Are Republicans Changing Their Policy Views to Fall Behind Trump?

The New York Times claims they are. In an article titled Republicans Now Marching With Trump on Ideas They Had Opposed, the Gray Lady paints a picture of a compliant GOP, abandoning core principles willy-nilly to conform to Trump’s policy views:

Republican lawmakers appear more than ready to open up the coffers for a $12 billion to $15 billion border wall, perhaps without the commensurate spending cuts that they demanded when it came to disaster aid, money to fight the Zika virus or funds for the tainted water system in Flint, Mich. They also seem to back a swelling of the federal payroll that Mr. Trump has called for in the form of a larger military and 5,000 more border patrol agents.

They have stayed oddly silent as Mr. Trump and Senate Democrats push a $1 trillion infrastructure plan, larger than one they rejected from President Barack Obama. Once fierce promoters of the separation of powers, Republicans are now embracing Mr. Trump’s early governing by executive order, something they loudly decried during Mr. Obama’s second term.

I’ve worried since May 3 that the Republican party would fall in line behind Trump’s policies, even when they contradicted their own past positions. But the reality is not quite the way the Times portrays it. Let me take a couple of examples from the above two paragraphs. Here’s Mitch McConnell on December 12, being somewhat less than “oddly silent” on the infrastructure plan:

“I think the details are really important, but I hope what we clearly avoid — and I’m confident that we will — is a trillion dollar stimulus that will take you back to 2009,” McConnell said, arguing that the projects the 2009 stimulus produced few tangible results to sustain a long-term recovery.

“So we need to do this carefully and correctly and the issue of how to pay for it needs to be dealt with responsibly,” he added.

That doesn’t seem like odd silence to me. Then we have the claim that Republicans are “embracing Mr. Trump’s early governing by executive order.” The claim has a hyperlink to this New York Times article, which portrays Republicans as divided, not “embracing” Trump’s policies in toto. Here’s a quote from that previous article. Remember, the article containing this quote was linked by today’s to prove that Republicans are embracing Trump’s executive overreach:

But some Republicans are wary too. Even as they welcome the opportunities opened up by having an ally in the White House, some worry that the continued emphasis on executive actions is just another step in the dilution of legislative power.

“We need to go back to being the legislative branch,” said Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican opposed to a potential executive order by Mr. Trump that would end a special program allowing younger illegal immigrants to remain in the United States. “We didn’t like this when Obama was doing it, so why should we accept it now?”

Other Republicans were hoping the start of a new administration would allow a reset between the executive branch and a legislative branch that has seen its influence steadily erode as lawmakers surrender power and responsibility to the administrative side. Mr. Trump’s broad assertion of executive power could make any rebalancing difficult to achieve, though lawmakers say they intend to keep pushing.

“The imperial presidency was not created overnight and it will not be undone overnight,” said Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, who is leading an effort called the Article I Project to try to recapture some lost authority for the House and Senate.

Even the claims in the previous article that some Republicans were caving on executive power were unconvincing:

The health care executive order issued by Mr. Trump last week directed federal officials to find ways to minimize the financial burden of the health care law on governments, health care providers and others. Many saw the move as a backdoor attempt by the new White House to undermine the current law of the land while Republicans try to figure out a way to repeal it.

It was the reverse of the type of action Republicans criticized President Obama for — using his executive powers to prop up the health care law without sufficient authority. But there were no loud complaints from Republicans this time, a fact not lost on Democrats.

Nothing about Trump’s executive order was the “reverse” of Obama’s orders, but the reporter did not seem to understand this. To the extent the order could be interpreted as constitutionally objectionable, it would be because it could be read as providing authority to delay certain parts of the law — the very same thing Obama did, not the “reverse.” I have urged a “wait and see” attitude regarding those executive orders, because we don’t know exactly what they would do . . . and nobody is accusing me of being a Trumpkin.

I guess the author of today’s hit piece didn’t expect us to follow the link. She also doesn’t seem to understand that reversing unconstitutional executive orders is not an abuse of power:

Also notable is the Republicans’ acceptance of something they have despised: the use of the executive pen to make policy. Several House Republicans dismissed the notion that Mr. Trump would abuse his power to issue executive orders in the way they complained that Mr. Obama did during his second term.

“What you do by the pen can be dismantled by the pen,” said Representative Tom Reed of New York.

That’s a Republican rejecting something he despised, not accepting it. He’s saying that if Obama signed illegal executive orders with his pen, they can be undone by Trump’s pen. Is this really so hard to understand?

It’s not all garbage, of course. This shot hits the mark:

Speaker Paul D. Ryan, whose own website this week still praised the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, now applauds Mr. Trump for putting the final shovel of dirt over the accord, with the president saying he is interested in bilateral agreements instead.

There are other points, too, about attitudes towards Russia and torture, that have some basis in reality. But overall, the reality does not match the portrayal by the Times.

The notion that Republicans will twist themselves into pretzels to line up with Trump’s agenda is a real concern. But this article doesn’t prove it has happened to any significant degree.

Vigilance is good. Let’s make sure we are honest as we remain vigilant. This article does not meet that standard.

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