Why Republicans lie about their own terrible policies
They can't win on the merits, so they dissemble — and some people are fooled
Judge Amy Coney Barrett is up for a nomination to the Supreme Court, and her hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee have been a complete farce. As Perry Bacon, Jr. writes at FiveThirtyEight, she dodged practically every single question — refusing to even entertain hypothetical questions about abortion, gun rights, whether Medicare is constitutional, or if President Trump could somehow move the election date.
Yet we can be quite confident that Barrett is lying through her teeth about most of those supposed non-opinions. Her record shows her to be a paint-blisteringly reactionary jurist who will reliably enact conservative policy preferences through judicial fiat. If she is confirmed to the court, the main question on how far these conservative judicial legislators will go is whether they will tactically pull back for fear of political backlash.
Barrett has learned well from Trump and the rest of the Republican Party, which camouflages its stupendously unpopular policy views by lying constantly about them.
Let's run through some policy topics.
1) Environmental regulation. During the recent presidential and vice presidential debates, both President Trump and Vice President Pence claimed that they are in favor of clean air and water, and they trust the science on climate change. In reality, the Trump administration has dynamited President Obama's Clean Power Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, pulled out of the Paris climate accords, and rolled back several other protections for air, water, and greenhouse gases.
Contrast that with a Pew poll finding that 67 percent of Americans think the federal government is not doing enough to fight climate change and protect air quality, and 68 percent say the same thing about streams, lakes, and rivers. Clean air and water is viscerally appealing for obvious reasons, and the terrible effects of climate change are increasingly undeniable.
2) The welfare state. During the 2016 Republican presidential primary, Trump repeatedly promised that he would protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Today, practically every Republican candidate is loudly claiming that of course they will protect people with pre-existing conditions. But in office, the Trump administration has proposed budgets slashing all three of these programs — most recently with 10-year cuts totaling $451 billion from Medicare, $920 billion from Medicaid, and $24 billion from Social Security. They also attempted to repeal ObamaCare when Republicans still controlled the House.
When that failed by one vote in the Senate, Trump and multiple state Republican attorneys general joined yet another legal Calvinball lawsuit to kill the law by judicial fiat — which would delete protections for pre-existing conditions, and snatch health insurance from perhaps 21 million people. (That case is still pending before the Supreme Court, by the way, and Barrett may well be the key vote finishing it off.) Recently Trump announced a transparently fraudulent "plan" to protect those with pre-existing conditions by ... saying he would do it.
Again, all this is spectacularly unpopular. Ensuring that people with pre-existing conditions can get insurance polls at 75 percent approval. ObamaCare recently polled at 62 percent favorability — and a big chunk of disapproval is down to people who think it doesn't go far enough. Just 20 percent of Americans think the law should be struck down entirely and replaced with nothing, which is the actual Republican position.
3) Reproductive rights. During her Senate testimony, Barrett refused to say whether or not she would overturn Roe vs. Wade. But back in 2006, Barrett signed a letter calling for it to be overturned and abortion banned without exception. She also refused to comment on Griswold vs. Connecticut, the decision that legalized contraception. Meanwhile, Republican senators have done their best to help obscure her positions, despite those positions being the obvious rationale for their supporting her nomination. Indeed, Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has previously stated he would not vote for a nominee who would not overturn Roe, and is clearly signaling he will vote for Barrett.
Most Americans are fairly wishy-washy about abortion. But banning it altogether is extremely unpopular — pulling in just 10 percent approval. And while I would be somewhat surprised if even this court attacked contraception, as it polls at about 90 percent approval, conservatives have also been chipping away at contraceptive access for years. They would have overturned rules requiring it as part of standard health coverage in their ObamaCare repeal bill, and have been blurring the lines between abortion and contraception for years. I would not surprised if Barrett and her co-ideologues on the court worked to limit access to contraceptives for certain groups (i.e., the poor), at the least.
4) Taxation. The only major legislation the Republican Party has passed under Trump has been a massive tax cut for the rich. This was sold on a baldfaced lie that it was geared towards the middle class, but still polls at just 36 percent approval. Now Trump is repeating the same move, promising he would cut taxes for the middle class in a second term and falsely accusing Biden of planning to raise taxes on lower incomes.
In general, 60 percent of Americans say it bothers them "a lot" that the rich don't pay more in tax, and a further 20 percent say it bothers them "some."
Probably some of the Republican Party understands that they are edging quite far out on a political limb by supporting such wretchedly unpopular policies — thus the constant lies. That's also a big reason why they are constantly trying to cheat elections by any means to hand.
But many ordinary American voters, both moderates and Trump supporters, end up deluded about what the GOP actually supports. Polls, focus groups, and reporting has repeatedly found substantial chunks of voters who straight-up refuse to believe the Republican Party program is as extreme as it is. "There is not a single guy or woman who would run for president that would make it so that pre-existing conditions wouldn’t be covered," one foolish Trump supporter told The New York Times. The lying works, it seems, in concert with a media that compulsively downplays conservative extremism so as to appear fair and balanced.
But make no mistake: If Trump wins in November, the environment, abortion rights, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and even a smidgen of economic equality will all be on the chopping block.