Voters have many rational reasons to be furious with the GOP. But numerous times in recent anti-Trump appearances—in real life and in the media—I’ve been confronted by a peculiar allegation. Republicans, people tell me, were elected by the People and yet they’ve done absolutely nothing. Lately, this indictment has started to mutate into “Republicans gave President Obama everything he wanted.” The GOP and Obama were basically colluding against the American voter this whole time.
Mostly the claim seems to be a way to rationalize abandonment of principles to support Donald Trump—who, need it be said, is far to the left of any of these supposed GOP apostates. But I’ve heard Ted Cruz fans make similar arguments. It’s a big myth.
Republicans have been dreadful on plenty of fronts—the quality of their advocacy, the spine they show making arguments, and the lack of innovation and malleability in the focus of their policies, to name a very few—but resistance to Obama’s legislative agenda was definitely not one of them. If Republicans had capitulated in the way the average angry populist claims, Obama would not have needed to enact some of the most consequential abuses of executive power since World War II.
Some of this anger is propelled by false expectations and wishful thinking about how government works—which is to say, when voters don’t get what they want they assume the system has failed. On one hand, voters are under the impression that presidents should be able to craft law and policy and make everything great again; and, on the other, they are angered about the ineffectiveness of the legislative branch. It all depends on which of these corresponds with their own political affiliation.
As far expectations go, Republicans deserve blame for making promises they couldn’t possibly fulfill—including the notion that they could repeal Obamacare. Then again, overpromising is not exactly a new political trend. And it’s not as if voters flock to candidates who tell them unvarnished facts about this cruel world of ours.
But did Republicans do nothing but surrender the last eight years?
If you’re a conservative who opposes immigration reform, conservatives put an end to it in 2008, when Republicans controlled the White House and Democrats controlled Congress. They stopped it when Obama was in the White House and Democrats controlled both legislative branches. Republicans then filibustered the DREAM Act of 2010, voted to end DACA, and then many joined the suit against DACA. Yet on numerous occasions I’ve engaged with radio talk show callers and hosts who are mad at Republicans for not doing enough. Should the RNC send two battalions to shut down the White House?
The GOP was too late to stop Obamacare, and they are partially at fault for failing to deal with health care at all. Yet only one Republican ever voted for Obamacare. The GOP sued Obama for rewriting the law without a vote of Congress and, at this point, I’ve lost count on how many times they’ve voted to repeal ACA. They sent a repeal bill to the president’s desk.
Republicans also stopped cap-and-trade, which would have create a fabricated “market” for energy in the same way Obamacare fabricates “markets” for health insurance. Stopping it went a long in undermining the continuing efforts to make fossil fuels prohibitively expensive—which was, initially, the stated goal of the administration. When Obama circumvented Congress again, Republicans across the country sued the Environmental Protection Agency.
Conservatives in Congress also put an end to a bipartisan gun-control legislation. They stopped the so-called Paycheck Fairness Act—twice—and the Paying a Fair Share Act of 2012, which would have raised taxes. They stopped the American Jobs Act bailout and the authoritarian Card Check stuff. They stopped the DISCLOSE Act and the sequestration replacement and the Keep Student Loans Affordable Act of 2013 and the across-the-board federal minimum wage efforts. Republicans sued and won when Obama abused his power by naming recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board.
This is not nothing.
Even more importantly, there is a counter-history to consider. There is no way to quantify how many Obama-led liberal initiatives would have been instituted without a Republican Congress—much less a Tea Party wing within that Republican Congress. The Obama presidency would probably have been far-reaching as any in modern history. The very gridlock these populists grouse about is a reflection of a divided electorate. Though I imagine it’s not the sort of argument that wins voters.
In the end, one of the persistent complaints about the GOP is that was too cowardly facing the prospect of a government shutdown. Unlike prevailing wisdom, I doubt shutting down government is always a loser for the GOP. Republicans have done just as well, historically. But the idea of utilizing shutdowns regularly as means of shaping policy is unrealistic. You can shut down Washington all you like: Obama is not going allow Obamacare to be dismantled, and Democrats are not going to offer major concessions in spending. Change takes a long-term commitment with smart policy and good arguments. Republicans don’t have them. Shutdowns just tend to prove it.
The only way to move forward and “get things done” in a nation divided is to compromise. Neither side, despite the fairy tales of the Left and the media, were willing to do so over the past eight years. Would it have been better if they had? White House press secretary Josh Earnest claimed recently that if House and Senate Republicans had only “worked with” Obama there would not have been a power vacuum and there would not have been a Trump.
Now, imagine what the past few years would have looked like if the GOP had participated in passing gun-control legislation and supporting higher energy prices. To be fair, Trump now, in one way or another, supports most of these progressive ideas, and his cultists are perfectly willing to bend their own outlook to match his. But, at the time, “compromise” on the Obama agenda would have created a different kind of turmoil for Trump to take advantage of, because he is not bound by any principled positions.
Fact is, Democrats got some of the things they wanted. But not all, or we’d be dealing with single-payer health care, carbon-trading energy markets, more union bailouts, and about a dozen reforms that you don’t even know exist.