I hadn’t meant to watch last night’s GOP debate. But it was amazing. I couldn’t turn away. The thing was, it didn’t seem like a debate. It was more like kids throwing mud at each other. But I find this more interesting than the substantive debates that the Democrats have. Now that may be because I already know where the candidates stand on most issues. So I see the debates as being artificial. Republican debates are more like fist fights. And this one was the top of the them all.
But it got me wondering: why do Democrats talk about actual policy whereas we see no such thing at any GOP debate? Part of it surely is that Republicans don’t really have much to offer in terms of policy that they can talk about. If they get into the details of their economic policy, it will be clear that all they care about is giving tax cuts to the rich and allowing companies to send more jobs overseas even while polluting more here at home. They aren’t going to talk about that in a debate.
It’s even worse on foreign policy. Pretty much every Republican has this to say about the subject, “Obama has made us weak! I will make us strong!” But if you burrow down into what their actual policies are, they are the same things that Obama is doing. So what they are really saying is, “I will do exactly what Obama is doing, but I will really mean it!” Once you realize this, you can’t watch a GOP debate without finding it amusing — and horrifying. Kind of like watching Dead Alive.
Why the GOP Debate Was Contentless
There is a more fundamental issue at hand, though. The Republicans have moved about as far to the right as they possibly could. This is why it is interesting that people consider Donald Trump too far out. While it might be true that he is too far out, he is not too far to the right. He never would have caught on if he had gone in that direction because only the billionaire class is interested in that kind of a candidate. There is no doubt to me that Trump is by far the most reasonable candidate in the Republican primary.
So when you get these people together who really don’t disagree on anything they can really talk about publicly, they have nothing to do but sling mud at each other. And it was quite a scene. Mostly, it was just allegations about how the others weren’t the True Conservative™. It was, not surprisingly, like Monty Python:
This is a natural problem in a two party system when one party decides to move distinctly toward the other. And that’s what the Democratic Leadership Council was able to do to the Democratic Party. Now I’ve always thought that fundamentally, those people weren’t interested in the Democrats winning elections, but really just wanted a socially liberal Republican Party. But even if you grant that their real concern was making the Democrats competitive, they won the battles and lost the war.
To start with, winning elections means nothing if it goes along with the entire political environment moving in the opposite direction. And that’s what’s happened. It wasn’t Reagan that moved the entire country to the right; it was Bill Clinton. He was the one who managed to greatly constrain the Overton Window. And as a result of this, the Republicans had two options. They could have jumped over the Democrats and become a complete populist party (and this is more or less what Trump is doing). Or they could move way off to the right. And that’s what they’ve done.
It is funny that every four years, we hear what a “deep bench” the Republicans have. And then they all get out there and there isn’t a deep bench. It’s just a bench of a bunch of guys who all play the same position. There is nothing different about them other than that they have different styles. Last night at the GOP debate, we saw a free-for-all. There was nothing to discuss. There aren’t different conservative policy positions. There is just one and the only question is which one of the candidates will enforce it most rigidly.