Right in time for Halloween, the Republican Party as we’ve known it has died. Not any old death, mind you, but a gruesome, invasion-of-the-body-snatchers kind of death.
From the nation’s capital to the state Capitol, some of the most powerful Republicans have read the handwriting on the wall for 2018 and concluded that the party of Steve Bannon and Dan Patrick was no longer theirs. This spells doom for the political center, and business, in particular. And the end of the GOP.
The Republican Party is dead, with the abrupt retirement of Texas House Speaker Joe Straus coming atop that of Republican senators and House members in Washington. But it’s not a normal death. It’s like one from a zombie movie in which the twitching corpse is recognizable, but really it’s only the nefarious host moving the limbs awkwardly about, trying to get a feel for their power.
The modern Republican Party hasn’t been the country club martini of Nelson Rockefeller or the bomb-throwing of Barry Goldwater for nearly half a century. Instead, it delivered its version of what George Will called for in his 1984 book, Statecraft as Soulcraft: justice, social cohesion and national strength.
Even the welfare state, reviled by conservatives at the time, served a purpose embodying the ethic that we will take care of our fellow people.
The questions simply became how and how much. The answers evolved, imperfectly and controversially, into a muscular, expensive national defense, economic policy that favored free markets here and abroad, and social policy based on a moral outlook. Love it or hate it, this is what most of us simply called enlightened self-interest.
And all that has now been destroyed by the people who effectively hijacked the Republican Party. The cases of Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake and Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker are largely and widely known; upon retiring, they are speaking their minds about dangerous ineptitude and lack of any moral fiber in the Republican president, Donald Trump. They are not alone; a wave of retirements is shaping up in the House.
Yes, these moderate Republicans would probably not get re-elected in the havoc Trump and his ilk have infected into the Republican Party. But guess what? Neither could George W. Bush, a two-term president, nor his father, George H.W. Bush, a founder of the Republican Party in Texas. And neither, apparently, could a slew of other incumbents — including most notably Straus, Republican of San Antonio, speaker of the Texas House and the last adult among Republicans in Austin.
Straus stood between Patrick, his latest body snatch, Gov. Greg Abbott, and two of the most discriminatory laws in recent state history: the “show me your papers” law encouraging racial profiling of Hispanics and the “show me your birth certificate law” regulating, basically, which restrooms transgender schoolkids could use. Straus stood with business in successfully opposing the latter as the other was bundled off to a court fight.
Along the way, though, he did other things. He checked Patrick’s use of the state Senate as a personal plaything. His chamber grappled with real-world problems like paying for public education. Straus was the only leader in Austin to stop and ask just how good a job Texas is really doing with its economy, and if it needs to do more to be economically competitive.
All were problems that somehow eluded the right-wing zeal of Patrick or the aimlessness of Abbott. It was perfectly symbolic that as Straus explained his retirement in Austin, the lieutenant governor and governor were headed to Dallas to attend a fundraiser for Trump. Those are the aliens (Trump had pretty much been a Democrat until it was convenient) who have taken over the Republican Party, which is Republican now in name only.
Instead, this new party — call it the Chaos Party — is ostensibly led by a president who is grossly incompetent at governing, bereft of ethics, and reviled by a majority because he’s busy denying Lincoln’s first law of governing: He’s trying to fool all of the people all of the time. The deficit? Forget it. A coherent strategy of national security? Hasn’t got one. Tax cuts — just $1.5 trillion in tax cuts — emanate from the empty husk of what was once one of America’s two great political parties.
The big losers in all this? Well, the country for one. Those tax cuts could fuel a $2.4 trillion deficit, according to the Tax Policy Foundation. Sixty-one percent of Texans think the country is headed in the wrong direction, according to the latest Texas Tribune-UT Austin poll, and ours is a state that voted for Trump.
And business. Business depends upon reducing risk and increasing predictability. People like Straus, Corker and the rest delivered predictability. Without them, risk goes up. If the Trump administration abandons NAFTA, for example, it could wipe out one-sixth of the Texas economy overnight. From Korea to the courthouse, the people who’ve taken over for the Republican Party stand for chaos. And in Washington, I wouldn’t count on those tax cuts.
Well, so long, Mr. Straus; you’d have made a decent governor, actually. As for the Republican Party? In a horror movie, the host would beg for a mercy killing. But reality is far harsher than the movies.
Richard Parker is the author of Lone Star Nation: How Texas Will Transform America. Email him by visiting www.richardparkertx.com or follow him on Twitter @richardparkertx.