Ideological Coherence Matters

Given the total disarray in the House GOP over the fiscal cliff deal yesterday, I am reminded of Ezra Klein’s post from a few days ago on “the Republican Party in one tweet“.  It’s Marco Rubio denying that the GOP wants to cut Social Security, FYI.  The House Republicans absolutely hated the fiscal cliff deal, and the stated reason was that the tax cuts were not “paid for” with spending cuts.  While I think this is actually a healthy idea in the abstract, hearing this from the Republican Party is kind of breathtaking.  Republicans basically are the party of unfunded tax cuts – it’s the one principle for which they (almost) always stand.  Except for now, evidently, when it would be inconvenient. And so they were pondering demanding some sort of unnamed “entitlement reforms” in exchange for their “concession” (?!?) in cutting taxes.

The Rubio tweet that Klein brings up does encapsulate the dilemma for the GOP – it’s hard to bargain for optimal outcomes when the Party has unclear policy goals.  While “entitlement reform” is something that the GOP frequently claims to want, in the last two years they have not used their leverage to demand entitlement cuts.  In the real world, they ran in both 2010 and 2012 in opposition to Barack Obama’s reforms of Medicare.  This is run-of-the-mill political opportunism for senior voters and wouldn’t be remarkable, except that over the same time period the GOP has morphed into a party espousing a radical war against the Post-New-Deal welfare state.  This has given it a schizophrenic divide over its ideological aims – while the GOP claims to want “entitlement reform” from the fiscal cliff deal, they are unwilling to demand any specific policy changes.  Prediction: as long as neither party is willing to stand foursquare behind extremely unpopular entitlement cuts, they will not happen.

If you’re an ideological conservative who believes the national GOP is out to overturn the welfare state, it’s starting to seem an awful lot like you’re being played for a sucker.  Just try and come out of denial before the social conservatives – they’ve been getting rolled for around 40 years so far.

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