By Paul Krugman for The New York Times
These are not good times, politically, for Republicans. The Virginia blowout showed that the Trump backlash is real, and will show up in actual votes, not just polls. A series of local elections have produced Democratic victories in hitherto deep-red regions. Despite gerrymandering and the inherent disadvantage caused by concentration of minority voters in urban districts, Democrats are probably mild favorites to take the House; thanks to Roy Moore, they even have a chance of taking the Senate, despite what was supposed to be an impossible map. “A wave is a’ coming” says the Cook Political Report.
And when it comes to governorships, in which, oddly enough, the winner is the person who gets the most votes, a huge flip to Dems seems likely.
Add in, too, events that are likely to damage the GOP brand even more. There’s really no question about Trump/Putin collusion, and Trump in fact continues to act like Putin’s puppet. The only question is how high the indictments will reach, and how much damage they’ll do. But it won’t be good.
You might think, given this background, that Republicans would moderate their policies in an attempt to limit the damage. But if anything they’re doing the opposite. The House tax bill is wildly regressive; the Senate bill actually raises taxes on most families, while including a special tax break for private planes. In effect, the GOP is giving middle-class Americans a giant middle finger. What’s going on?
A large part of the answer, I’d suggest, is that many Republicans now see themselves and/or their party in such dire straits that they’re no longer even trying to improve their future electoral position; instead, it’s all about grabbing as much for their big donors while they still can. Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose; in the GOP’s case, that means the freedom to be the party of, by, and for oligarchs they always wanted to be.
This calculus is clearest in the case of House members representing the kinds of districts — educated, relatively affluent, traditionally moderate Republican — that went Democratic by huge landslides in Virginia. If 2018 ends up being anything like what now seems likely, these members will need new jobs in 2019 whatever they do — and the best jobs will be as K Street lobbyists, except for a few who will get gigs as Fox News or “think tank” experts. In other words, one way or another their future lies in collecting wingnut welfare, which means that their incentives are entirely to be loyal ideologues even if it’s very much at their constituents’ expense.
The Senate is a bit different; there aren’t a lot of obviously doomed Republicans. But there’s very good reason to believe that the next few months will be the last chance they have to deliver on their promises to the Kochs and suchlike. After that, dominoes will start falling: maybe the loss of Alabama, reducing their narrow majority even further, maybe indictments that cripple the White House even further, eventually loss of one or both Houses of Congress. So their incentive is to stuff everything the donors want, no matter how outrageous — tax hikes on most of the population, tax breaks on private planes — through the sausage grinder right now.
I have to admit, I didn’t see this coming. And there’s a pretty good chance that this desperate grab will fail — remember, it only takes three Republican Senators with a shred of principle. But that’s where we are.