The New York Times seems intent on exaggerating the ideological space between Donald Trump and traditional Republican Party policies (FAIR.org, 1/22/17). The latest example is a piece by congressional reporter Jennifer Steinhauer, “Republicans Now Marching With Trump on Ideas They Had Opposed” (1/26/17), that expresses amazement that Republicans in Congress seem to accept Trump’s ideas—most of which are longstanding GOP policies.
Asserting that Trump’s policy pronouncements are “largely out of step with Republican dogma,” Steinhauer wrote:
The question of whether congressional Republicans would change President Trump or Mr. Trump would change them has an early answer. Mr. Trump cheerfully addressed the group here at their policy retreat on Thursday, and they responded with applause to many proposals they have long opposed.
She then proceeded to list a number of Trump proposals, most of which would have been unsurprising coming from Republican presidents like Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush:
- “The sudden embrace of federal spending that represents perhaps the most striking departure, with Republicans backing the concept of starting the financing for the border wall with a new appropriation”; “Republican lawmakers appear more than ready to open up the coffers for a $12 billion to $15 billion border wall.” Republicans have traditionally been eager to greatly expand spending on anything that can be described as national security. In his eight budgets (1982–89), Reagan added $958 billion in military spending above the 1981 baseline (in 2016 dollars)—enough to build 64 to 80 border walls. George W. Bush increased the Pentagon budget by $1.6 trillion, or 107–134 walls.
- “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.” George W. Bush added 7,000 more border agents between 2004 and 2008. As for military personnel, Trump has said he wants to add 72,000 troops; by 1987, Reagan had increased the military roster by 124,000 over 1980 levels.
- “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.” Republicans are not necessarily averse to big infrastructure spending—George W. Bush signed a six-year, $286 billion transportation bill in 2005, which would be $351 billion in 2016 dollars—but Trump is not proposing to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure; rather, he wants to offer tax breaks to for-profit developers ($137 billion worth, according to a campaign report) that he claims would result in a trillion dollars of private spending (paid for, eventually, by tolls and other user fees). The Democrats, meanwhile, have proposed an actual $1 trillion public-spending bill—an idea Senate Republicans have rejected.
- “Also notable is the Republicans’ acceptance of something they have despised: the use of the executive pen to make policy”; “Republicans are now embracing Mr. Trump’s early governing by executive order, something they loudly decried during Mr. Obama’s second term.” Barack Obama’s 275 executive orders were exceeded by George W. Bush (291), Reagan (381), Richard Nixon (346) and Dwight Eisenhower (484).
- “Even on the subject of Mr. Trump’s call for an investigation into voter fraud, a widely debunked claim, Republicans have often demurred.” Republicans have been advancing bogus voter fraud claims for years in order to justify widespread voter suppression efforts (Extra!, 11–12/08, 10/12).
Steinhauer noted House Speaker Paul Ryan’s flipflop on TPP, which is fair enough, though congressional Republicans do not seem to have lost their enthusiasm for corporate-friendly trade pacts (Vox, 1/23/17).
The Times reporter also wrote that “many Republicans, who have been longstanding opponents of Russia and written laws that prohibit torture, have chosen to overlook, or even concur with, Mr. Trump’s embrace of both.” Of course, congressional Republicans were generally staunch supporters of George W. Bush, who authorized waterboarding and other forms of torture after 9/11.
The Republican-dominated Congress did pass the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, which barred “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment” but also conferred immunity to government agents who used interrogation techniques that “were officially authorized and determined to be lawful at the time they were conducted.” The next year, the GOP Congress passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which according to a New York Times editorial (9/28/06) gave the president the power “to decide on his own what abusive interrogation methods he considered permissible” and thus “to authorize what normal people consider torture.”
In any case, current Republicans leaders do not seem eager to echo Trump’s line on torture. “Torture is not legal, and we agree with it not being legal,” declared House Speaker Paul Ryan; “I believe virtually all of my members are comfortable with the state of the law on that issue now,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Morning Consult, 1/26/17).
Likewise, few Republicans seem inclined to join Trump in an “embrace” of Russia—though George W. Bush did invite Vladimir Putin to go fishing with him in 2007. “Putin was the only one who caught anything,” Bush wrote in a memoir.
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