David Frum and “The Great Republican Revolt”

 

Jeb BushThe GOP plotted to restore the Bush dynasty, but instead triggered a class war. That’s the thesis of David Frum’s latest piece for The Atlantic, “The Great Republican Revolt,” which is really worth reading:

The angriest and most pessimistic people in America are the people we used to call Middle Americans. Middle-class and middle-aged; not rich and not poor; people who are irked when asked to press 1 for English, and who wonder how white male became an accusation rather than a description.

You can measure their pessimism in polls that ask about their expectations for their lives—and for those of their children. On both counts, whites without a college degree express the bleakest view. You can see the effects of their despair in the new statistics describing horrifying rates of suicide and substance-abuse fatality among this same group, in middle age.

White Middle Americans express heavy mistrust of every institution in American society: not only government, but corporations, unions, even the political party they typically vote for—the Republican Party of Romney, Ryan, and McConnell, which they despise as a sad crew of weaklings and sellouts. They are pissed off. And when Donald Trump came along, they were the people who told the pollsters, “That’s my guy.”

They aren’t necessarily superconservative. They often don’t think in ideological terms at all. But they do strongly feel that life in this country used to be better for people like them—and they want that older country back.

I don’t read a lot of Frum since I disagree with him so strongly on gun control and other left-leaning views, but he correctly identifies the divide between the donor class and the party rank-and-file. After discussing the long history of GOP compromises and sell-outs, he offers several alternatives to help the party heal the rift:

  1. Double down on comprehensive immigration reform to hopefully win over Latino and Asian American voters.
  2. Make a tactical concession on immigration enforcement to win back the party base.
  3. Reform the entire GOP agenda. I’ll let Frum explain:

Admittedly, this may be the most uncongenial thought of them all, but party elites could try to open more ideological space for the economic interests of the middle class. Make peace with universal health-insurance coverage: Mend Obamacare rather than end it. Cut taxes less at the top, and use the money to deliver more benefits to working families in the middle. Devise immigration policy to support wages, not undercut them. Worry more about regulations that artificially transfer wealth upward, and less about regulations that constrain financial speculation. Take seriously issues such as the length of commutes, nursing-home costs, and the anticompetitive practices that inflate college tuition. Remember that Republican voters care more about aligning government with their values of work and family than they care about cutting the size of government as an end in itself.

My advice is for the GOP to combine options 2 and 3, but my “reform” is very different from the swing to the left noted above. Frum has long advocated accepting Obamacare and other progressive programs, much like Eisenhower made peace with the New Deal. If you want to turn the Republican internal cold war into a full-blown civil war, option 3 is excellent advice.

Instead, the party elite should do something far more radical: Admit that it completely failed on comprehensive immigration reform, repeatedly lied about it to the base, and apologize with contrite words and concrete action. This is not the grudging “tactical concession” offered by Frum, but a full repudiation of amnesty and anything that smacks of open borders.

I don’t think illegal immigration is the biggest issue facing the country and I live in Arizona of all places. But it has become a proxy for the chasm that divides the elite from everyone else. Until the GOP proves its honorable intentions on immigration, forget trying to persuade the base on anything else. Even with this about-face, it will take a few election cycles before Republican voters trust their party on the issue. Nevertheless, confession must precede forgiveness.

Then begins the reform of the party agenda. Contra Frum, it cannot be a list of Democratic-lite policies; DC Republicans’ slouch toward progressivism is the reason the base is so furious.

The party can “open more ideological space for the economic interests of the middle class” by ending the self-serving racket that is the DC/Wall Street/Chamber of Commerce power structure. End idiocies like the Ex-Im Bank which exist only to serve big business. Instead of worrying about the tax rates of the highest earners, eliminate loopholes and lobbyist-written rules that advantage the monied class. Cut through red tape that interferes with charities, non-profits, religious organizations, and small businesses. Stop trying to slow the growth of the government and shrink it outright.

A large part of the GOP base doesn’t want government to do a better job of taking care of them; They want to take care of themselves. If Washington stops meddling in the inconsequential, it can focus on those few things that only the federal government can do, such as protecting the country.

My recommendations are far less “congenial” than Frum’s, because the elites would have to place their fellow Americans’ welfare above their own vanity, power, and quarterly dividend statements. I’m not advocating a temporary pose to trick the yahoos, but a change in heart, mind, and direction. The party bosses must admit that much of the work they do in Washington is either useless or counter-productive.

Even worse, they need to admit that, at least on a few issues, the “yahoos” were right.

Members have made 96 comments.

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  1. Profile photo of donald todd Inactive

    The important thing to the party elites (both parties) is the color green, the color of money. The more they can make and the less taxes that they have to pay, the better. So yes on the Ex/Im Bank. Yes on lower cost laborers. No to people who think this country is worthy of a border.

    The members of congress who voted through the recent fiscal and moral nightmare are people who want the approval of money and the moneyed interests. The question is not usually if people are for sale, the question is how much it will cost.

    • #1
    • December 22, 2015 at 1:24 pm
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  2. Profile photo of The King Prawn Member

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: I don’t think illegal immigration is the biggest issue facing the country and I live in Arizona of all places. But it has become a proxy for the chasm that divides the elite from everyone else.

    I think this hits the nail on the head. Contra some other very thoughtful folks around here, immigration is the bloodiest gash, but not the most life threatening to our nation.

    • #2
    • December 22, 2015 at 1:29 pm
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  3. Profile photo of Koblog Inactive

    Doncha love it when GOPe beltway insiders (Frum was a GWB speechwriter) tell us what to do to fix the GOP?

    Reminds me of the New York Times “endorsing” John McCain as their best candidate for the Republican nomination, before they threw in with King Putt and savaged McCain.

    So Frum’s advice: fold, fold, fold some more. “Make peace” with failing bankrupt programs they ran against as candidates, and then voted to fund. Let the Left set the agenda, ram it through in the dead of night illegally and then live with the failure.

    Yeah, that’ll enthuse the middle. “Make peace” with your sky-high insurance you can’t use because the deductible is $5,000.

    • #3
    • December 22, 2015 at 1:35 pm
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  4. Profile photo of Frozen Chosen Thatcher

    Our economy is shifting dramatically and causing all kinds of disruption. Many people are being affected by this and are either too old or not nimble enough to adapt. It’s getting too easy for some of these folks to go on disability and have their self-worth further deflated.

    I don’t know all the answers to the problem but I do know that tearing the GOP apart and handing the reins to the Progressives for 8 more years will only make things much worse. Perfection cannot be allowed to supplant the good so we end up with the unthinkable.

    • #4
    • December 22, 2015 at 1:35 pm
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  5. Profile photo of Roberto Member

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: After discussing the long history of GOP compromises and sell-outs, he offers three alternatives to help the party heal the rift:

    1. Double down on comprehensive immigration reform to hopefully win over Latino and Asian American voters.
    2. Make a tactical concession on immigration enforcement to win back the party base.
    3. Reform the entire GOP agenda. I’ll let Frum explain:

    There is another option for these individuals, consider the list you just put forward.

    End idiocies like the Ex-Im Bank which exist only to serve big business. Instead of worrying about the tax rates of the highest earners, eliminate loopholes and lobbyist-written rules that advantage the monied class. Cut through red tape that interferes with charities, non-profits, religious organizations, and small businesses. Stop trying to slow the growth of the government and shrink it outright.

    The recent omnibus bill in fact accomplished the exact opposite of what you listed, how was it done? By joining with the Democrats of course. Perhaps what we will end up seeing is that many who now profess conservative positions which they clearly do not subscribe to will finally make it official and leave the GOP to become the Democrats they have been all along.

    • #5
    • December 22, 2015 at 1:45 pm
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  6. Profile photo of Nick Stuart Inactive

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: Until the GOP proves its honorable intentions on immigration, forget trying to persuade the base on anything else.

    The only way this can be done is by building an honest-to-God, double-layer fence across every part of the southern border that is even remotely passible to illegals, then patrol and enforce it.

    The “base” knows that anything else is just chin music to placate the suckers. Once that’s done we can have a conversation about what to do with the millions currently here illegally. Look the other way unless they commit a crime, any crime including everything down to traffic violations.

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: If you want to turn the Republican internal cold war into a full-blown civil war, option 3 is excellent advice.

    Pretty much everything Frum is recommending would turn the current pulling and hauling into a full-blown civil war, although mutiny might be a better description. Make no mistake, the Republican Party is on the cusp of a full-scale mutiny, a situation to which its leadership seems completely oblivious.

    • #6
    • December 22, 2015 at 1:48 pm
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  7. Profile photo of Duane Oyen Member

    Jon, I think that you fundamentally mischaracterize one thing. Perhaps you are correct regarding David Frum’s position- but, in my view, wrong on the core point.

    It is this- more Avik Roy/James Capretta, less Frum, but still different from the alleged “base” that always wears green accountant eyeshades: the Federal government already has a major role in healthcare, the system is currently a mess, ObamaCare has made it worse- but: there is a basic role for the Feds in making healthcare available, particularly unrelated to the job. The issue is what form that that should take, not whether it should be done.

    Lots of Ricochetti believe- wrongly, I think- that the Federal gubmint should not be involved in health care, so “we must fight every enhancement”.

    Most of the middle class does not agree with that position- that is what Frum is correctly pointing out. We will never be able to effect necessary reforms to entitlements if the broad electorate believes that our real goal is to eliminate them. Frum, and most other sensible commentators, recognize that the public (for good reasons, in my view) want Federal involvement in ensuring old age/pensions and ensuring basic health care.

    EMTALA was not passed over the virulent objections of the body politic.

    • #7
    • December 22, 2015 at 1:48 pm
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  8. Profile photo of Duane Oyen Member

    Nick Stuart:

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: Until the GOP proves its honorable intentions on immigration, forget trying to persuade the base on anything else.

    The only way this can be done is by building an honest-to-God, double-layer fence across every part of the southern border that is even remotely passible to illegals, then patrol and enforce it.

    The “base” knows that anything else is just chin music to placate the suckers. Once that’s done we can have a conversation about what to do with the millions currently here illegally. Look the other way unless they commit a crime, any crime including everything down to traffic violations.

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: If you want to turn the Republican internal cold war into a full-blown civil war, option 3 is excellent advice.

    Pretty much everything Frum is recommending would turn the current pulling and hauling into a full-blown civil war, although mutiny might be a better description. Make no mistake, the Republican Party is on the cusp of a full-scale mutiny, a situation to which its leadership seems completely oblivious.

    If what is required to avoid mutiny by 25% of the usual Republican voters, we can forget ever running this country. Like it or not, only about 10% of the total population agrees with Rand Paul, et al.

    • #8
    • December 22, 2015 at 1:51 pm
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  9. Profile photo of Fake John/Jane Galt Thatcher

    It is not a revolt.

    I tend to not vote for Democrats because they do not represent my interests. The GOP seems to not represent my interests either, so why should I vote for them? If I stay home on election day at least I save the gas money.

    • #9
    • December 22, 2015 at 1:57 pm
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  10. Profile photo of Mike LaRoche Thatcher

    As a military historian, I say this with absolute certainty: you cannot retreat your way to victory. At some point, you must stand and fight.

    • #10
    • December 22, 2015 at 1:59 pm
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  11. Profile photo of WI Con Member

    Glad to see that article is being noticed. Jon, I agree with your prescriptions a whole lot more than Frum’s but welcome anything that might get through those skulls there. The atmosphere is poisonous. A mea culpa at this point would be welcome (and met with profound distrust). It’s not just immigration, it’s trade, social issues, it’s spending & debt, and an unaccountable bureaucratic class of government workers – immune from performance demands and exempt from the anxiety of global competition.

    I’ll say it again, Trump is bad news. Really bad news. I agree with all my conservative ‘betters’ on that. Truth in advertising. I’m a Cruz guy. Totally get people’s discomfort with him (think several criticisms are valid and that many are wrong/misplaced).

    I also can’t think of a better way to punish that same class of people, and Congressional Leadership, than Ted 🙂

    • #11
    • December 22, 2015 at 1:59 pm
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  12. Profile photo of Paul Dougherty Member

    Mike LaRoche:As a military historian, I say this with absolute certainty: you cannot retreat your way to victory. At some point, you must stand and fight.

    Except for Hannibal. Hannibal you retreat from.

    • #12
    • December 22, 2015 at 2:05 pm
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  13. Profile photo of Dave Sussman Contributor

    The GOP apparatchiks are just as bad as the DNC. Minus a few stalwarts like Mike Lee and Jim Jordan, most candidates who campaign to the ideological right end up in DC going along to get along with only an eye toward re-election.

    The rot is systemic, to the point where we now have Presidential candidates and their supporters posturing over ‘I didn’t support legal status/amnesty before I supported it’.

    There is a lack of consistency. I don’t necessarily blame individual politicians, they are all self serving. I blame the corrupt machine, which is assailable by outsiders, yet once an outsider becomes an insider and realizes how the behemoth is impervious to change, then the newly elected Mr. Smith relents to it’s awesome power.

    It is for this reason that a certain candidate can be number one in the polls largely due to the selling point of not having to tow the party line. It’s just too bad that candidate has almost zero conservative bona fides.

    • #13
    • December 22, 2015 at 2:06 pm
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  14. Profile photo of iWe Reagan
    iWe

    The party does not have to unthinkingly follow the electorate. It can, instead, learn how to explain and sell a pro-freedom agenda.

    People want leaders. The GOP are a bunch of rotters. Which is at the core of the Trump and Cruz campaigns.

    • #14
    • December 22, 2015 at 2:06 pm
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  15. Profile photo of Arizona Patriot Member

    Mike LaRoche:As a military historian, I say this with absolute certainty: you cannot retreat your way to victory. At some point, you must stand and fight.

    Well, yes, but as Sam Houston showed us, that doesn’t mean that you should never retreat to more favorable ground.

    • #15
    • December 22, 2015 at 2:09 pm
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  16. Profile photo of Joseph Eagar Member

    I don’t know what Frum is talking about. The GOP “made peace” with universal health coverage in the 90s. That’s simply not an issue. Whatever market-based alternative to Obamacare the party comes up, it will still have universal coverage. The party elite isn’t stupid.

    Frum also seems to be underappreciating the importance of immigration policy, the point of which is to shift distributional policy away from redistributing income directly and towards redistributing capital (in the sense of stuff that makes people more productive).

    The evidence that income-based redistribution is ineffective goes back centuries, while policies that redistribute capital are probably what caused the Industrial Revolution. It’s not like we don’t have a great deal of historical experience with this stuff. Use immigration to tighten labor markets; create a fiscal surplus to increase the supply of financial capital (so employers can invest in productive capital for their workers) and voila, rising wages for the masses. It’s not hard.

    • #16
    • December 22, 2015 at 2:11 pm
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  17. Profile photo of Z in MT Member

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: Until the GOP proves its honorable intentions on immigration, forget trying to persuade the base on anything else.

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: The party can “open more ideological space for the economic interests of the middle class” by ending the self-serving racket that is the DC/Wall Street/Chamber of Commerce power structure.

    These two lines are the most important and are closely linked. Middle Americans see a class divide forming between the “elites” and everybody else. The elite includes anybody that works in Finance and in or around Government (excepting K-12 teachers and low level state employees -Federal employees are all considered part of the elite because of their decent pay, benefits, and job security). Most businessmen are exempt from the elite even if they have high income unless their business is connected to the DC/Wall Street nexus.

    • #17
    • December 22, 2015 at 2:18 pm
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  18. Profile photo of Fake John/Jane Galt Thatcher

    I have a wife that has not been able to find a decent job for 3 years. Friends that have had to take early retirement because they were pushed out their jobs and there were no decent ones available. Other friends that had to weasel their way onto disability because they can not find a decent employment. And even more friends that used to work in six figure jobs that now work in $30k jobs because that is the best they can find. I now pay more in taxes, more in food costs, more in almost every thing than any other time in my life, but I keep getting told that jobs are plentiful, there is no inflation and the economy is doing well. All this is going on and all the GOP seems to care about how to pass the largest spending bill in history, what to do about Trump and how to defund planed parenthood.

    Any cause of mine they have championed in the last 10 years they have manage to lose. Gay marriage – lost, economy – lost, abortion – lost, illegal immigration – lost, Ebola quarantine – lost, Keystone pipeline – lost, religious rights – lost, the list goes on an on.

    I did not revolt against the GOP, the GOP revolted against me.

    If the GOP wants to be on top then they can start with a decent economy. Jobs go a long way. After that they can go back to all things they have surrendered and get them back.

    • #18
    • December 22, 2015 at 2:20 pm
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  19. Profile photo of Ontheleftcoast Member

    Of course, it’s just the wingnuts who think that there’s a UniParty Elite that doesn’t represent their interests.

    Oh, wait. Jeb! donors threatening to vote for Hillary if Trump is the nominee, and Bob Dole threatening to vote for Hillary if it’s Trump and stay home if it’s Cruz. Not to mention Chuck Schumer crowing about how Paul Ryan gave the Dems even more than they asked for. Now that’s bipartisanship.

    Move along, nothing to see.

    • #19
    • December 22, 2015 at 2:21 pm
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  20. Profile photo of Frozen Chosen Thatcher

    Fake John/Jane Galt:I have a wife that has not been able to find a decent job for 3 years. Friends that have had to take early retirement because they were pushed out their jobs and there were no decent ones available. Other friends that had to weasel their way onto disability because they can not find a decent employment. And even more friends that used to work in six figure jobs that now work in $30k jobs because that is the best they can find. I now pay more in taxes, more in food costs, more in almost every thing than any other time in my life, but I keep getting told that jobs are plentiful, there is no inflation and the economy is doing well. All this is going on and all the GOP seems to care about how to pass the largest spending bill in history, what to do about Trump and how to defund planed parenthood.

    Any cause of mine they have championed in the last 10 years they have manage to lose. Gay marriage – lost, economy – lost, abortion – lost, illegal immigration – lost, Ebola quarantine – lost, Keystone pipeline – lost, religious rights – lost, the list goes on an on.

    I did not revolt against the GOP, the GOP revolted against me.

    I can certainly empathize with your wife’s plight, FJ, but the economic disruption we are seeing is not taking place uniformly across the country. Take Minnesota, for example; the economy in the Twin Cities metro area is thriving and unemployment is very low but the iron ore industry up north is being decimated and thousands of miners are losing their jobs.

    We need to adapt to survive which may mean changing careers or areas in which we live/work.

    • #20
    • December 22, 2015 at 2:30 pm
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  21. Profile photo of wmartin Inactive

    The King Prawn:

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: I don’t think illegal immigration is the biggest issue facing the country and I live in Arizona of all places. But it has become a proxy for the chasm that divides the elite from everyone else.

    I think this hits the nail on the head. Contra some other very thoughtful folks around here, immigration is the bloodiest gash, but not the most life threatening to our nation.

    In immigration policy, we are making virtually eternal personnel decisions. Policy can be changed, but these poor personnel decisions can’t be undone.

    • #21
    • December 22, 2015 at 2:49 pm
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  22. Profile photo of Pilli Member

    The Republican Party is dead! Not yet in the grave, but dead. The party elite will NEVER apologize because they NEVER did anything wrong. It’s us dolts who don’t get it. Because they will not change, they will not survive.

    I believe there will be a new party (maybe the TEA Party maybe the Trump Party. Who knows?) that replaces the Republicans in 2020.

    • #22
    • December 22, 2015 at 2:54 pm
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  23. Profile photo of Miffed White Male Member

    Frozen Chosen: Take Minnesota, for example; the economy in the Twin Cities metro area is thriving and unemployment is very low but the iron ore industry up north is being decimated and thousands of miners are losing their jobs.

    “unemployment is very low” doesn’t mean (Per fake johns example) people who had jobs paying six figures years ago aren’t now stuck working in jobs that pay 30k because that’s all they can find.

    • #23
    • December 22, 2015 at 2:55 pm
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  24. Profile photo of MarciN Member

    The King Prawn:

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: I don’t think illegal immigration is the biggest issue facing the country and I live in Arizona of all places. But it has become a proxy for the chasm that divides the elite from everyone else.

    I think this hits the nail on the head. Contra some other very thoughtful folks around here, immigration is the bloodiest gash, but not the most life threatening to our nation.

    I think the reason for that is that people perceive it to be an easy fix and the other things that are causing despair as not so easy. I think people are smart enough to realize it isn’t the source of all of their problems; the trouble is that they don’t see how to fix any of the other problems. Ergo the increases in suicide and heroin.

    • #24
    • December 22, 2015 at 3:04 pm
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  25. Profile photo of donald todd Inactive

    Ontheleftcoast:Of course, it’s just the wingnuts who think that there’s a UniParty Elite that doesn’t represent their interests.

    Oh, wait. Jeb! donors threatening to vote for Hillary if Trump is the nominee, and Bob Dole threatening to vote for Hillary if it’s Trump and stay home if it’s Cruz. Move along, nothing to see.

    Do you know what they call Jeb!’s donors? Bob Dole? They call them the party faithful.

    • #25
    • December 22, 2015 at 3:07 pm
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  26. Profile photo of Xennady Inactive

    Who would be stupid enough now to belief that the GOP establishment would allow a secure border, after the party has so relentlessly refused to compromise at all?

    Not very many people, it appears- establishment beloved Bush is a laughingstock, and his stand-in Rubio is struggling for third place.

    And with the Ryan budget deal I think I can safely say we will not get much that the base will like out of the present Congress.

    I think if the GOP was capable of reform, it would have happened by now. Since it has not, nothing but obliteration will suffice, followed up by a reconstruction on a new foundation. The Whig party disappeared, but a lot of Whig ideas survived to be incorporated in the new Republican party.

    The GOP had a good run, but it’s time for it to be sent off to a well-earned death.

    • #26
    • December 22, 2015 at 3:16 pm
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  27. Profile photo of Owen Findy Member

    Amen, Jon!

    • #27
    • December 22, 2015 at 3:20 pm
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  28. Profile photo of Guruforhire Member

    I agree.

    More broadly, I know a lot of full on populists, and they are fully aware the whole house of cards is coming down on their kids heads. They have no illusions. They are open to entitlement reform, even BIG reform, but they want to be convinced that everybody else is taking a bite of this [redacted]-sandwich with them.

    Too clever solutions will always fail, as they have a terrible track record, and don’t take into account time perspective and low risk tolerances.

    I even got a full on left winger to agree to a flat tax if he could be convinced it couldn’t be gamed by the wealthy.

    Dick Armey on Penn and Teller’s old show had a fabulous point that the problem with taxation is that nobody knows they are doing the right thing and can’t be convinced anybody else is either.

    Its not just trust in the republican party that has to be rebuilt, its rebuilding enough trust in the state to credibly say its even legitimate.

    There is a certain amount of inefficiency that has to exist in the market for the market to exist. The non-regulated solution relied on strongly held common social norms. Absent those strong norms and in-group loyalty, you get the over-reaching regulatory state which enforces the rules by fiat. You have to have one or the other.

    The republicans act like it doesn’t matter and the entire world is melting down.

    • #28
    • December 22, 2015 at 3:20 pm
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  29. Profile photo of Guruforhire Member

    But the Rubio-Lee plan to give illegal immigrants welfare –errr…. tax credits…. bankrolled by punitive taxation on the kids who do escape the creepy poverty and crystal meth by making good and getting one of those good paying jobs isn’t exactly helping.

    • #29
    • December 22, 2015 at 3:22 pm
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  30. Profile photo of Franco Inactive

    I agree with the basic sentiment of the post, but find it absurd to expect the party who is failing because they don’t listen and don’t care to reform themselves by listening and caring.

    There’s no hope for the traditional GOP to survive. It’s all in the open now in plain sight.

    • #30
    • December 22, 2015 at 3:28 pm
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