The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

What Will Future Republicans Stand For?

President Trump boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews, Md., September 18, 2020. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

On the menu today: looking ahead to the early days of the Biden administration, the likely first changes under the new president, and the decisions Republicans will face on what they will stand for in the years to come.

Republicans Have Some Decisions to Make

At some point next month, Joe Biden will take the oath of office. Pandemic concerns will make Biden’s inauguration look different from what we’re used to seeing. President Trump may or may not attend, and then he will be a private citizen again.

Once Trump is no longer president, he may find his Twitter account suspended or even shut down. Donald Trump is also likely to spend much of 2021 fighting off lawsuits and investigations. Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance is investigating Trump’s tax returns.

Democrats on the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees still want to see Trump’s tax returns, and are contemplating other investigations of the outgoing administration. The attorney general for the District of Columbia is investigating the misuse of inauguration funds, and deposed Ivanka Trump a few weeks ago. The New York State attorney general’s office is pursuing a civil fraud investigation into the Trump Organization.

President Trump is likely to claim that Big Tech and Big Government are out for revenge against him, and a lot of Americans are likely to agree with his assessment.

No matter how you feel about President Trump running for president again in 2024, there will be four years of a Biden (and perhaps Harris?) presidency to get through before then. Republicans in office will have to decide what they stand for during this interim. “Oppose Biden” will be part of the answer, but it is not the complete answer.

Some Republicans will want to make “relitigate the 2020 election” the answer. Elections are run by states, and Republicans in state legislatures that found the 2020 election process unsatisfactory ought to push for the reforms they want — requiring voter ID, requiring a mailed ballot to have a clear postmark by Election Day, regular reviews of the voter rolls to remove those who have moved or died. State legislatures can also rein in secretaries of state and state elections boards by passing legislation explicitly declaring that state election officials cannot alter voting procedures without the consent of the legislature. Alas, the likes of Sidney Powell and Lin Wood have seriously undermined the effort to stop any potential vote fraud with their nutty claims of vast hacking efforts by Venezuelans and deep-state operatives and the U.S. Army raiding offices and seizing computer servers in Germany.

The complete answer of what Republicans stand for is likely to involve something that moves beyond the fights of the past four years. (The answer to the question, “What do you stand for?” really should not involve a particular person. If you cannot articulate what you believe without referring to an individual politician, see yesterday’s discussion about cults.)

Even if Trump forms “Trump TV” or some other media venture, he will be a former president, and is likely to be spending his time far from Washington, probably at Mar-a-Lago. Washington, particularly Congress, tends to focus on what is in front of it, and in some ways, the American government is already operating separate from Trump. Right now, the leaders of both parties in both houses of Congress are hashing out another pandemic relief bill, and the president has barely spoken of it, delegating the negotiations to Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Campaigning season is over, with the exception of Georgia. Governing season is almost upon us. The Biden administration will attempt to bring its own vision of sweeping changes. Any policy change that Trump enacted through an executive order can be undone by an executive order, and almost certainly will be undone under the new Democratic administration — rejoining the Paris climate accords, rejoining the World Health Organization, rescind the so-called “Muslim travel ban,” and reinstate DACA. (Maybe the Trump administration should have taken a wall-funding-for-DACA-reinstatement deal after all.)

Mark Krikorian foresees a slow and steady unwinding of the Trump administration’s immigration policies:

. . . it’s important not to create the expectation that the floodgates will open on Day One — because they won’t, not entirely anyway, prompting the administration and its media poodles to say that conservative fears were overblown. None of this changes the Biden administration’s goal: unlimited immigration. To this end, refugee numbers will be dramatically increased, interior enforcement ended, asylum standards lowered, “temporary” worker programs expanded. The result will be millions of additional foreign workers, many admitted unlawfully, but all with work permits, Social Security numbers, and driver’s licenses. Because of this, it is unlikely they’ll ever be made to leave. But Biden’s people will work to hide this until it’s too late to reverse.

Not everything Trump did on this issue can be easily reversed. The U.S. southern border has 423 miles of border fencing that are either new or replaced old fencing.

Another bit of good news is that the pandemic should, month by month, become less of a factor in our lives. Vaccinations are proceeding nicely. Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar said this weekend that “we could have every nursing home patient vaccinated in the United States by Christmas.” (Note that the Pfizer vaccine requires two doses, and Thursday experts convened by the FDA will meet to assess the Moderna vaccine, the final step before regulators are all but sure to issue an emergency-use authorization for that vaccine.)

But the pandemic will leave in its wake some massive changes to American life. “A new survey indicates as many as 23 million Americans — more than 10 percent of the adult population — are planning to move as a result of remote work, mostly to cheaper and less dense places.” Many Americans skipped preventative health-care visits during the pandemic, and we’re probably going to pay for it in the years to come. And the stubbornness of the country’s teachers’ unions by and large destroyed education for the most vulnerable and at-risk kids for most of 2020, and perhaps well into 2021.

The country will have no shortage of problems to solve; even if you believe in limited government, that’s not a recommendation to do nothing. There is always some aspect of government that can be trimmed, rethought, or eliminated. Even the Brookings Institution thinks it’s time to get rid of half of the positions in the “Plum Book” — the vast compendium of presidentially appointed positions, often used to reward the president’s allies.

The Republicans will have some advantages, though. If they hold one of the two Georgia Senate seats, they can derail the Biden administration’s worst ideas. The tight margin in the House of Representatives will help, too. And as Michael Brendan Dougherty observes, the effort to expand government is likely to be hindered by infighting between the “poseur” class and the “redistributor” class within the Democratic Party.

If you are looking to find out who has the upper hand — the poseurs or the redistributors — at the dawn of the Biden administration, look to the policy debates. Is the energy gathering behind policies that disproportionately benefit the affluent, educated, and moralizing elite poseurs — policies such as student-debt forgiveness and the repeal of the SALT-deduction caps? Or is it gathering behind the expansion of universal benefits, which would be enjoyed relatively equally by the poseurs and the truly marginalized and underprivileged members of society?

So far, the poseurs seem to be winning. How long can they keep that up before someone demands they put their money where their mouths are?

Democrats won the White House, more or less on the unofficial slogan, “Joe Biden is not Donald Trump.” They’re going to have their own big fights about what they stand for, too.

ADDENDUM: One of the pleasant surprises of this holiday season is that the release of Hunting Four Horsemen stirred a lot of folks to pick up Between Two Scorpions. (Maybe it’s just because the first book is cheaper.) Some of the recent reviews for the first book in the series:

Impressive, stimulating, disturbing and, possibly . . . hopeful. Nothing like reading something scary and too close to reality to take your mind off reality that is too close to scary.

And . . .

I bought this book of while ago and was inspired to finally read it after seeing some reviews for the sequel. The book is great, fast paced with a lot of humor and action. Starting the next book now . . .

And . . .

He’s as good a novelist as he is a political commentator — and that’s a strong commendation indeed. The plot is interesting and a bit unusual, and the characters are well-drawn and work very well together. Geraghty has a deft way with words and a delightfully humorous touch. I’ve struggled to come up with other writers with similar touches and skills; the closest I can think of are Elmore Leonard and Donald Westlake. So, if you’re looking for a serious, dark international suspense novel, then look elsewhere. If you want a thoroughly enjoyable read, filled with witty dialogue and constant popular culture references that will keep a smile on your face and a chuckle in your thoughts, then grab this book!

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