Do the Republicans Need a Message?

Oft-repeated wisdom going into the 2018 midterms: “Democrats need to run on something other than opposition to Trump.” Unstated assumption of the 2018 midterms: “Republicans must run on Trump and only Trump.”

The message that the Republicans are sending by not having a message is: “We don’t really believe in our cause. We fear losing our seats if we speak out against a rotten president that we privately decry. We repeatedly cave to policies that are in diametric opposition to our preferences. We reject the idea that our political philosophy has any ounce of merit that will inevitably be evolutionarily selected for its merits and virtues. Also, please send clean pants.”

Speaking as a fairly moderate leaning-liberal type, I lament many of the horrible policies of Muralism, as I have the bad policies of Republicans, of George W. Bush’s administration, and so on. But I still believe, deep down, that the sun will come out tomorrow, that sanity and reason do triumph over tyranny, corruption, racism, sexism, and stupidity in general.

The Republicans don’t seem to believe that about their policies. Well, to be fair, they have hard evidence in the form of their cuckoo standard bearer. But surely, they must believe in the long term, that their small-government plans would be useful? That they could achieve a safety net without taxes, instead based on responsibility and all that? Apparently not, because they are not standing up to someone that represents none of those interests as he takes a giant dump on their whole tradition.

The RNC still employs Michael Cohen. The head of the RNC still holds tight to the president. In the Senate, nobody wants to “poke the bear” to use Corker’s language. In the House, the Republicans want to feed the bear.

Republicans have long been split on immigration, but until Trump, nobody knew they could support taking children away without cause. Even those opposing the separation have taken no real legislative or political action.

The same goes for trade. There has long been a wing of the Republican party skeptical of trade, but even as a trade war heats up, the believers (excepting a few like Corker) have not sought to protect trade.

On any issue that Republicans largely believe, you can guess what they will do when Trump acts against it.

Republicans don’t need a message. They need an exorcist.


To paraphrase Robert De Niro, fuck family separation. The fact that the Republicans are not speaking out about this practice is asinine. All of their family values go right out the window when they don’t care about actually reuniting children with their parents, when they’re down with usurping the parental rights under color of law.

Sooner or Later, Unqualified Support Crumbles

The Millerites had their Great Disappointment (a Wikipedia article (Wikipedia: “William Miller (preacher)”: The Great Disappointment) quotes Hiram Edson: “Our fondest hopes and expectations were blasted, and such a spirit of weeping came over us as I never experienced before… We wept and wept, till the day dawn.”)—they were disappointed that the world did not end at the prophesied time.

The Dutch saw the end of tulip mania (Wikipedia: “Tulip mania”).

The concept is straightforward: unfounded and unhedged beliefs typically lead to ruin. While faith may occasionally be virtuous, science usually is. And bad policy is nothing but faith. Whether it’s trade wars or immigration demagoguery, environmental negligence or the sort of banal tyranny of receiving trademarks and loans for policy treats, bad policy has consequences that tend to awaken even the most willing of fools.

Foremost, in economy predicated on debt, the failure to repay due to sudden and unexpected difficulties—labor shortages, or supply changes due to trade wars—can easily cascade.

But there is social stress, too. The fraying of social relations due to the toady buttressing the bum in charge can lead to the fraying of business relations and contacts. Shifts in communication foreshadow shifts in commerce.


The current regime of Republican control has been setting off fires all about the world, and they have not done so with patience and care. They do not know where the powder kegs are, they did not plan for the retorts and counterplays. And there are always the other wildcards dealt to hands unseen and waiting to come forth.

While blind support seems unshakable, that’s a ceteris paribus reality, where real things tend to shift about in shipping. Those who repeat that Trump gets away with things seem to buy into him with a faith dissimilar to his supporters only in their disliking of his behavior.

To put it another way, until the hand is played out, nobody collects any winnings.

The fact that the support is blind is all the more reason to suspect it will fade in a flash. The supporters are not attached to any specific policy. They don’t have objects or outcomes in mind. They are simply along for the ride, up to the point where they see the wagon heading toward a ravine. Then they will eject.

Toward the end of George W. Bush’s time in office, even among Republicans his approval fell as low as the upper 50s. The lowest Trump’s seen from them is the upper 70s.

That’s why the midterms matter so much. They set a milestone down in the wake of time, and when the supporters evaluate the two years from the election, they will start to realize we’ve little to show for it.

Republicans are Empowering the (Democratic) States

This time it’s the SCOTUS conservatives’ ruling against workers’ common law right to litigate as a class. But it keeps happening that the Republicans are empowering states to take up the slack on issues big and small.

One of the unmentioned features of the revocation of the right to sue employers for wage theft is that states are victims too. They lose taxes when wages aren’t paid. They may even have a right of eminent domain on the causes of action in arbitration on behalf of employees, which would be a novel turn of law.

When President Trump fled from the Paris agreement, the liberal states stood up. When he uses ICE to attack undocumented workers, the states stood up. On the travel ban and on the right to pee. Up and down the line, they keep pushing the Democrats to take up the slack.

You must understand that power is a fluid. Where it is blocked by a dam, be it gridlock in the Congress or indifference to sanity in the White House, it will flow elsewhere.

With legislative stagnation for so long, we have long recognized the concentration of power in the executive and the dangers that poses. But it is entirely expected. If Congress will not legislate, then the limited powers of executive actions will be stretched to their limits.

And same with judicial powers. The worse that inaction bitrots the law, the more that judges have to intervene to account for equity.

But it’s different with the states. They have their own trilateral governments with their own laws and politics. And to some extent they are in competition against other states. So by pushing a wholly partisan agenda, President Trump is handing wads of capital to places like New York and California, to spend at their leisure.

A less direct example is the inaction in West Virginia, which led to a teacher’s strike for better treatment. That has now spread to other states. What does it have to do with Trump? It’s at least part of the climate of demonstration that his presidency has fomented, the spirit of Parkland and the Women’s March, that lends the nerve to teachers to finally say enough.

It’s the nomination of someone like Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. But it’s also the hopelessness of the current administration. Things aren’t getting better for teachers, and the current administration probably wants them to teach in coal mines, which is all the more reason to take action now, before they hand out the hardhats.

The Case for Republicans Speaking Out Against Trumpism

First, the case against. The belief is that GOP voters overwhelmingly support the president, and that speaking up is to risk alienating voters at a critical time (i.e., the midterms). The greatest risk exists during primary season, when they could be faced with losing the opportunity to compete in the general election if their primary opponents hew to the president while they speak up.

The risk in the primaries is real enough. But we will not see for another couple of months whether that is the only risk the GOP candidates recognize. That is, post-primary will they continue to say nothing? How many will then speak up? I’m guessing not many.

The candidates are overestimating the risk of bucking this president. They are failing to account for the moderate voters who will punish them at the polls for giving cover to a depraved executive. They are underestimating the number of conservatives willing to hear criticism. Not MSNBC-esque criticism, mind you. But regular gee-shucks GOP-style criticism would be welcomed by Republican voters, even during the primaries.

In the primary it would bring in moderates. It might even bring in Democrats who want to hedge their bets that their candidate can win in November.

Now, campaigns that would consider speaking up lack a pipeline. It’s well-established that the political rhetoric on the GOP side flows from special interest groups like Koch-funded PACs and Adelson-funded PACs, through conservative media, and gets picked up by campaigns. But there is an easy fix: recycling.

Most of the criticisms that the GOP used for years against President Obama are things they can criticize Trump for. He’s all executive action. He has few real legislative accomplishments, and those he has were all hands-off. They were done by Republican legislators, without any real help from Trump. So just dust off those old talking points and you have a search-and-replace function change the names.

It gives the candidates the ability to say they’re consistent, particularly if they can find clips of their primary opponents critical of Obama for the things they’re giving Trump a pass on.

The real risk isn’t the primary, but the general election. It may well be that the public is wary enough of Trump that even a good moderate Republican will go down in November.


Without Republicans standing up to Trump, many of his voters will remain hardened against reality. They will only depart from their anger-fueled reverence for the irreverent if they hear some voices of reason that speak their language. They need to hear the McCains and Flakes say their piece against what can only be seen as a president divorced from the American goalpost of international order and economic prosperity for all.

When you go to church of whatever flavor, you repeat the same things week to week. Repetition is a key to learning. The refrains of our shared values as humans help to buttress them against erosion. But one of the common voices of the refrain now silent, the others must grow louder. The Republicans need to speak up.

The Best We Can Do

The Republican voters and leaders today believe that American decline is inevitable. That we have lost what counts and that the best we can do is to embrace the likes of the president. The populist ideas espoused (if you can call them ideas) seem to boil down to one thing: take what we can get.

We aren’t smart enough to solve our problems, so we will take what we can get. On trade, we cannot be competitive enough on manufacturing, so we will oppose trade. On immigration, we can’t afford to help refugees or find a legal path for all these workers, so we will deport them all.

This is the thinking of people who have already lost. We need folks who believe that the common victory of the earth, raising living standards and increasing cooperation, is still attainable. That includes any optimistic Republicans that still believe in the America that can solve problems.

The most excellent idea of the sitting Congress was to cut taxes and roll back regulations. Their master plan, as it were. But they have not done anything to better worker conditions. They did nothing to fix immigration. They did nothing to make housing more affordable. Nothing for healthcare. They do not solve problems. They only paint those who do as being worse than doing nothing.

They did not fix infrastructure, and spending is still runaway. Their EPA is practically begging for more pollution. They largely refuse to even conduct oversight, taking a mice-will-play, cat-will-nap attitude to that role.

Now, with the rending of the Iran deal, the Republicans believe that diplomacy is dead and peace is not attainable.

They believe that doing nothing is the best we can do.


And the best we can do is a loudmouth president. Someone with a fear of facts and reading, who regularly claims to be an expert, only to say that nobody knew it was so complicated.

The best we can do is complicity from Republican members of Congress, too worried about the blue wave to bother with pushback. Never mind that the key to disarming the denuded emperor is to call it out. Hans Christian Andersen told us that a long time ago. But the best they can do is a few mealy-mouthed statements about how the president isn’t helpful.

They wouldn’t dream of pushing back. Some of them even want to see how far they can push tampering with the investigations into the administration before they get charged with obstruction. Some of them must be descendants of Guy Fawkes. Unable to wrap their head around the task at hand, they would rather blow it up. The best Nunes can do, apparently.

The rest of the country still believes in America and believes it can do a lot better than this.