GOP Debate: What Happens When Policy Is Gone

GOP Debate - Kids Mud FightingI 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.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

13 thoughts on “GOP Debate: What Happens When Policy Is Gone

  1. It is a deep bench in the sense they have a lot of people with sufficient name ID or ego to think they can run for the office. Not that the people are worth anything or should be running for any other office.

    • Yes, but the analogy is that say a football team has three really great quarterbacks. All the Republicans mean, as you say, is that there are a lot of people with name recognition. Skills be damned. I mean, watching the GOP debate last night, it was clear that only Trump (and to a much smaller extent Cruz) have any real skills in terms of debating or working a crowd.

        • I still don’t understand why it is people get so interested in the president when the Board of Supervisors actually has a much greater effect on their lives.

          • Yup. The impact on lives can and will happen but it is mostly in an indirect diffused fashion that requires a lot of work done at the state or local level.

            Maybe because Republicans at the bottom of the elected office food chain actually do the work they have to?

            • I actually think it is because the races are non-partisan. Whenever I read literature about non-partisan races, it’s really hard to figure out what they would actually do. But I have figured out if people talk about “growth” they are usually extremists who think we need more parking lots and fewer parks. And what are we wasting all this space on sidewalks for?!

              • Most of the races in this state are partisan. Only some towns are non-partisan in the city council elections.

                Eep! I thought you were done responding. Sorry!

              • The weird thing is that even when races are non-partisan, people still react in a partisan way and the info of who is with what party shows up.

                • You can usually tell. But it’s a problem because conservative rhetoric tends to sound better than liberal rhetoric even to people who ultimately prefer liberal policy.

                    • I think it is deeper than that. There is the mythic American and that is what real Americans think of themselves as. This, I believe, is why conservative thinking is so screwed up: it is based upon myth.

                      I got into a brief argument with my publisher yesterday because she was complaining about government bureaucracy. I finally had enough. I’m not that keen on government bureaucracy, but it isn’t nearly as bad as corporate bureaucracy. And then she started talking about how AT&T was really a utility, which meant it was the government’s fault. (It’s ALWAYS the government’s fault; remember how the government created the 2008 financial crisis?) And I countered that there simply isn’t such a business that isn’t “poisoned” by government except in the utopia of silly libertarian minds. But as with all rich conservatives, taking advantage of every possible government loophole, she thinks that she is “self made.” She’s totally wrong, but she would never be able to see that. If she can’t see it, who can? She sees all the money that the government gives her. Of course, she doesn’t understand it that way. I wish I could get them all to read Milton Friedman to allow them to see that even from the conservative economic titan: they are big welfare recipients.

                      For the record: she’s an amazing woman and a great storyteller. I always say the worst sin is to be boring. She is definitely not boring! But if we spent more time together, one of two things would happen: I’d have a mental breakdown (90%) or I would murder her (10%).

                    • Yes! I had that same fight yesterday with a guy who spent 30 years in law enforcement over him switching to Medicare. I said he would like it because outside a few areas, it is really efficient (compared to private sector which has little reason to be efficient) and he told me it was government and therefore inefficient.

                      Gah! He bases this solely on his experience as a LEO that pays him a nice fat pension-sufficiently large that he is considering buying a condo here in Phoenix just to have some place to crash on the days he volunteers here in Phoenix.

                      Oy!

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