Strange things are afoot within Republican ranks: Here and there, clear-eyed critiques of contemporary conservatism are leaking out and common-sense fiscal and economic conclusions are sinking in.
The latest examples: Jeb Bush’s Monday comments that both Ronald Reagan and his father, George H.W. Bush, would have a hard time in today’s Republican Party. Why? Because they were willing to compromise in search of bipartisan solutions to the nation’s problems. Bush specifically cited his father’s willingness to countenance a tax increase as part of a deficit reduction deal. Reagan, of course, did the same several times after large deficits resulted from his initial round of tax cuts.
In other recent comments, Bush, the popular former governor of Florida, broke with GOP conservatives over their no-new-revenues absolutism. If the GOP could get $10 in budget reductions for every $1 in new revenue, “put me in, coach,” he said. During the primary campaign, all of the Republican presidential hopefuls rejected such a deal as a nonstarter.
On the fiscal front, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has just gone Jeb Bush one better. The South Carolina senator is seeking to stave off the cuts the Budget Control Act holds for defense spending after Congress’s failure to agree on a deficit-reduction plan last year. He’s now calling for using some of the money raised through the possible closing of loopholes and limiting of deductions to address our fiscal problems. In an interview ABC posted Tuesday, Graham said he’d support devoting a quarter of that new revenue to debt reduction.
“We’re so far in debt that if you don’t give up some ideological ground, the country sinks,” Graham said.
That stance runs afoul both of the budgetary framework offered by Paul Ryan, the GOP’s intellectual leader, and the no-new-tax pledges so many Republicans have signed at the behest of Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform. Both Ryan and Norquist insist that any money saved by closing loopholes or eliminating deductions be plowed back into additional tax cuts.
And then there’s Mitt Romney himself, who in a recent interview with Time Magazine made the kind of point that those of a Keynesian bent have long underscored: Cutting government spending when the economy is weak will only make things worse. Asked by Mark Halperin why he wouldn’t push dramatic spending cuts in the first year of his administration, Romney replied: “Well because, if you take a trillion dollars for instance, out of the first year of the federal budget, that would shrink GDP over 5 percent. That is by definition throwing us into recession or depression.”
That’s another way of saying that federal spending is sustaining jobs — and, further, that a sluggish economy wouldn’t automatically find more productive job-creating uses for the capital freed up if the government weren’t borrowing those dollars.
Yikes! What’s next? The Wall Street Journal editorial page admitting that Great Britain’s slide back into recession shows the folly of slashing spending during anemic economic times? A right-wing think-tank acknowledging that most of our projected long-term deficit isn’t caused by Obama’s spending, but rather is the result of baby boomers retiring and tapping Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, and of revenue losses from the Bush tax cuts?
It’s probably too much to expect that any of that will temper a truculent GOP astride a Tea Party tiger, at least during this campaign. So far, the conservative blogosphere has indulged its usual amusing reaction to criticism from within GOP ranks: The assertion that those voicing heterodox notions are Republican in Name Only, or RINOs, and simply can’t be counted as true conservatives.
Now, it’s true that starboard-siders have long distrusted Romney, who in his two campaigns for the GOP nomination had to flip-flop free of many of his past stances. But conservatives have largely rallied around him since he claimed the nomination — and now argue strenuously that his economic acumen makes him the better choice. What cognitive dissonance his quasi-Keynesianism must be causing! Those accusations, meanwhile, ring hollow when it comes to such well-credentialed Republicans as Jeb Bush or Lindsey Graham.
But even if we can’t count on the contravening sentiments persuading today’s GOP to abandon its tantrum tactics and return to the days of Reagan-Bush conservatism, for the rest of the electorate, these occasional moments of truth-telling should be as revealing as they are instructive.