What, now, is the Republican Party? Last night, in his most conventional moment to date, President Trump challenged the soul of the GOP. Based on applause, is it now safe to say the Republican Party stands for protectionism, a $1 trillion infrastructure project, paid family and medical leave, and governmental restrictions on drug prices and corporate mobility? To be fair, Mr. Trump included several traditionally conservative proposals, including increased military spending, reduced corporate and middle-class taxes, school vouchers, and the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act. So, where does this leave the GOP? Will Mr. Trump become more Republican, or will Republicans become more like Donald Trump? Both?
Here are a few small observations in no particular order:
- Trump must have a gold-plated wand to pay for his agenda unless he plans on expanding the national debt–which he lamented during the speech. Trump’s calculation seems to be to keep social spending in place + increase for military + paid family and medical leave + more access to child care + $1 trillion for infrastructure – reduced business taxes – reduced middle class taxes = reduced national debt. Yeah, I am not sure how that makes any sense.
- Trump has, in his own mind, completely disconnected political and economic freedom. This would be a transformation for Republicans.
- Trump’s infrastructure spending has the potential to end up just like previous stimulus spending–falling into the big, black federal hole with little to show for it. If we are going down this road, let’s get something tangible out of if that will benefit the nation, like ultra high-speed internet everywhere for everyone, a high-speed rail, or something that will demonstrably benefit America, just as Eisenhower’s national highway system did. If there are a few obvious, tangible goals attached, it could work (even though we cannot afford it), whereas a million little jobs with no accountability will surely fail.
- There was zero mention of any social issue unless you consider the Supreme Court appointment.
- Trump has a real opportunity to get Democratic votes for a big chunk of his agenda (family and medical leave, subsidized child care, infrastructure spending, and some degree of protectionism). Will that create unity or will it fracture the GOP?
- Trump, if he is as shrewd as he says, will cobble some of these together so he can trade votes on issues back and forth. If he is skillful about it, he could break both parties in the process and solidify his popular support.
- While I disagree with massive elements of his agenda, I am not sure Trump will get much public pushback. He could create even more of a fissure between the elites and the people, thereby empowering himself in the process.
- Trump’s reference to Ryan Owens’ sacrifice and his widow’s presence was moving and powerful. At the same time, in her shoes, I would have refused Trump’s invitation. I understand Trump’s desire, and her willingness to celebrate her husband’s service by attending, but such fresh grief deserves the dignity of privacy. I feel for her and the rest of Owens’ family.
- No matter the president, Congress always comes off as servile in that setting. The President is elevated above the members, who cheer him at every opportunity. While members should show due respect, some level of institutional pride would be welcome. For instance, he should speak from the floor and they should require him to take questions directly.
- Trump’s handling of the Affordable Care Act will probably result in its repeal at some level. But his conditions for replacement suggest something even more expensive will result.