The GOP's intellectual collapse
The Republican Party has no idea what it's doing anymore
The Republican Party is sitting at the crest of an electoral high tide which almost certainly will retreat somewhat in the upcoming 2018 midterms. So just like Obama and the Democrats did in 2009-10, they are attempting to seize the moment by passing a set of priorities, first among them a repeal of ObamaCare, into law. Yet they are having a devil of a time getting it done. One reason is the absolutely diseased state of the Republican Party as a political institution.
The previous president makes for an instructive contrast. By this point in Obama's presidency, he had already signed several significant pieces of legislation, most notably the Recovery Act. That economic stimulus was too small to fix the economic crash, but it did help a lot, and also contained a huge grab bag of liberal goodies.
That is, sort of, how a political party is supposed to work. A healthy party connects a group of constituencies to an ideological apparatus which explains and justifies their substantive preferences and to an intellectual apparatus which can translate those preferences into workable policy. A labor party, for example, takes working-class desires for better working conditions and higher pay, translates them into legal protections for unions, universal paid leave, the 8-hour-day, and so forth, and justifies that policy with egalitarian moral philosophy of some sort.
Then, of course, a party has to adjust to changing political circumstances, creating new policies to deal with new problems as they arise (perhaps by copy-pasting from other nations). When this process is functioning well, democratic nations evolve towards policies that benefit their whole citizenry through a process of trial-and-error.
Now, that's a rather optimistic view of parties even in proper proportional parliamentary systems. And because the winner-take-all system created by the dumb American Constitution creates a strong pressure towards only two parties, the United States has never developed real political parties representing coherent constituencies. Instead, we have weird amalgamations of demographic and interest groups that shift over time — even sometimes completely switching parties, as happened with African-Americans from Reconstruction to the civil rights era.
So it's not so surprising that the Democrats couldn't get it together to pass a stimulus big enough to restore employment in a timely fashion. That would have required turning a sharp intellectual 180 from the entire previous generation of economic orthodoxy, and the ideological spade-work necessary to turn such an unwieldy behemoth simply hadn't been done.
But the state of Republican intellectual collapse is on another level entirely.
For the last eight years, it has been fueled by a furious hatred of liberals in general and President Obama in particular. It has translated that hatred into ostensible support for libertarian economic policy that would benefit no one but the extremely rich. Therefore, its signature intellectual characteristic is denial of inconvenient facts — from the true (heavily racialized) roots of its support, to the likely effect of its favored policies, to mainstream science like global warming and evolution.
But now that they are in power, Republicans are discovering that not only is there no groundswell of demand for their plan of slashing social insurance to the bone, but that the wind went out of their political sails the moment Obama left the picture. (Something similar happened to gun purchases, which cratered after the election.) Now without any opponent in power to blame for everything, many GOP congressmen are getting a tiny, disturbing inkling of the fact that what people actually want with health care is something even more extensive and expensive than ObamaCare — but what few plans they have sketched out are the polar opposite of that.
There is no better encapsulation of the intellectual rot in the GOP than their shambolic leader. President Trump gave a frankly jaw-dropping press conference Thursday, ostensibly about his selection of Alex Acosta to be secretary of labor, after the implosion of his nomination of Andrew Puzder for that post. But instead Trump ranted about his Electoral College victory (saying that it was biggest margin since Reagan, when in fact it did not even match Obama's margin in 2012), being treated unfairly by the media, how leakers are undermining him politically, and on and on.
It sounded exactly like a reality TV star who is in miles over his head, because that's what it was.
Now, Republicans could very well get it together to eviscerate ObamaCare and the rest of the welfare state. It's early yet in the Trump administration. And the fact that such a broken party is so politically dominant is itself a stunning demonstration of Democratic Party incompetence, which has many only somewhat less-bad problems. Indeed, Republicans will probably not come down to Earth until after they lose several consecutive elections.
But the fact remains: The Republican Party is, politically speaking, absolutely out of its gourd.