Yesterday, Ross Douthat went on a widely-noticed Twitter rant chastising Pres. Trump and a certain segment of populists for not championing the proposal by Sens. Marco Rubio and Mike Lee to make the Senate tax bill’s expansion of the child tax credit 100% refundable for working families versus supporting lower corporate tax rates.
My comments here won’t be drilling down in the wonkish details of the child tax credit. If you’re interested in the policy debate, I’ll note that Douthat is adding some caveats to his rant today, and that Daniel McCarthy and Megan McArdle have argued various aspects of Douthat’s complaint.
Today, I prefer to look at Douthat’s rant from the perspective of pure politics. Douthat himself concedes that the Rubio-Lee proposal isn’t going to fix the baby bust or even have a major effect on birthrates. Conversely, beyond the pundit class, the average Republican probably would support Trump if he backed Rubio-Lee every bit as much as they support him not backing it because tribalism is a helluva drug.
From a purely political perspective, what the intraparty argument does is validate the inevitable attacks from Democrats that the GOP’s tax reform effort prioritizes relief for corprorations over working families and small businesses (the latter being Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R-WI) issue).
As the GOP has become the Party of Trump (for at least the duration of his tenure), it is doing a lot of validating. The Senate candidacy of Roy Moore is causing Republicans, especially social conservatives to squander their moral authority in the medium-to-long term for a perceived short term political hold (even if Democrat Doug Jones won, as now seems less likely, it is difficult to see him retaining the seat at the next regular election). The Democrats will claim the party’s support for Moore validates their portrait of the GOP as a collection of Elmer Gantrys.
Trump’s post-Charlottesville comments that there were some “fine people” on both sides of the violence between white supremacists and the antifa will feed the Democrat/media narrative of the GOP is callous on racial issues.
During the 2016 campaign, one of the criticisms from conservatives was that Trump, as someone for whom Republicanism or conservatism was like speaking a third or fourth language, tended to campaign as a Democratic stereotype of a Republican. The tribal performance of the GOP since Trump’s inauguration tends to demonstrate how comfortable much of the party’s rank-and-file is comfortable with Trump governing as a Democratic stereotype of a Republican. The degree to which anyone outside the GOP base finds that appealing will be tested next year.
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