Thursday, October 29, 2015

Republican Debate: Post-Policy Trumps Post-Truth

As a way to highlight the differences between Republican establishment and insurgent candidates, I have sometimes referred to the former as post-truth and the latter as post-policy. As a reminder, here's how David Roberts defined the traditional Republican approach of post-truth politics.
Republicans thus talk about “taxes” and “spending” and “regulation” in the abstract, since Americans oppose them in the abstract even as they support their specific manifestations. They talk about cutting the deficit even as they slash taxes on the rich and launch unfunded wars. They talk about free markets even as they subsidize fossil fuels. They talk about American exceptionalism even as they protect fossil-fuel incumbents and fight research and infrastructure investments.

In short, Republicans have mastered post-truth politics. They’ve realized that their rhetoric doesn’t have to bear any connection to their policy agenda.
On the other hand, post-policy means not even having to bother with rebranding policies that Americans oppose. It simply means fighting anything and everything the opposition attempts to do while ginning up the outrage. You simply demand a repeal of everything from Obamacare to the Iran Deal and executive actions on immigration and threaten to shut the government down if you don't get it.

Donald Trump has absolutely mastered post-policy politics. He says that he's going to deport the 11 million undocumented people in this country and when asked how he will accomplish that - he simply says..."management skills." Ben Carson's, "when I talk about a 10% flat tax, I don't really mean 10%," is another great example.

Going in to last night's debate, John Kasich signaled that, as a post-truther, he'd "had it" with the post-policy folks and was ready to take them on. He actually said that deporting 11 million people, taking health insurance away from millions and ending Medicare were "crazy" ideas. Kasich came out of the gates swinging on all of that last night. And it was at that point that I realized why the post-truthers are doing so poorly in this primary.

On the one hand, they can point to the crazy ideas of the post-policy candidates. But then they have to offer an alternative. Kasich did OK on the first part. Here's what he offered on the second.
I don’t know if people understand, but I spent a lifetime with my colleagues getting us to a federal balanced budget. We actually did it. And I have a road map and a plan right now to get us to balance.

Reforming entitlements, cutting taxes. You see, because if you really want to get to a balanced budget, you need to reduce your expenses and you need to grow your economy. So what I will tell you about our incentives — our incentives are tight, and at the end of the day we make sure that we gain more from the creation of jobs than what we lose.

And you know what? Ohio, one of the best growing places in the country — I not only did it in Washington, I did it in Ohio, and I’ll go back to Washington, and there will be no more silly deals...if I become President because we’ll have a Constitutional Amendment to require a federally balanced budget so they will do their job.
To grasp just how ridiculous that last point is, I'll suggest you read BooMan's take. But here's the bigger point: after Bush/Cheney ran up the federal deficit and left us the legacy of a Great Recession, all that "trickle-down" post-truth stuff didn't sell very well anymore. That's why - in the Obama era - the entire Republican Party initially went post-policy (i.e. obstructionist). They had nothing! Now their establishment candidates are back to the same old post-truth trickle-down nonsense.

Trump laid waste to all of that by pointing out that Ohio's success had more to do with fracking than anything Kasich had done and brought up his time working for Lehmans. It's probably true that Trump stretched the truth about Kasich's role with Lehmans, but simply bringing it up reminded everyone of the connection between post-truther Republicans and the Great Recession.

I'd say that after last night's debate, the Republican establishment's post-truther candidacies of Kasich and Bush are on life support...if not dead. Even though Rubio is considered to be an establishment candidate, he is increasingly sounding pretty post-policy - which may explain why so many folks are beginning to think that things will eventually come down to a contest between he and Cruz (the standard-bearer of post-truth politics).

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