Michigan State University's Matt Grossman recently argued in the New York Times that conservatives tend to forget about their commitment to fiscal responsibility when they control all the levers of government and then rediscover it as soon as a Democrat becomes president. This has no doubt been the pattern in the past and it would be reassuring if it were to be again in the future.
But that gives Trump's GOP too much credit, I argue in The Week. The fact of the matter is that Trump has dealt a body blow to the Grand Old Party's traditional agenda and he has done so after the party spent a decade erecting bulwarks against much of what he has done.
Indeed, the Tea Party movement initially emerged expressly as a backlash to the Bush years when a conservative president squandered trillions of federal dollars not only on two disastrous wars abroad but also new domestic programs such as the No Child Left Behind Act (that bribed local schools to hew to Uncle Sam's educational standards) and Medicare Part D (that paid for a prescription drug benefit for seniors). The movement's frenzy reached its zenith after President Barack Obama spent a trillion dollars on a fiscal stimulus that built bridges to nowhere and then ramrodded Obamacare on an unwilling nation without even bothering to lighten the fiscal burden of the existing entitlement state.
Yet Trump in just his first year has managed to explode the country's debt and deficits to the extent that even presidents fighting wars and slaying recessions never managed to do. And the party's stalwarts and mavericks alike did nothing to stop him.
"Never before has a party fought so hard for something and then given it up so quickly," I note. "All of this goes far beyond the customary hypocrisy of politics. It is an epic self-repudiation that won't easily be reversed."
This means that the GOP agenda will face a vast emptiness. And what's likely to fill it is some version of Trump's populist attack on America's institutions—and an economic agenda that is rife with nativism and mercantilism. Sadly, the GOP's economics will become a mere extension of the culture wars.
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