner or later a demagogue would come along and distill it all down to just the nasty parts.
But if you’re a Paul Ryan type who wants to see a conservative future, maybe it hasn’t seemed like such a bad bargain up until now. On the vast majority of issues, Trump has been more conservative than any of them dared to hope, in large part because he doesn’t really care what his administration’s policies are, outside of a few areas such as immigration that capture his interest.
The trouble is that Trump also doesn’t care about the future of conservatism or the Republican Party. It’s all about him. And as it has remade itself in his image, so too is the party all about him. If that’s the case, why bother putting together a platform?
It’s perhaps fitting that this comes at the same time as the GOP’s opponents have engaged in the most vigorous and passionate internal policy debate at least since Bill Clinton dragged Democrats to the center in 1992. It isn’t just that their presidential primary campaign produced enough policy papers to encircle the earth; it was also a very self-conscious argument about who the Democratic Party is, whose voices it represents and where it wants to go.
Health care, immigration, climate change, the size and scope of the welfare state, policing, civil rights, political reform — all that has been subject of extensive argument among Democrats over the past year, and the Democratic platform wound up reflecting both the center and the left of the party.
It still resists easy summary, because hey, they’re Democrats. But none of it depends uniquely on Joe Biden: He could withdraw from the race tomorrow and hand the ticket over to Sen. Kamala D. Harris, and it would be the same agenda.
Likewise, while there are people who love Biden, there are no Biden cultists. On the other hand, while not everyone in the Republican Party thinks Trump is a demigod walking among us, perfect in his every word and deed, it’s pretty much the official position of the party that he is just that. If you find that too much to stomach, you might want to find something else to watch on TV for the next four nights.
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