Washington's latest tempest in a teapot, in which doctrinaire Republicans spar with President Trump over tariffs, lays bare the essential amorality of the party's transactional alliance with Trump — and the rank bad faith in which both sides engage with the rest of the country.
The party has enabled so much Trumpian awfulness. But they'll stand up to him over tariffs?!
It's impossible to pinpoint exactly when the GOP became the malignancy that it is today. But it's fairly easy to draw a straight line from the nomination of Sarah Palin for vice president to the present moment. The cynical and desperate selection of Palin in the summer of 2008, and the subsequent lionization of her on the populist right, was the first unmistakable sign that conservatism had been reduced to one gigantic irritable mental gesture.
The party has been punished exactly once — in the form of President Obama's 2012 re-election — since that moment.
For their remorseless opposition to fiscal stimulus during the worst economic crisis in half a century, and then to the concept of universal health care, the party was rewarded in 2010 with a triumphant takeover of the House of Representatives. How's the "Tea Party revolution" looking today as Republicans, with their unified control of the federal government, have ditched the anti-Obama cudgel that was budget sequestration and (again) embraced deficits as far as the eye can see?
About as silly as a suburban rabble-rouser in a tricorn hat.
After the temporary comeuppance of the 2012 election, in which the GOP nominated a transparently phony, conviction-free opportunist, the party's first order of business was to resist (with the help, it must be said, of four red state Democrats) a milquetoast response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Later it would petulantly shut down the government for nearly two weeks to stop the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. It also refused to even consider a nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court — a bold, unprecedented, norm-traducing act of partisan defiance.
For these and other feats of statesmanship, the party was rewarded with control of the U.S. Senate.
The 2016 election cycle was supposed to be something of a definitive verdict. Donald Trump, who had swatted away what had been considered the best and brightest of the party's center-right faction, became the avatar of a dying demographic of resentful, reactionary white voters. His almost-certain defeat was going to send a message to an intractable party: Adapt or die.
Instead the party was rewarded with the presidency, complete control of the federal government, and, for good measure, a stolen seat on the Supreme Court.
Maybe this year will be different. Maybe it will prove a disruption in this vicious cycle of partisan impunity. Or maybe not. In the meantime let us enjoy this inning of intra-party dispute.
Republicans will look the other way as Trump monetizes the presidency and fleeces taxpayers by blurring the lines of the office and his privately held business. They will plug their eyes and cover their eyes in the face of mounting evidence that he or his campaign underlings engaged in a conspiracy with foreign espionage agents. They will overlook hush money payments to porn stars. They will tolerate nepotism. They will validate unconscionable treatment of Justice Department officials. But the imposition of tariffs on steel and aluminum is apparently a red line the crossing of which will awaken the sleeping giant of principled conservatism!
This kerfuffle, too, will eventually fade from view as a new one takes its place. But until the electorate finally rouses itself to discipline these impervious characters, we must content ourselves with the schadenfreude on offer in this chapter of the drama.
As I say: Savor it!