The Republican ideology engaged in its first real battle with reality, and reality won. Paul Ryan had to pull the repeal of America’s Affordable Care Act before members of his own party killed it. The overall impression is that with an ignominious retreat, the modern Republican Party died and it will never be the same again.
Since 1980, the Republican leadership has embraced the goal of dismantling the New Deal state. When Franklin D Roosevelt put in place policies to regulate business and finance to provide a basic social safety net in the hope of preventing another Great Depression, pro-business Republicans called it socialism. They claimed that regulations and the taxes necessary to fund welfare policies violate individual liberty. By 1980 this was the ideology that drove the Republican Party. Ronald Reagan warned that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” and the party devoted itself to tax cuts and starving the government.
But that ideology of the pro-business government of the 1920s never reflected political reality, because the policies they hated were actually quite popular. So, they made an about face and won-over voters not by convincing them that a world in which businessmen run the country is better, but by insisting that the problem is that taxes are being redistributed from hardworking white people to lazy minorities, immigrants and liberals.
Their story was that hardworking white Christian men were under attack by a government designed by Democrats, which was sucking them dry through high taxes and then handing that money over to undeserving people. Voters were thrilled by Regan's promise to protect regular Americans from the taxes that supported parasites.
The only problem with the story is that Americans actually believed that the government has a key role to play in business regulation and social welfare.
It was easy to overcome the gulf between ideology and reality, as long as they could blame Democrats. They could rail about lower taxes and liberty, and then blame the socialistic Democrats for the Republicans’ own failure to enact their ideological vision.
This same tactic is at the heart of their rage against Obamacare. Republicans in the House of Representatives voted more than 50 times to repeal the law, knowing they could count on Obama’s veto. But the Trump administration has forced Republicans to face the gulf between their rhetoric and reality.
With the Republicans now in control of both Congress and the White House, they have to start delivering on their promises, and Trump had vowed to repeal Obamacare on day one. He said the process would be “easy.” Well, it was not, and Republicans had to admit that Americans actually like the law. Trump tried to blame Democrats once again, but it didn't work.
For decades, the Republican Party has won power by hiding its unpopular ideology by attacking Democrats. That tactic will no longer work.
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