After a campaign season lasting what seems like approximately 20,000 years, the actual election is coming up in less than two months. It has been clear for weeks that the economy is slowly stalling out well short of full employment, and tens of millions of people are falling into destitution because they either were not eligible for the first rounds of pandemic relief, or fell through the cracks in the bureaucracy, or have burned through their savings now that the programs are over.

The best thing the Republican Party could do for its president's re-election campaign now would be to take Democrats up on their offer for trillions in additional rescue dollars. Yet Republicans are largely resisting — the latest offer from Senate Republicans is only half the size of the one from weeks ago, and it is not at all clear many of them would actually vote for it. If Joe Biden wins the election, which appears likely, prepare for a tsunami of crocodile tears about spending and the national debt from the GOP. They will attempt to make his presidency a failure by throttling the economy.

There are probably two things going on with Republicans here. First is an actual ideological commitment to austere political morals — the belief that government should be strict, cold, and rigorous towards (most of) its citizens. The state should not be in the business of handing out comfy universal benefits or making the lives of the masses better, it should be disciplining and controlling them — specifically by forcing them to work making profits for capitalists.

This attitude can be distinguished from the related idea of economic austerity, which means cutting the budget deficit and slowing the economy by raising taxes and/or cutting spending. Republicans love cutting spending on basically anything but the military, but they also love cutting taxes, because that means more money and power in the hands of rich people. Thus they instinctively resist any kind of direct welfare or rescue program to help people by handing out money — as I have previously written, Senate Republicans were incandescently furious that the CARES Act boost to unemployment insurance paid some people who got laid off more than they had made at their jobs. That strikes at the heart of their entire system of morality.

So while they are perfectly willing to blow up the national debt with tax cuts for the top 1 percent, and grudgingly accepted a broadly beneficial rescue package when the stock market was collapsing, Republicans are in general so against helping the poor and the working class that they might sacrifice the presidency to do it.

Second, I suspect that in the back of their minds Republicans are beginning to accept that Trump is likely to lose. It's not at all a sure thing, but he is far behind in the poll averages, which unlike in 2016 have been remarkably stable. What's more, Trump is barely even trying to shake up the race — his campaign is bleeding hundreds of millions of campaign cash on what appears very much like insider looting, and spending tons of money on Fox News ads that won't reach anyone but his own voters. In any case, Trump is such an inflammatory figure, even a huge new rescue package probably wouldn't change attitudes much. Nearly every day there is a new jaw-dropping scandal, like the recent Bob Woodward recording of Trump saying back in early February he knew the coronavirus was deadly and contagious through the air, when he was publicly saying it would vanish on its own.

Thus Republicans may already be preparing for their certain posture should Biden assume the presidency in 2021: total obstruction and demands for maximum spending-side austerity. From 2009-16, they figured if they deliberately strangled the economy and stopped President Obama from doing as much as possible, then the Democrats would get blamed for it, and the GOP would reap the dividends. They were correct.

This is just an escalation of the pattern the party has been following for the last 40 years. First they blew up the national debt with high interest rates, tax cuts, and military spending under Ronald Reagan, and threw a massive fake tantrum about borrowing to constrain Bill Clinton's agenda. Then they blew up the debt again under George W. Bush with tax cuts and military spending, and threw a massive tantrum under Barack Obama to constrain his agenda — in addition to filibustering almost every bill in sight. (Democrats by and large went along with them, because unlike Republicans they foolishly believe in keeping down the debt.)

Now they have blown up the debt again under Trump with tax cuts and military spending (sensing a theme?), which is actually near record highs thanks to the coronavirus response. Should Biden win, you can bet with perfect confidence that Republicans will start having daily screaming tantrums about the national debt — pounding their lecterns in the Senate, lying on the floor kicking and yelling, and holding their breath until they're blue in the face. The effect, should Biden listen to them, will be to hamstring his presidency, lose the 2022 midterms, and cause grievous long-term damage to the American economy and people.

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