It was late 2020 when leaders of the Grand Old Party announced that they could offer no new ideas for the country and would simply do whatever Donald Trump instructed them to do.
That announcement came in the form of a press statement during the Republican National Convention. Its substance: that in contradiction to the long-standing convention tradition of providing a party “Platform,” it would not – could not — do so.
A party platform, of course, has traditionally been used as a summary of essential ideals, ideas and intended policies to be pursued by the party in support of the person chosen as its presidential candidate. But the party’s announcement essentially reversed this procedure, saying: “RESOLVED, That the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda.”
The essence of this couldn’t be much clearer. The party was no longer one of any particular ideas or proposals, just straightforward loyalty to one person, an “agenda” requiring little description or analysis.
Since then, with that one person no longer in power, the party has continued with this non-platform, fencing off territory around one simple activity: the casting of “nope, not gonna happen” votes to whatever Joe Biden and the Democratic party propose for the country.
Of course, this wasn’t entirely new for the party, just newly and more straight-forwardly and openly acknowledged.
As John Boehner, former Speaker of the House, claims in his entertaining new memoir – “On the House” – this negative territory was pretty much claimed and staked out by Newt Gingrich and his take-no-prisoners attack on bipartisan cooperation. Then, following his lead, came the Tea Partiers and others on the far right, a group that Boehner repeatedly calls “kooks,” “knuckleheads” and “crazies.” These, he said, were dedicated to uninformed chaos and a massive ignorance concerning how the U.S. government actually should operate to get things done.
He says that these groups were emboldened by two principles: one, their hatred of Barack Obama and whatever he proposed; and two, the rejection of any sort of compromise, under any circumstance, even if a legitimate give and take might offer some benefit to the country.
Since then, what began as a political stance – if not a “philosophy” – was further solidified in the 2016 presidential election, via manifestation in the person of Donald Trump and his child-like penchant for destroying whatever anyone else had taken the time to build.
While no longer president, Trump’s hold on the party obviously continues, a stranglehold that prevents any chances for compromise, any chances for bipartisan policy development.
The party’s major denial of course, is the continuing attempt to disenfranchise the more than 81 million who voted for Joe Biden. This default position has resulted in the rejection of its own chances for internal compromise, demonstrated in the harassment and “cancellation” of any party members – most prominently, Liz Cheney — who have the courage to accept the election result and state the truth.
Meanwhile, the country watches as little compromise is happening . . . or is unlikely to happen. For instance:
• Biden’s American Rescue Plan: Democrats won approval of this $1.9 trillion effort to beat back the pandemic, while the Republicans proposed a plan of $600 billion, the massive difference between the plans offering little chance of finding middle ground.
• Biden’s infrastructure plan: Proposed is $2.3 trillion for a whole range of needs: repair of roads and bridges, elimination of lead pipes from water supplies, support of a shift to clean energy, building and repairing public schools, expansion of broadband infrastructure. The Republican response: basically an inability to get past the previous century’s concept of infrastructure as steel and concrete. And their proposal of just $600 billion-$800 billion provides another huge gap with little chance for compromise.
• Early childhood education: Biden has outlined plans to provide all 3- and 4-year-olds access to free preschool education in order to advance kindergarten preparedness. But rather than seeing this as an important investment in America’s children, Republicans have derided the plan as either a large free baby-sitting service or a Communist-era attempt to inculcate kids with liberal thinking.
I could go on — in terms of gun control legislation, reform of police protections, and more. But perhaps the worst near-term effect of the party’s embrace of “nope” has been to infect the average Republican, a large number of them continuing to reject wearing masks and refusing to get vaccinated, thus slowing the country’s return to any sort of financial or healthcare “normal.”
As Biden continues to forge ahead with a group of essential proposals, Republicans seem to be creating — as one commentator has put it — a “circular firing squad,” the power of “nope” killing off its historic conservatism and offering no path forward beyond blind fealty to Trump.
All of this, from the disdain of legislative compromise to the denial of basic healthcare guidelines means continued uncertainty for the party . . . and the country.