May 11, 2022
In the last year, the Republican Party has transformed.
The modern Republican Party rose to power in 1980 promising to slash government intervention in the economy. But that was never a terribly popular stance, and in order to win elections, party leaders wedded themselves to the religious right. For decades, party leaders managed to deliver economic liberties to business leaders by tossing increasingly extreme rhetoric and occasional victories to the religious right. Now, though, that radicalized minority is driving the party. It has thrown overboard the idea of smaller government to drive economic growth and embraced the idea that a strong government must enforce the religious and social beliefs of their base on the rest of the country.
This religiously based government wants to control not just individuals, but also businesses. We are seeing not only the apparent overturning of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, but also the criminalization of contraception, attacks on gay and trans rights, laws giving the state the power to design school curricula, fury at immigrants, book banning, and a reordering of the nation around evangelical Christianity.
Today, when the Senate voted on the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill protecting the constitutional right to abortion as originally recognized in Roe v. Wade, all of the Republicans voted against it, along with Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Manchin said the bill was too broad, although he did not say in what way.
Modern Republicans are not limiting this strong state to the policing of individuals. They are using it to determine the actions of businesses. Even two years ago, it was unthinkable that Florida governor Ron DeSantis would try to strip its longstanding governing power from the Walt Disney Company to force the company to shut up about gay rights, and yet, just last month, that is precisely what happened.
Similarly, in his quest to weaponize the issue of immigration, Texas governor Greg Abbott drastically slowed the trade routes between Texas and Mexico between April 6 and April 15, costing the country $9 billion in gross national product and prompting Mexico to change the route of a railway connection worth billions of dollars from Texas to New Mexico. And now Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) is proposing to use the government to strip Disney of its copyrights, a plan Professor Paul Goldstein of Stanford Law School, who specializes in intellectual property, calls “blatantly unconstitutional.”
This is no longer your mother’s Republican Party, or your grandfather’s… or his grandfather’s.
Today’s Republican Party is not about equal rights and opportunity, as Lincoln’s party was. It is not about using the government to protect ordinary people, as Theodore Roosevelt’s party was. It is not even about advancing the ability of businesses to do as they deem best, as Ronald Reagan’s party was.
The modern Republican Party is about using the power of the government to enforce the beliefs of a radical minority on the majority of Americans.
After more than a year of emphasizing that he could work with Republicans, President Joe Biden yesterday went on the offensive against what he called “the Ultra-MAGA Agenda.”
He focused on Florida senator Rick Scott’s “11-Point Plan to Rescue America,” which offers a blueprint for creating the modern Republican vision, beginning with its statement that “[t]he nuclear family is crucial to civilization, it is God’s design for humanity, and it must be protected and celebrated.” To protect that family, Scott not only wants to end abortion rights, but also proposes requiring all Americans, no matter how little money they make, to pay income taxes, and to make all laws—including, presumably, Social Security, the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, and so on—expire every five years. Congress can then just repass the ones it likes, he says.
Yesterday, Biden laid out the difference between his economic plan and Scott’s. He pointed out that his policies of using the government to support ordinary Americans have produced 8.3 million jobs in 15 months, the strongest job creation in modern history. Unemployment is at 3.6%, and 5.4 million small businesses have applied to start up this year—20% more than in any other year recorded.
Now, he says, the global inflation that is hurting Americans so badly is his top priority. To combat that inflation by taking on the price of oil, he has released 240 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to boost supplies, and increased domestic oil production. To lower prices, he has untangled supply chains, and now he wants to reduce our dependence on oil by investing in renewables, to restore competition in key industries (like baby formula) now dominated by a few companies, and to take on price gouging. And he has asked the wealthiest Americans “to pay their fair share in taxes,” since “[i]n recent years, the average billionaire has paid about 8% in federal taxes.”
Biden wants to take on household finances quickly by letting Medicare negotiate prices for prescription drugs to lower prices—as other developed nations do—and cap the price of insulin.
In contrast, he said, Republicans are proposing to raise taxes on 75 million American families, more than 95% of whom make less than $100,000 a year. “Their plan would also raise taxes on 82% of small-business owners making less than $50,000 a year,” he said, but would do nothing to hold corporations accountable, even as they are recording record profits. The plan to sunset laws every five years would give Republicans leverage to get anything they want: “Give us another tax cut for billionaires, or Social Security gets it.”
Biden pointed out that while Republicans attack Biden’s plans as irresponsible spending, in fact the deficit rose every year under Trump, while Biden is on track to cut the deficit by $1.5 trillion this year. Reducing government borrowing will ease inflationary pressures.
Republicans responded to the president with fury, recognizing just how unpopular Scott’s plan would be if people were aware of it. They suggested that it is a fringe idea; host Dana Perino of the Fox News Channel tried to argue that Scott “is eating alone at the lunch table.” Scott promptly called Biden “unwell,” “unfit for office,” and “incoherent, incapacitated and confused,” and said he should resign.
While Republicans have not championed Scott’s program, they have let it stand alone to represent them. White House press secretary Jen Psaki pointed out that Scott’s plan is the only one the Republicans have produced, since Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has said he will not release any plans before the 2022 midterm elections, preferring simply to attack Democrats. Until he does, Scott is speaking for the party. And Scott is hardly a fringe character: as chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, he is in charge of electing Republicans to the Senate. Psaki went on to read a list of Republicans who supported Scott’s plan, including the chair of the Republican National Committee, Ronna McDaniel, who applauded Scott’s “real solutions to put us back on track.”.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) also called out Republican far-right extremism yesterday in her defense of abortion rights, hitting again and again on how their stripping away of a right established almost 50 years ago is dangerous and radical. Polls show that a majority of Americans want the court to uphold Roe v. Wade, while a Monmouth poll published today shows that only about 8% of Americans want abortion to be illegal in all cases, as new trigger laws are establishing.
The unpopularity of the probable overturning of Roe v. Wade also has Republicans backpedaling, trying to argue that losing the recognition of a constitutional right that has been protected for fifty years will not actually change abortion access. Ignoring both the move toward a national abortion ban and the voting restrictions newly in place in 19 states that cement Republican control, they say that voters in states can simply choose to protect abortion rights if they wish. Wisconsin Republican senator Ron Johnson said, “It might be a little messy for some people,” but Wisconsin women could obtain an abortion by driving to Illinois. “[I]t’s not going to be that big a change,” he told the Wall Street Journal.
If overturning Roe v. Wade is such a nothingburger, why has the radical right fought for it as a key issue since the 1980s? In any case, Republicans are no longer able to argue that their extremists are anything other than the center of the party. As Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY), the third officer in Republican leadership in the House, said after Biden spoke: “I am ultra MAGA. And I’m proud of it.”