What is stunning about the Trump GOP is that it is not prepared to defend or even fess up to its core principles. Ever since Ronald Reagan, Republicans have championed a market fundamentalism, pumping for cutting taxes on the rich and corporations, purportedly to stimulate investment, and slashing social support to motivate the poor to work and balance the budget. They were the party of free trade, balanced budgets and small government. Not surprisingly, Trump and the Republican Congress made top-end tax cuts and repeal of the Affordable Care Act the centerpiece of their agenda. When repeal failed in the Senate, they pushed lawsuits to have the ACA declared unconstitutional and administrative measures to undermine its protections.
Yet, in the campaign, Trump and other Republicans found they could not defend either initiative. On tax cuts, they initially promised that they would benefit the middle class the most and pay for themselves. When it was clear no one was falling for the con, they chose simply to stop talking about it. Even with the economy humming, they no longer made the case that the rich need more money and the poor less.
Similarly, on health care, the same Republicans who campaigned relentlessly on the promise to repeal Obamacare suddenly reinvented themselves as the champions of its protections. Twenty red-state governors sued to abolish the ACA, including its popular protection of preexisting conditions. The Trump Justice Department declined to defend the act. Yet, Trump blithely lied on Twitter that “Republicans will totally protect people with Pre-Existing Conditions, Democrats will not!” And Wisconsin Gov.Scott Walker, facing a tough challenger, promised, “We will cover people with preexisting conditions” — even though he is one of the governors in the lawsuit to torpedo the act.
At the beginning of this conservative era, New Democrats, led by Bill Clinton, accepted much of the logic of Reagan’s market fundamentalism — touting capital gains tax cuts, balanced budgets, free trade and financial deregulation. Now, even Republicans don’t defend the gospel.
Reality is part of the reason. Inequality has been growing obscenely, the middle class has been sinking and working people have been getting shafted for a long time. Now people are catching on to the con — and even the virtuoso con man in the White House can’t sell it anymore.
Democrats, on the other hand, have been aroused by the resistance to Trump. Much of their attention has focused on Trump’s grotesqueries: his taxes, self-enrichment, corrupt appointments, racist and xenophobic posturing, and, of course, his relationship with Russia. Beneath this is a progressive energy — sparked by movements such as #MeToo and Black Lives Matter and the energy that came out of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s campaign — that is increasingly winning the battle of ideas and beginning to elect its champions to office. Led by Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren at the national level, progressives have popularized the beginnings of a forceful social democratic agenda: Medicare-for-all, public education from pre-K through college, a $15 minimum wage, curbing corruption, fighting big money in politics and more. Even Barack Obama paid tribute last week to bold reforms such as Medicare-for-all as central to Democrats’ appeal.
And progressive candidates enjoyed remarkable victories up and down the ticket in primaries. Most notably, the victories of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley over entrenched Democratic congressional incumbents not only provide two emerging stars with a national platform, but also send a shot across the bow of every Democrat in office. Incumbent Democrats in blue districts will be more open to progressive ideas, while looking over their shoulders at potential primary opponents.
A Republican Party no longer willing to defend its gospel and a Democratic Party moving toward a bolder reform agenda: The results of the 2018 election are already clear before the votes are counted. And they suggest a sea change is in the making.