A Taxonomy of the Trump Party

Now that the Republican Party is explicitly the party of uncritical, unyielding, and perpetual fealty to twice-impeached disgraced one-term president Donald Trump, it’s helpful to locate where different politicians rank in terms of their adherence to the Trump Party:

True Believers

On the craziest end of the Trump Party spectrum are True Believers such as Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor-Green, and Madison Cawthorn. These people believe 100 percent in such things as The Big Lie and QAnon and focus most, if not all, of their efforts on P.R. and “owning the libs” rather than actually governing.

Opportunists

Second-craziest are people such as Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, who are smart enough to know better and likely do know better. Nevertheless, they have such little shame that they’ll go along with whatever performative outrage the Trump Party wants in order to fundraise and continue to retain their seats. (Cruz, in particular, is still loyal to Trump even after Trump insulted his wife and suggested Cruz’s father was the Zodiac killer.)

Scaredy-Cats

Third craziest are people like Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy, who initially blamed Trump for the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, then quickly changed their minds. These politicians are terrified of Trump, and more importantly, Trump voters, and as a result fear being primaried from the right. As a result, they publicly espouse the Trump Party line even as they privately express concern about the direction of the party.

Some Modicum of Dignity

Finally, you have people like Ben Sasse, Mitt Romney, Liz Cheney, and Lisa Murkowski. They’re still loyal to the party, but do occasionally criticize Trump, albeit in the mildest and most milquetoast of ways. Despite their relatively tepid critiques, they’ve earned Trump and the Trump Party’s eternal ire for having the audacity to question the indisputable greatness and wisdom of Dear Leader. These people are not welcome in the Trump Party.

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It’s hard to say where a person like Lindsey Graham falls. He’s as mercurial as a thermometer, having transformed from an outspoken critic of Trump during the 2016 primaries into one of Trump’s most loyal apologists after John McCain’s death.

And then you have people like Justin Amash, who became so fed up with Trump’s domination of the party that he left it in 2019. (Although why the breaking point happened two years into Trump’s presidency is less than clear.)

Republicans Have Given Up Governing in Favor of Spicy Memes

On Wednesday, President Biden offered a detailed legislative agenda with the means to pay for it. Senator Tim Scott (the only Black Republican senator) was tasked with unenviable job of providing the other side’s rebuttal. Did he counter Biden’s proposals with Republican ones?

Of course not. Scott’s response—which began with lamenting that “our nation is starving for more than empty platitudes”—was to a speech Biden didn’t give. Scott decried the continued closure of schools, touted the COVID successes of the Trump administration, criticized Biden’s COVID relief bill, criticized the infrastructure bill as containing a very small amount of what Republicans narrowly define as “infrastructure,” and criticized Biden’s jobs and family plans as too much government largesse.

Scott said, “We should be expanding opportunities and options for all families—not throwing money at certain issues because Democrats think they know best. Infrastructure spending that shrinks our economy is not common sense.” Of course, he didn’t explain what the “certain issues” were or why Biden’s infrastructure plan would “shrink” the economy. Scott didn’t have to, of course, because Republicans accept as a given, and without having to show their work, that Democratic economic policies hurt economic growth, despite empirical data to the contrary.

And so on. But nowhere in Scott’s rebuttal did he advance any counterproposals at all. If Scott and the rest of the Republican caucus really believe we should expand opportunities and options for all families, what is their proposal for that? If they believe there exists some type of infrastructure bill that grows the economy, where is it?

The honest answer is: there is no plan. Aside from the bipartisan COVID relief package passed under Trump in 2020, Republicans’ last piece of legislation that contained concrete, positive policies (as opposed to simply a repeal of existing policies) was the 2017 tax reform bill. Under Trump, Republicans abandoned governance in favor of messaging. They touted infrastructure proposals, but none ever materialized, leading to the running joke that every week was “Infrastructure Week.” Throughout his tenure as president, Trump insisted that Obamacare would be repealed and replaced with something that was better, greater, cheaper—and yet not once between 2017 and 2021 did the Republicans ever come close to proposing anything to replace Obamacare, let alone something as superlative as Trump claimed it would be. Even as late July 2020, Trump sat for an interview with Fox News’s Chris Wallace, who pointed out that Trump had three-and-a-half years to come up with a health care package, but hadn’t done so. Trump responded:

We’re signing a health care plan within two weeks, a full and complete health care plan that the Supreme Court decision on DACA gave me the right to do. So we’re going to solve—we’re going to sign an immigration plan, a health care plan, and various other plans. And nobody will have done what I’m doing in the next four weeks. 

It should go without saying that a health care plan wasn’t proposed, let alone signed, within two weeks of that interview or at any other time afterward. (Trump was right, though—nobody did do what he did in the ensuing four weeks, which was nothing.)

This is all of a piece. Trump himself was devoid of any policy proposals. Once an actual real estate entrepreneur, he became a television version of a businessman with his show The Apprentice and relegated himself to licensing his name to other people’s real estate projects, as well as chintzy ventures like Trump Steaks, Trump Wine, and the entirely fraudulent Trump University. Trump’s style of “governance” (if you can even call it that) was communication, as evidenced by his unceasing tweeting and nonstop rallies. For him, the presidency was a never-ending campaign.

Other Republicans have followed suit. Madison Cawthorn, a staunch Trump loyalist, admitted that he built his staff around communications rather than policy. Other representatives like Marjorie Taylor-Greene and Lauren Boebert appear to have no other policy initiatives than trolling Democrats on Twitter. Indeed, one of MTG’s first acts as a newly elected representative was to propose articles of impeachment against Biden, who had been president for all of one day. (Greene has repeatedly criticized the “Green New Deal,” but admitted she hadn’t read it.) Senator Josh Hawley, famously photographed raising his arm in solidarity with the violent, armed mob that would later break into the U.S. Capitol and call for both Nancy Pelosi and Mike Pence to be killed, voted against every single one of Biden’s cabinet nominees. There are no principled reasons for these actions, other than to perform for their constituents, demonstrate that they’re still firmly ensconced in Trump World, and signal enough ultra-conservative bona fides that they’ll have a warm seat waiting for them at Fox News if they’re voted out of office.

It would be easy to dismiss these attention-seekers as a minority of the Republican Party, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Conspiracy theories like QAnon pervade the party, and a recent CNN poll showed that a shocking 70 percent of Republicans still don’t believe Biden was legitimately elected president. The Republican Party writ large is moving closer, not farther, from evidence-free, performative assertions like The Big Lie. “Owning the Libs” is now more important than engaging in policy discussions, as demonstrated by the most recent COVID relief bill, which garnered an astonishing zero Republican supporters in Congress despite being popular nationwide. Instead, Republican legislators would rather spend their time addressing wedge issues like so-called “cancel culture,” defending cops who murder unarmed suspects, and spreading disinformation about Biden’s policy proposals.

There’s a reason for this. It’s because Republicans’ proposals are not popular. A majority of Americans was not clamoring for the repeal of Obamacare. A majority of Americans is not positively giddy at the repeal of the estate tax. In fact, the 2017 tax bill was deeply unpopular. In fact, even Republican voters support increasing taxes on the wealthy to fund more government services. So it’s hard to propose legislation that even your own voters don’t want. This is why Republican legislators are against a lot of things, but propose no ideas of their own and instead spend their days frightening and lying to their constituents, hoping that will be enough to disguise their lack of any real governing agenda.

Takeaways from QPAC 2021

  • Donald Trump is, and for the foreseeable future will continue to be, in complete and total control of the Republican Party. Any Republican who wishes to have any position of power within the party must obtain his endorsement.
  • As a corollary, nothing less than absolute, complete, and unquestioning fealty to Donald Trump the person is mandated to remain in good standing with the Republican Party.
  • As a corollary to the corollary, a Republican in good standing must publicly affirm Trump’s Big Lie that he actually won the 2020 election, but the election was stolen from him by Democrats, and he is therefore rightfully the president. Any acknowledgment that Biden is the legitimately elected president, or that there was no fraud that affected the outcome, or that Trump is lying about his non-existent victory, will result in being ostracized from the party.
  • A Republican in good standing must refrain from suggesting that Trump had anything to do whatsoever with the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. In fact, it is preferable that a Republican state publicly that the rioters were not Trump supporters at all, but rather Antifa or BLM activists in disguise.
  • The Republican Party platform is explicitly based on the grievances of white, male, heterosexual, evangelical Protestants. The Republican Party doesn’t care about taxes or spending. It cares about ensuring that the aforementioned white, male, heterosexual, evangelical Protestants remain in control of the country’s politics. Racism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia and all the other —phobias are, and will continue to be, the backbone of the Republican Party. There is no platform other than these grievances.
  • “Owning the libs” takes precedence over governing.

That Didn’t Take Long

Within 24 hours of Joe Biden announcing California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate, Newsweek of all places posted a “just asking questions” op-ed wondering whether Harris is constitutionally qualified to serve as the Vice President. The op-ed was written by John Eastman, a professor of law at the right-wing Chapman University. (I will not link to the article in question because Newsweek doesn’t deserve to be rewarded with traffic for this deplorable piece. You can, of course, Google it if you wish.) Because Eastman couches his op-ed in terms of “I’m just asking questions,” he can credibly claim that he’s not actually asserting that Harris can’t be Vice-President. But Trump wasted no time taking the bait in a Thursday press conference, where he said that a “very highly qualified lawyer” suggested Harris didn’t qualify for the position.

The notion that Harris is not qualified for the position is beyond absurd. The Constitution has this to say about presidential qualifications:

No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.

The Twelfth Amendment, ratified in 1804, adds an additional gloss: “But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.”

Thus, the Vice President must be just as constitutionally qualified as the President. Eastman contends—or, rather, suggests—that she might not be because her parents weren’t U.S. citizens when she was born. And yet, Harris herself was very clearly born on U.S. soil in Oakland, California. It’s well established that being born inside the United States automatically confers U.S. citizenship, right? Eastman implies this may not be the case:

The language of Article II is that one must be a natural-born citizen. The original Constitution did not define citizenship, but the 14th Amendment does—and it provides that “all persons born…in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens.” Those who claim that birth alone is sufficient overlook the second phrase. The person must also be “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States, and that meant subject to the complete jurisdiction, not merely a partial jurisdiction such as that which applies to anyone temporarily sojourning in the United States (whether lawfully or unlawfully). Such was the view of those who authored the 14th Amendment’s Citizenship Clause; of the Supreme Court of the United States in the 1872 Slaughter-House Cases and the 1884 case of Elk v. Wilkins; of Thomas Cooley, the leading constitutional treatise writer of the day; and of the State Department, which, in the 1880s, issued directives to U.S. embassies to that effect.

Eastman contends that, because Harris’s parents—who were from Jamaica and India—were not “lawful, permanent residents” at the time she was born, they were not fully subject to the United States’s jurisdiction and therefore Harris was not a natural-born citizen.

This contention is, again, absurd. Eastman attempts to have it both ways when he notes, “Indeed, the Supreme Court has never held that anyone born on U.S. soil, no matter the circumstances of the parents, is automatically a U.S. citizen.” Of course, the Supreme Court has never not held that is the case, either. This means there’s no controversy about Harris’s nationality at birth, other than the controversy Eastman is himself manufacturing.

Eastman cites two inapplicable examples to support his position:

The children born on U.S. soil to guest workers from Mexico during the Roaring 1920s were not viewed as citizens, for example, when, in the wake of the Great Depression, their families were repatriated to Mexico. Nor were the children born on U.S. soil to guest workers in the bracero program of the 1950s and early 1960s deemed citizens when that program ended, and their families emigrated back to their home countries.

Of course, Harris’s parents weren’t guest workers on a guest worker program. They were both students who came to the San Francisco Bay Area to pursue graduate studies. And they didn’t return to their home countries, either; they continued to live and work in the Bay Area. Harris’s mother, a cancer researcher, died in Oakland in 2009. Harris’s father, an economist, retired from Stanford University in 1998. Harris’s parents weren’t transients in the United States on vacation; they moved here to live and work, and remained here. Eastman’s “examples” are frivolous on their face.

Nevertheless, Eastman doubles down on his cowardly “just asking questions” technique:

Or were they instead, as seems to be the case, merely temporary visitors, perhaps on student visas issued pursuant to Section 101(15)(F) of Title I of the 1952 Immigration Act? If the latter were indeed the case, then derivatively from her parents, Harris was not subject to the complete jurisdiction of the United States at birth, but instead owed her allegiance to a foreign power or powers—Jamaica, in the case of her father, and India, in the case of her mother—and was therefore not entitled to birthright citizenship under the 14th Amendment as originally understood.

This phraseology is akin to a routine Gilbert Gottfried used in his roast of Bob Saget, where Gottfried said, “There is absolutely no evidence that BOB SAGET RAPED AND KILLED A GIRL IN 1990. People should stop saying that BOB SAGET RAPED AND KILLED A GIRL IN 1990 because saying that BOB SAGET RAPED AND KILLED A GIRL IN 1990 is slander to his good name.” Eastman similarly reveals—except not in a funny way—that he intends to do little more than cast doubt on Harris’s obvious qualification for the presidency and vice-presidency. Fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) is a well-worn Republican political tactic that enables such a politician to say, “Oh, I’m not saying she’s not qualified! I’m just saying other people are saying it.” This is precisely what Trump did on Thursday. The intention is for Republican voters to conflate doubt or hypothesis with certainty.

Newsweek has since added a gloss to the top of the article: “Some readers reacted strongly to this essay, seeing it as an attempt to ignite a racist conspiracy theory. That is entirely inaccurate, as this Note explains.” The editor’s note also links to a refutation of Eastman’s op-ed by Eugene Volokh, a right-leaning law professor at UCLA School of Law.

Predictably, the Editor’s Note observes that questions were raised about John McCain’s eligibility to serve as President (he was born in what was then the U.S.-controlled Panama Canal Zone), and Ted Cruz’s eligibility (he was born in Canada to a Cuban father and an American mother). But as with most facile comparisons, the Editor’s Note ignores the similarities between Barack Obama and Harris. Obama was the subject of an equally absurd and ludicrous conspiracy theory—championed vociferously by Trump, you’ll recall—that he was not born in Hawaii, but rather in Kenya, and his Hawaiian birth certificate was falsified. The McCain and Cruz birther theories were generally dismissed, while Obama’s dogged him for literally his entire term in office—and to this day, there are people out there who staunchly believe he was born in Kenya, not Hawaii. It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the color of his skin, could it?

Newsweek was irresponsible to give its cachet to Eastman’s attempt to again sow FUD as against a multiracial candidate. At the very least, its editors should have realized that Eastman was attempting to resurrect the “birther” conspiracy not only to cast doubt on Harris’s qualifications but also to discretely (or perhaps not so discretely) signal to Republican voters: She’s an outsider, a foreigner. She’s not like you. She’s brown and has a funny name. For that, you should not only not vote for her, but you should loathe her because she’s different. That was precisely the point of the Obama “birther” conspiracy theory and it is now the point of the new Harris “birther” conspiracy theory.

Of course, Eastman can’t come out and say that he’s correct. That’s because he’s not. Despite his tortured interpretation of the law, there is no question that Harris is a natural-born citizen who is qualified to be Vice-President and President. Newsweek should be ashamed of itself. The “Marketplace of Ideas” does not benefit by discussing whether a frivolous argument, made in bad faith, is correct. The only people who are served are Republican politicians and their supporters, who are eager to find a reason to cast Harris as some sort of foreigner or outsider. Thanks to Eastman, with the willing assistance of Newsweek and its editors, they may have succeeded.

 

Who Knew International Trade Would Be So Hard?

Strange how the guy who boasts about his degree from “Wharton”—which is, in reality, an undergraduate degree in economics—knows little or nothing about how international trade works in the 21st century. His promise of a trade war, one that he himself elected to start, is coming to fruition. It’s a trade war that appears to have been started for no reason at all, with no clear objective, and bizarrely involves some of America’s closest trading partners.

If Trump thinks the United States can use bullying and threats to get the rest of the world to bend to its will, he’s sorely mistaken. Rather than tremble and quake at the prospect of American tariffs, other countries will simply find new trading partners, new sources of materials, or simply move to another country. Take the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Trump envisioned dozens of bilateral agreements, which he no doubt would personally negotiate using his illusory deal-making skills, to replace the TPP. Instead, the members of the TPP will make their peace with China—which was what the TPP was enacted to prevent.

Now, it seems that Trump’s trade war—which, again, he chose to start for no clear reason—will end up hurting the American economy, and in the continuation of a trend that permeates his presidency, hurting his own supporters the most.