Donald Trump has caused an existential crisis in many circles of the Republican Party. There are good, conscientious reasons to oppose him, and many #NeverTrump conservatives — not to mention thousands of liberals — therefore see Republicans who back Mr. Trump as sellouts. Some pundits even go so far as to accuse these party officials of selling their souls for “pieces of silver.”
“The fact is that right now, when it matters, they have decided that lower tax rates on the rich are sufficient payment for betraying American ideals and putting the republic as we know it in danger,” wrote the New York Times‘ Paul Krugman. Not only is this allegation overstated, it is almost entirely false.
Krugman sets himself a conundrum: “By now, it’s obvious to everyone with open eyes that Donald Trump is an ignorant, wildly dishonest, erratic, immature, bullying egomaniac. On the other hand, he’s a terrible person. But despite some high-profile defections, most senior figures in the Republican Party — very much including Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, and Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader — are still supporting him, threats of violence and all. Why?”
His answer? “34.”
No, seriously that’s his answer. “It’s the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of the average federal tax rate for the top 1 percent in 2013, the latest year available. And it’s up from just 28.2 in 2008, because President Obama allowed the high-end Bush tax cuts to expire.” Krugman noted that “taxes on the really, really rich have gone up even more,” and they are likely to keep growing if Hillary Clinton is elected president.
Honestly, though, Krugman has to know better than this. I know that liberals love to attack Republicans — and conservatives in general — as pawns of the super rich, but that just doesn’t make electoral sense. Even if the rich can provide great campaign contributions, they can’t win you elections: the Republican primary proved that when former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, whose super PAC Right to Rise spent a whopping $86 million, failed to win a single state, took only 4 pledged delegates, and scored 0.92 percent of the vote.
Politics is not just about raising campaign cash — it’s about winning votes. A party solely dedicated to tax cuts for the wealthy wouldn’t stand a chance in November, because even if such tax cuts would help the economy, they are just one of a myriad of issues people care about. If the Democrats were only the party of climate change, and championed no other issues, they also would crash and burn just as badly.
Politics is about coalition building, winning elections, and transforming campaign promises into laws. Republicans may indeed be selling their souls to back Donald Trump, but they’re not doing it for one specific policy goal — they’re doing it because of the complex trade-offs associated with the business of gaining and stewarding political power.
Next Page: The complicated reasons why Ryan and McConnell are backing Trump.
Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for president. That puts Republican leaders like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell in a bind: they owe it to their party to help its nominee, even if they disagree with Trump on a whole host of issues (as they do). Even if they see him — as Krugman does — as the scum of the earth, they unfortunately have a duty to help their party.
In addition to this duty, Ryan and McConnell (and the many Republicans who have turned to support the GOP nominee) are concerned about a whole host of issues on which Trump may be better than Hillary. These range from fighting terrorism to repealing Obamacare to the Supreme Court, and even if Trump opposes key issues like free trade, he is a better bet for other conservative causes, especially on Obamacare and the Supreme Court.
Krugman needs only to read one of radio host Hugh Hewitt’s three cogent articles on the importance of the Supreme Court to see that conservatives back Trump for a wide array of issues. They are willing to take the gamble that, whatever his faults, the GOP nominee will be better for their concerns than Hillary.
And all these arguments for Trump pale in comparison to the arguments against Clinton. Not only is the Democratic nominee just as dishonest as the Republican, but she already has a public record of scandal that runs from Hillarycare, to silencing Bill Clinton’s sexual victims, to Syria and Libya, to Benghazi, and to Emailgate. A great deal of Trump’s support really just boils down to Clinton opposition.
This negativity helps explain why Libertarian Gary Johnson is edging closer and closer to the 15 percent polling threshold required to participate in presidential debates. Krugman is so focused on Republicans selling out their principles to back an inveterate liar for power that he seems to have forgotten Democrats are doing exactly the same thing.
You can disagree — emphatically — with each of the reasons Republicans end up gravitating toward Trump. There is a case to be made that they are sacrificing their principles for power, but to boil down the complicated motivations of Speaker Ryan or Leader McConnell to “tax cuts for the wealthy,” or the more artful phrase “pieces of silver,” is not just wrong — it’s dishonest.