© Josh Sager – August 2015
The 2016 GOP primary is in full swing and candidates are engaged in a desperate fight to establish their identity, distinguish themselves in a large field of candidates, and tear down their adversaries. During this process, the media has focused primarily on covering extreme comments made by candidates (ex. Trump’s “Mexican rapists” comment and Huckabee’s accusation that Obama’s Iran deal will “take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven”) or discussing different fights between candidates. Lost in this mess of coverage is any real, substantive, discussion over the terrible policy ideals shared by most of the candidates.
The media tends to focus on conflict and is incredibly hesitant to take on the accepted “establishment” position on issues. As long as a majority of the political elites involved in a debate agree about something, the media will accept that consensus as an acceptable position, regardless of how objectively extreme or unpopular that position is.
Probably the best example of this in modern politics is the issue of money in politics. Elites from both parties in Washington have agreed that campaigns should be allowed to take limitless amounts of money from big-money donors and the media has accepted this position as the new normal—in fact, they give glowing coverage to any politician who raises massive amounts of money while marginalizing any candidate who does not. The mainstream media doesn’t mention that political elites disagree with 84% of the American people on this issue and rarely even acknowledges the existence of those who don’t agree with the establishment view of money in politics.
When you look behind the petty fighting and political bombast of the 2016 GOP field, you see an extremely disturbing policy narrative being agreed upon by all of the candidates. While certain candidates focus more on certain issues or use more extreme rhetoric, the general policies are the same across the board.
- Social Security: All of the major GOP candidates support, at minimum, increasing the retirement age to 69 and scaling back benefits. This would take thousands of dollars in benefits from each and every American to live long enough to collect benefits. In addition to cutting the program, some candidates support even more extreme “solutions” to the non-existent problem with Social Security. Bush, Cruz, Paul and Kasich support the privatization of Social Security, while Huckabee wants to completely alter the funding stream of the program to use an even more regressive “Fair Tax” to sustain rudimentary benefits.
- Climate Change: Almost all of the GOP candidates either reject the existence of climate change (Huckabee, Cruz and Carson) or assert that the US government can’t/shouldn’t do anything to mitigate the problem (Trump, Paul, Bush, Walker, Christie, and Jindal). The sole outlier in this issue is Kasich, who acknowledges the reality of climate change and has signaled some support for environmental protections.
- Campaign Finance Reform: During the first GOP debate, there was an immensely uncomfortable exchange between Trump, the moderators, and several of the other candidates. During this exchange, Trump acknowledges the corrupting effects of money in politics and his history of buying politicians from both parties, and then points out how he has donated money to many of his opponents. The other candidates on the stage didn’t even try to argue that donations don’t buy favors from them, and Rubio and Kasich (the only two who haven’t gotten Trump money) even said that they hoped Trump would donate to them in the future. In totality, this exchange illustrated that the GOP field agrees that money corrupts, but is perfectly happy to be corrupted if it lets them get into power. The acceptance of corruption illustrated in this exchange has been backed up by action, and every candidate on the stage has taken significant amounts of money from corporate and big-money donors—in fact, several candidates have even violated the weak campaign finance laws that still exist (ex. Bush postponing his official declaration of his candidacy to fundraise for his Super-PAC).
- Economics: The GOP field is absolutely united in its support for “market-based” solutions to our nation’s economic problems and reducing the government’s footprint in the economy. They support dramatic tax cuts on the rich and the implementation of regressive tax regimes (although few have given any real specifics about rates), coupled with massive cuts to non-military programs. Social welfare programs and regulatory agencies are the most common targets of cuts, and some candidates (ex. Paul, Walker, Carson and Cruz) have proposed the idea that the government should stop regulating things like pollution and worker safety because market forces would be more effective at the task.
- Women’s Health: The entire GOP field is unified against abortion rights and has vowed to cut funding for Planned Parenthood if elected. The GOP field is so extreme on this issue that a “moderate” position in their spectrum would be to ban abortions in all cases that do not involve rape, incest, or health concerns for the mother (ex. Bush, Kasich and Walker). More extreme candidates, like Huckabee or Rubio, would ban abortions in all cases, even if the mother in question were and underage victim of incest who might not survive a pregnancy.
- Immigration/Birthright Citizenship: Almost all of the GOP candidates support harsh immigration policies that would deport millions of Americans and several support eliminating birthright citizenship (automatic citizenship to all people born in the USA). Other than Jeb Bush—who supports a pathway to citizenship—all of the candidates support deporting undocumented immigrants and securing the border through the creation of a fence of a massive increase of border security officers. Numerous GOP contenders, including Trump, Walker, Jindal, Christie and Kasich, have made statements or supported laws that would end birthright citizenship and deport “anchor babies” along with their parents. As such a policy would require repealing of the 14th Amendment it is virtually impossible for any of these candidates to implement their preferences. That said, their willingness to support an elimination of birthright citizenship speaks volumes about their knowledge of the Constitution, or willingness to pander and lie to the most racist demographics in our nation.
The Republican primary process promises to give Republicans a choice between different policy platforms and ideas, but, in reality, it just gives voters the ability to choose the wrapping paper on the same toxic policy package. Party/donor elites have set the policy platform and promoted a series of candidates who are willing to play ball in order to create the illusion of choice for the party base. The differences between candidates are almost exclusively stylistic and, regardless of who wins politically, the substantive policies being championed will benefit the established elites, social conservatives, and warmongers.