Right On: Policy preferences divide Republicans into three factions

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OPINION — Republicans are struggling to govern effectively, despite holding the White House and both chambers of Congress. Policy preferences divide the party’s traditional core from its populists and the Freedom Caucus.

Count me as a traditional Republican, the party’s largest faction. This is the Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rep. Paul Ryan core of the party.

Traditional Republicans favor balanced budgets, economic growth and limited government.

Both parties pay lip service to balanced budgets but given their way, each would go about it very differently.

Republicans prefer to scale back or eliminate social welfare programs. But their enthusiasm is tempered by political reality: trimming Social Security or Medicare – the elephants in the budgetary room – risks political oblivion. Even trimming smaller programs with far fewer beneficiaries brings out bleeding hearts with accusations of Republican greed and heartlessness.

Democrats, sponsors of most of these programs, also claim to want balanced budgets. Their preferred approach is to raise taxes, hence the epithet “tax and spend Democrats.” They are restrained by a voting public that stands ready to punish those who raise taxes.

Social welfare programs are loved enough and new taxes hated enough that budget deficits are likely here to stay. Stay that is, until a true budget crisis forces drastic action.

Traditional Republicans believe a growing economy is the best medicine for a number of society’s ills. They believe government’s role is to set the stage with low taxes and minimal regulations and then get out of the way.

So what’s not to like? Tax cuts increase budget deficits in the near term. Whether and how quickly more rapid economic growth makes up the difference is always subject to debate: Democrats call Republicans hypocrites on balanced budgets, Republicans take credit for the ensuing growth.

Traditionalists would limit federal government’s role by returning a number of functions to the states. They point to the Constitution’s 10th Amendment that reserves to the states or the people powers not specifically delegated to the federal government.

As an example, Republicans would like to see the federal government return a significant portion of the 758.8 million acres of land it owns to the states. This is a hot topic in the west where 47 percent of all land is in federal hands, including over half of all land in Utah, Nevada and Oregon.

Likewise, traditionalists would give states more flexibility in administering many federal social welfare programs like Medicaid, unemployment benefits and food stamps. They see states as test beds and incubators for innovative ideas that could be adopted by other states.

Turn now to populism, introduced into the Republican Party in a big way by Donald Trump.

Trump is epitome of a populist, one who appeals to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elites.

He expresses his “Make America Great Again” message in blunt, confrontational language. He opposes immigration in general and illegal immigrants in particular. He berates Chinese “cheating” on trade. These messages resonate with lots of “ordinary people,” especially those who see their jobs disappearing either to low-wage immigrants or to Chinese imports.

His unconventional campaign was first ignored by the traditional Republican establishment. But as their preferred candidates dropped by the wayside, a serious #NeverTrump movement arose, believing he was a sure loser to Hillary Clinton.

With his surprise victory, traditionalists like me are conflicted. We’ll take him in a heartbeat over Hillary and love his Supreme Court nominees. But his abrasive style, his checkered past and his inane tweets drive us nuts.

Traditionalists decry the image Trump has created for the party. White supremacists, anti-Semites and the like believe they’ve found a voice. Democrats portray these fringe groups as the new Republican Party.

Trump’s popularity with his base continues unabated. Whether his rowdy coalition will stand up to Democratic resistance will have its first test in this fall’s elections.

Freedom Caucus Republicans, née Tea Party Republicans, are traditionalists on steroids. Budgets must be balanced, Obamacare repealed, Planned Parenthood defunded and more. The Freedom Caucus is distinguished by its refusal to compromise and its discipline in voting as a bloc.

There are just enough of them – about 30 or so in the House of Representatives – that they are in effect kingmakers. Without their votes, Republicans don’t have a majority in the House.

The caucus deposed then-Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner in 2015. He complained, “They can’t tell you what they’re for. They can tell you everything they’re against. They’re anarchists. They want total chaos.”

Republicans have enjoyed electoral success since Democrats overreached with Obamacare in 2010. They’ve gained House and Senate majorities. Thirty-one states have Republican governors and Republicans control both legislative houses in 32 states.

But the party finds itself hamstrung by Freedom Caucus legislators unwilling to compromise and by a president whose policy fixations – a border wall, tariffs and his war on “fake news” – energize Democratic opposition and make finding politically workable solutions difficult if not impossible.

Unless and until Republicans demonstrate they can govern effectively, the party could find itself where Democrats were in 2010: facing a wave of angry voters ready for sweeping change this fall and in 2020.

Howard Sierer is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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  • Happy Commenter August 16, 2018 at 3:31 pm

    Howard, you are definitely reading the book wrong! You’re way off on this one!

  • iceplant August 16, 2018 at 4:14 pm

    Can’t stand either party but self-identifying Republicans are easily some of the hypocritical people I have ever known.
    Phony patriots wrapped in the American flag and acting like that’s what a “real” American is supposed to be. I was raised in a very conservative family but I was also warned of what happens when Conservatism goes too far to the right. Fascism.
    That’s what we’re seeing now with Trump and his delusional followers. And this proud American will have NONE of it.

  • comments August 17, 2018 at 9:19 am

    Without even reading the article, let me guess, the 3 factions are: dumb, dumber, dumbest. I’d go as far as to add a 4th faction: complete nutter/loon. 😉

    • Happy Commenter August 17, 2018 at 9:27 am

      You fit right into that 4th faction perfectly!

    • Striker4 August 17, 2018 at 10:57 am

      That 4th one is definitely the group for you

      • comments August 17, 2018 at 3:31 pm

        Looks like you’ve got a little twin there, Dump. Absolutely adorable. 😉

        • Happy Commenter August 17, 2018 at 5:14 pm

          What’s the matter? Truth hurts nutter?

  • kjtrent August 19, 2018 at 9:25 am

    I appreciate how your article points out these three camps in the Republican party. I hadn’t really thought of it that way. Count me as a supporter of the Freedom Caucus. I think a good reason they are perceived as a Caucus that says no is because their goal is to move power to the states and away from the federal government. That means they will be saying no to most bills that increase the power, regulations and taxes for the Federal Government. States will struggle to advance their solutions unless the Feds stop pushing their solutions on the states.

    On the other hand, it was the Traditionalist Republicans that gave us the no debate, no time to review, take it or leave it abomination of a spending bill that makes Obama look like a cheapskate. I see no justification for the incredible amount of spending allowed by that bill. I’m sure you were disappointed by it too but I’m curious as to how you think that came about. A preemptive compromise or is it a reflection of the true core values of the Traditionalist Republicans?

    Thanks for your articles, keep ’em coming. I appreciate the thought and effort you put into them. Hopefully we all remember that we (All Americans) agree on more than we disagree when it comes to our principles and goals.

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