Republicans are capturing the Democratic party.
How else do you explain “moderates” trying to tank a “moderate” budget?
Discussions, debates, and deliberations over the future of American civic life are roiling Capitol Hill. Beyond the fate of the bipartisan infrastructure bill or the budget reconciliation package — which really needs a better name — is the fate of America’s creditworthiness. Indeed, the GOP has cynically refused to raise the debt ceiling, forcing Democrats to resort to heroics to go it alone. Never-mind the fact that Republicans were happy to contribute mightily to our national debt by passing sweeping tax cuts for the rich, now they don’t want to be caught holding the bag — or doing anything that would generally benefit America.
Indeed, the backslide of the GOP into proto-fascism is a story that’s been told. Donald Trump has succeeded in crafting a party in his own image: crude, violently uninterested in truth, bombastic, addicted to conflict, and built around a cult of (inflated) personality.
Many have tried to characterize this as a consequence of a general polarization: “Republicans are moving rightward just like Democrats are moving leftward.” This shallow both-sidesism, a fixed assumption of American political criticism, is as wrong as it is dangerous. It offers too convenient an excuse to a GOP that is questioning the principles of democracy itself.
Indeed, the response among Democrats to the GOP’s rightward lurch hasn’t been a leftward movement. There’s no doubt that the American left is larger, more vocal, and more powerful than it has been in years. But that left — as the Democratic party so loudly protests — is not the Democratic party. Rather, the Democratic party is moving rightward.
Take the budget reconciliation package that the regressive wing of the party is currently holding hostage. The package is already a pared down version of two broader bills that the Biden administration proposed last spring. It takes the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan, which totaled a near $7 trillion in investment, and combines them into a skeleton package of the two, which comes out to half the original proposal. Don’t get me wrong, the bill would still remake the basic contours of American civic geography which has been rendered desolate and unforgiving by the last 40 years of Reaganism and the last 18 months of a brutal pandemic. And yet this is already the moderate version of the bill … that so-called “moderates” are still trying to tank.
How do you explain it? Before its descent into Trumpism, the GOP was a loose coalition of social conservatives and fiscal conservatives. It was the natural fit for Big Business. Though the Democratic party had made plenty of room for corporate interests as well, Big Business naturally connected with a “trickle-down” Republican party. But as the GOP has embraced frank white identity populism and antipathy to democracy, corporations have tried to avoid the stench of enablement. After the Jan. 6 insurrection, a bevy of corporations announced that they would cease political contributions to supporters of the Big Lie. But that’s opened the door for enterprising Democrats to pick up where the GOP had fallen off. Regressive Democrats like Senator Kyrsten Sinema are courting the kinds of donors who wouldn’t usually support Democrats. And their policy positions reflect it.
It’s not just that Republican money is now flowing into Democratic campaign coffers. It’s that Republican ideas are taking hold. I was asked to offer reflections on what the forthcoming 2020 election meant for Democrats back in August of 2020 for CNN, and I wrote that we should “Beware the Never Trumpers.”
As the Republican Party under Trump has rejected climate science and globalization, Never Trump Republicans like Kristol and Will have struggled to find a political home. They've camped right outside our party's famously "big tent."
Every vote against Trump counts right now. However, we cannot make the mistake of sacrificing our own ideals to accommodate theirs. In the first place, the logic that beating Trump will require us to tilt toward conservative ideology to win over Republicans alienated by him is fatally flawed. It neglects the fact that rightward tilting risks losing us progressives and young people whose support for the Democratic nominee in 2016 was five percentage points lower than in 2012—and who are critical to defeating Trump in 2020.
More importantly, this approach will certainly lose us the future. The piercing glare from the need to defeat Trump and end the Covid-19 pandemic tends to blot out the systems that created them. Underlying them is a chronic epidemic rooted in the failures of so many of the systems we've counted on to deliver the basic means of a dignified life -- health care, housing, competent infrastructure, a just and fair economy. And these failures are largely because they've been sold off to mega-corporations that have corrupted or compromised them for their own profits.
One never wants to be right about these things … but here we are. Rather than rehabilitate their own party from the mess their ideas have created, Never Trump Republicans are just bringing their corrosive ideas to the other one. And Democrats are letting them in. To welcome their votes, they should have been forced to check their anti-poor, structurally racist ideas at the door of the big tent. It ain’t that big. Instead, they’re walking right in, corrosive ideas and all.
But there’s something else. In politics, I’ve found that they don’t only win when they beat you. They win when they convince you to do what they would have done anyway. Too many in our party lack the courage of conviction to step up to bat for the policies they know would benefit their constituents, our country, and the globe. They so fear being labeled a “socialist” that they’re unwilling to step up and defend why we should, actually, give more people government healthcare or invest in anti-poverty measures as a means of public safety or, you know, end oil and gas subsidies. Indeed, they think arguing against these issues will protect them. Rather, they get labeled anyway even while they promote GOP talking points.
If we fail to pass a budget reconciliation package that makes a meaningful dent in everything from our broken social safety infrastructure to our failing healthcare system to climate change, we will most certainly lose the next election and, more importantly, the future. We will have lost them because we will have allowed broken, failed ideas to corrode yet another American political party. And in our two-party system, it’s the only one we’ve got left.