It isn’t often that I find astute commentary on massive mainstream media sites like Reuters, but today was my lucky day. Dan Levine rightfully pointed out that things aren’t operating the way they were just a few months ago in the ongoing struggle between the Democrats and the Republicans.
The GOP has been known for several decades as the party that fought for Federalist principles of checks and balances between the state and federal governments. The Democrats, since around the FDR era, have been the proponents for sweeping DC overreach and abandonment of 10th Amendment principles. As Reuters notes, things have switched very rapidly:
Now, as Trump looks to undo Obama’s legacy and begin constructing his own, Pruitt and other administration Republicans are showing little interest in protecting states’ rights. Instead, they are embracing sweeping new environmental, healthcare and immigration policies that are to be imposed on all states.
At the same time Democrats, who over the last half-century have zealously defended sacrosanct federal laws – such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that tackled segregation – against arguments that states should be allowed to chart their own way, are now making plans to employ some of those very states’ rights positions to fend off Trump administration policies they disagree with.
Before anyone runs down to the election board to switch their political party, there are two important points to consider. The first is obvious: the Democrats are NOT becoming the party of smaller-government. They are pretending to embrace states’ rights on a very temporary basis because it’s the only recourse they have in order to try to slow Trump’s momentum. They’ll quickly learn that it won’t work because it’s not in their nature to reduce national government power. They’re desperate, but his particular path will feel as awkward to most of them as voting for a tax cut.
The second note is that since Ronald Reagan left office, the GOP hasn’t truly been the party of smaller government. There are definitely Republican politicians like Rand Paul and Mike Lee who are authentic in their pursuits of reining in DC, but most Republican politicians use such concepts as campaign pitches. They’ve demonstrated for over two decades that they will not do what is necessary to truly reduce the size of the government. With control of both chambers of Congress and a run-and-gun big government guy in the White House, they can finally promote their own version of federal overreach. They won’t be pushing the same actions as the Democrats because they have a different agenda, but they’ve demonstrated their own version of overreach when it comes to issues they adore. With Trump in the White House, they’re empowered.
As noted in the Reuters article as well as commentary I posted at the Federalist Party website, the reversal is less about ideologies and more about roles. The Democrats will play the role of promoting states’ rights for now because doing so is their only play. It won’t last because that’s not in their nature, but it’s all they have. Meanwhile, the Republicans will play the role as aggressive leaders with an agenda and a majority. They’ll push what they need to push through Congress and let Trump do the rest with his pen and his phone.
In the insane political atmosphere that has engulfed DC since the election, it should have been easy to predict that this temporary reversal would happen. What’s less clear is how long the GOP will continue down this road. Can they overreach for now and still return power to the states before the next Presidential election? Will they even try?