What Are Republicans For? The Far Right Knows

Moderate Republicans don’t have a plan. Hardliners do.

United States Capitol Washington
The United States Capitol in Washington DC, December 10, 2019 (Unsplash/Julien Gaud)

Two years ago, Republicans avoided a debate about their party’s principles by copy-pasting their 2016 manifesto and slapping Donald Trump’s name on it.

I had hoped Trump’s defeat might repudiate what he stood for, and bring Republicans back to the center-right, but that hasn’t happened.

Worse, the Trump wing is the only one with a plan to move forward. Senate leader Mitch McConnell has resisted outlining a governing agenda for a Republican Congress. House leader Kevin McCarthy’s “Commitment to America” — modeled on Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” that returned Republicans to a majority in 1994 — is a summary of ambitions few could disagree with: create good-paying jobs, curb wasteful government spending, fund border security, lower the price of gasoline, strengthen Medicare and Social Security. But none of McCarthy’s “plans” answer the obvious question: how? Which means they aren’t plans, but slogans.

Only the Republican Study Committee, formerly a fringe faction in the House of Representatives that has come to encompass three in four members, has made concrete proposals in the form of a counterbudget.

I read all its 122 pages, so you don’t have to. But first: why Republicans need a plan.

Why Republicans need a plan

There are serious, center-right ideas for child care, energy policy, entitlements, immigration, taxes… Americans aren’t hearing them, because Republicans prefer to criticize Democratic plans. (Mitt Romney’s child-care plan is a rare exception.)

Not even plans by Democrats per se (elected and party officials), but of the left. Few Democrats would ban hamburgers, defund the police, nationalize health care or teach critical race theory to teenagers; that hasn’t stopped Republicans from pretending such loony-left proposals are Democratic policy.

But what is the Republican policy for the future of food? You don’t have to be a vegan to understand the way Americans farm and eat is bad for animals, the environment and human health.

What is the Republican policy for criminal justice? You don’t have to support Black Lives Matter to acknowledge that black men in America are more likely to be stopped and searched by police; are more likely to be suspects in a crime; are more likely to be arrested; are more likely to be prosecuted; and are more likely to be found guilty than white men.

What is the Republican policy for health care? American health is the worst among rich countries. It is too expensive. 29 million Americans can’t afford insurance. Of those who can, 40 percent still struggle to pay their medical bills. 137 million Americans have medical debt.

Critical race theory may not be taught as a theory in public schools, but it is practiced. Whether it is by racially segregating children in the (mistaken) assumption that this will help them understand systematic racism. Or by banning standardized tests, as well as gifted and talented programs, when they reveal racial disparities. Or by spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on “equity assessments“, money that could be spent on airconditioning, school lunches and higher teachers’ pay.

Republicans are right to oppose such excesses. But they should not accept that only 8 percent of high schoolers can identify slavery as the leading cause of the Civil War. Or that few white students know black Americans were excluded from Social Security (as “agricultural and domestic workers”) and from most neighborhoods (“redlining”). There must be a way to teach this history without convincing young Americans their country is (still) a “white supremacy”. But that is not the Republican plan either.

It’s not good enough to be against whatever Democrats are for. Republicans need their own policies. Otherwise how can voters make an honest choice between the two parties?

Trumpists know what to do

The only Republican group that knows what it would do is an unlikely one: the Republican Study Committee. Only one in three of its members voted to certify the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, which Trump claimed — without evidence — was stolen from him.

It’s to their credit that they’ve drafted a governing agenda. But that is also disconcerting to center-right Americans. In the absence of a moderate Republican proposal, the Study Committee’s would prevail in a Republican-controlled Congress.

Not all their policies are extreme. Some are even sensible. But banning abortions after five or six weeks? Drilling for oil in the Arctic? Repealing state and local tax deductions? Those are not mainstream ideas, and they could make it harder for Republicans to compete in swing states.

Here are the Study Committee’s plans:

  • Abolish the Agricultural Trade Promotion and Facilitation Program, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Economic Development Administration, the Export-Import Bank and the National Labor Relations Board.
  • Align the eligibility ages for Medicare (65) and Social Security (67 for those born in or after 1960), and index this retirement age to life expectancy.
  • Allow Americans to buy health insurance out of state and liberalize the requirements for Health Savings Accounts.
  • Ban abortion after five or six weeks of pregnancy and ban public funding of abortions.
  • Ban critical race theory from elementary schools and military academies.
  • Ban gender conversion under the age of 18.
  • Bar companies that trade in Russian oil and gas from doing business in the United States.
  • Complete the border wall with Mexico.
  • Condition all federal welfare benefits on recipients looking for work.
  • Create tax-free Universal Savings Accounts for all Americans. (Including for medical costs and retirement.)
  • Cut funding for Medicaid.
  • Deploy small and modular nuclear reactors.
  • Devolve most highway and transit programs to state and local governments.
  • Drill for oil and gas in the Arctic and on federal land.
  • Eliminate various duplicative federal housing programs.
  • Eliminate green-energy tax breaks.
  • Eliminate two regulations for every one new regulation that is introduced.
  • End the diversity lottery visa program.
  • Equalize the tax treatment of different types of investment, whether it is in equipment, research or workers.
  • Exempt low- and middle-income Americans from capital gains tax.
  • Expand the favorable tax treatment of employer-sponsored health insurance plans to all health insurance products.
  • Expedite approval of natural-gas exports to Europe.
  • Hire more immigration judges.
  • Let Medicare compete with private insurance.
  • Limit family migration to children and spouses.
  • Make public student loan forgiveness less generous, and eliminate it altogether for high-income earners.
  • Negotiate a free-trade agreement with Taiwan.
  • Provide more weapons to Ukraine.
  • Raise defense spending by 5 percent.
  • Reduce funding for the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Repeal production limits, import restrictions, subsidies and tariffs on dairy and sugar.
  • Repeal the estate tax and the state and local tax deduction.
  • Repeal the Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires biofuels to be mixed in with gasoline.
  • Replace Obamacare’s health insurance mandates with federally subsidized insurance for Americans with high-risk medical conditions.
  • Sanction perpetrators of the “genocide” of China’s Uyghurs.
  • Stop underwriting mortgages, and repeal Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s federal charters.