Trump aids transformational shift
Many years ago, I was introduced to key Republican policies of fiscal discipline (balancing the federal budget) and smaller, less invasive government (modest spending programs and individual initiative and responsibility).
Individuals, families, and businesses live within their means, provide for contingencies, and the future. Shouldn’t the federal government?
The Democrat party appeared to take the opposite view. They promoted large federal government spending on social programs and deficit spending which greatly increased the national debt.
With battle lines drawn, the two parties fought for voters.
Every election, Republicans would seek to reduce federal spending and programs. The Democrats would counter to maintain and expand them — and introduce new ones.
Democrats won voters on these issues. How? By borrowing the funds necessary to cover the expenditures. They did not raise anyone’s taxes. So, the programs did not appear to cost anyone anything. They were free.
Over time, Republican initiatives to reduce spending were increasingly characterized as cruel, insensitive and even heartless. Even calls to lower the rate of increase in entitlements were falsely described as “gutting” the programs.
Fiscal discipline was a loser politically for Republicans.
The reality is that we will not have fiscal discipline and entitlement reform until it is in the interest of both parties — and the Democrats don’t have any incentive to change their position.
So, Republicans would be better off focusing on other issues.
Candidate Donald Trump campaigned as an outsider in 2016. He did not rail against budget deficits or insist on reigning in entitlement spending.
He specifically stated that he “would not touch Social Security.”
Why did candidate and now President Trump walk away from these Republican positions and effectively embrace the Democrat positions? The answer is he took a page out of the Democrat playbook and utilized a strategy made famous by Dick Morris, who advised Bill Clinton in his 1996 re-election campaign.
Morris observed America moving to the right as Newt Gingrich led the Republican takeover of the House in 1994 with his Contract with America.
Morris advised Clinton to take the Republican issue of fiscal discipline and make it his own. In a State of the Union speech, President Clinton declared “the era of big government is over” and proposed balancing the federal budget.
That move, which Morris dubbed “triangulation,” took the issue away from Republicans. Clinton glided to re-election. Similarly, by walking away from fiscal discipline and entitlement reform, candidate and President Trump prevented Democrats from bludgeoning him with it.
He triangulated them.
With low- and middle-class tax cuts, immigration restrictions and job-creating trade policies (which all cross racial, gender and social lines), Trump has transformed the Grand Old Party to the Great Opportunity Party — which attracts low- and middle-income families to the GOP for the first time since FDR.
This is a transformational shift — if the GOP sticks with it.
Gable is an occasional contributor the Mirror’s Opinion page. He resides in Altoona.