Damon Linker makes some solid points in this article.
I think he is a bit biased here though. He is accurately describing the extent to which the Republicans have changed and exaggerating the degree to which the Democrats have changed.
“Since Donald Trump’s shocking primary and general election victories in 2016, arguably the biggest long-term question confronting political analysts has been what the events of that year portended for the era that began with Ronald Reagan’s defeat of Jimmy Carter in 1980. Would Trump end the Reaganite dispensation by fully transforming the GOP into a worker’s party? Or would he fail, opening up the possibility of a future Democratic president liberating himself and his party from the constraints Reagan placed on them decades in the past?
Four years later, we are much closer to knowing the answer.
For a few short weeks after Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton, I wondered if Trump might just pull it off. Trump was a real-estate developer, after all. What if he came out of the gate in January 2017 with a bold infrastructure plan, combining his promise of a big, beautiful border wall with a proposal to spend trillions of dollars on vast public-sector building projects around the country — roads, bridges, trains, nuclear power plant construction, electrical grid revamps, and more? If he combined this with a turn against immigration, combativeness on trade, and follow-through on campaign vows to defend the welfare state and expand health-care coverage — Trump just might succeed in pivoting sharply away from Reaganite orthodoxy and peeling off crucial working-class support from the Democratic Party. …”
It is true that Trump failed to push his MAGA agenda:
- First, Donald Trump isn’t an ideologue and didn’t have a coherent policy agenda which he was firmly committed to as president. Essentially, Trump and Trumpism are identical in his mind. He was more committed to Trump than the ideas he ran on in 2016.
- Second, Trump staffed his administration with Jared Kushner and True Cons or Never Trumpers, which hobbled his administration from within for years.
- Third, Trump had to deal with a Republican Congress which was ideologically hostile to populism and nationalism. There wasn’t a Trumpist Congress to work with in 2017. Even today, the GOP hasn’t changed at all on infrastructure spending. The answer is “no” to everything.
- Fourth, the Democrats didn’t want to work with Trump to pass a popular infrastructure bill (or stimulus checks before the 2020 election) for partisan reasons either.
- Fifth, the Democrat state AGs and various groups like the ACLU sued and stymied Trump’s agenda in federal court for years.
I think we can all agree that those were the issues.
The GOP didn’t become a worker’s party when Trump was president because of the donor class, institutional conservatism, elected Republicans who are old people, Trump’s incompetence and lack of an ideological core, etc. The party also remains internally split on economics.
As things stand today in 2021, something like 35% to 45% of Republicans would like to see the party become more populist on economics. Republican leaning Independent voters are much more populist on economics. The Center is also and remains populist on economics. The typical voter isn’t a college-educated, upper middle class White suburbanite with cosmopolitan values.
In my view, we are in a transition phase between party systems. The 2016, 2018 and 2020 elections were all stepping stones. We’re not done yet though. There is still a ways to go.
“It proposes a dramatic shift for American politics — potentially the biggest lurch to the left since FDR succeeded in passing the New Deal in the wake of Herbert Hoover’s presidency. …
What are Republicans proposing as an alternative, beyond grumbling about opposing the plan because it raises taxes? A memo released earlier this week by Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana talks about Trump’s remarkable success at delivering the working class into the arms of the GOP and insists that the party needs to keep it there. But how? The ideas amount to little more than fighting Biden on immigration, continuing to insist on tough-minded trade policies, and talking a lot about the culture war, including a commitment to mocking the Democrats for their elitism …”
Have the Democrats really changed?
I don’t think so. It is the Democratic perception of the Republicans that has changed. Democrats now believe that they have a freer hand to spend a lot more money than under Bill Clinton or Barack Obama because there is less Republican resistance to it. They’re not fighting the Tea Party.
So, that’s what has changed.
In 2017, the Democrat Independent Liberal Elites (DILEs) or the governing wing of the Democratic Party ranked “budget deficit” 21 out of 23 in a list of “very important” priorities. Only 6.1% of DILEs though the budget deficit was a “very important” issue” along with 1% of who thought the “size of government” was a “very important issue.” Of all the groups in American politics, the “Solid Liberals” or DILES are THE LEAST motivated by taxes, the economy, the budget deficit and the size of government.
“Solid Liberals” or DILEs have always been in favor of spending lots of money in order to buy political support. This was true in the Obama era. It is true in the Biden era. The change in the Biden era isn’t the willingness of progressives to spend money. It is their unwillingness to tax the wealthy. Nancy Pelosi is “sympathetic” to eliminating the SALT deduction cap which would benefit millionaires like herself. The Democrats have ruled out a wealth tax and raising the capital gains tax which would fall on Wall Street. They are preserving the Trump tax cuts. Instead of taxing the upper middle class which makes over $250,000 a year like Hillary Clinton wanted in 2016, they want to pay for Joe’s infrastructure plan now by taxing only people who make over $400,000 a year. They want to raise the corporate tax rate to pay for infrastructure, but only halfway and not back to even the rate that existed before the Trump tax cuts.
Far from repudiating Reaganism, the Democrats have moved to the Right on tax cuts. They have become moderate Republicans. Actually, they don’t want to tax the True Cons or Red Dogs in the wealthy suburbs who voted for Joe Biden. They don’t want to tax Wall Street or billionaires. The corporate tax rate under Reagan was 35% while Joe wants a 28% corporate tax rate.