Privatizing Social Security is the plan of the GOP

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson

February 3, 2023

Last night, former vice president Mike Pence came out and said it: “I think the day could come when we could replace the New Deal with a better deal.” 

Pence was talking about Social Security—a centerpiece of the New Deal—saying: “Literally give younger Americans the ability to take a portion of their Social Security withholdings and put that into a private savings account.” 

Privatizing Social Security is his plan to address the growing national debt by cutting expenditures, at least in domestic spending. “It’s absolutely essential that we generate leadership in this country that will be straight with the American people, that will take us off this trajectory of massive debt that we’re piling on the backs of those grandchildren,” Pence said at the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors summit in Washington, D.C.

Another way to reduce the debt would be to raise taxes on corporations and the very wealthy, even to where they were before the massive tax cuts Republicans passed in 2017, but current-day Republicans oppose taxes, claiming they redistribute wealth from hardworking people to those who want a handout. They believe that cutting taxes to enable those at the top to accumulate wealth will enable them to invest their money in businesses, creating more jobs. Wealth will trickle down, and everyone will do better. 

Republicans like Pence believe the federal government should stay out of economic affairs, letting individuals make their own decisions in free markets (although the concept of a “free market” has always been more theoretical than real). Any federal attempts to regulate business or provide a social safety net are “socialism,” they claim, although they have largely forgotten how that argument was established in the United States.

This argument is what gives us the story Kayode Crown reported yesterday for the Mississippi Free Press: thirty-eight of Mississippi’s rural hospitals, more than half of them, are in danger of collapsing because Governor Tate Reeves refuses to allow the state to accept an expansion of Medicaid. The hospitals are required to treat all patients who need care, but since many patients are uninsured, without the expansion of Medicaid the hospitals don’t get paid. 

On Monday, Reeves warned Republican lawmakers not to “cave under the pressure of Democrats and their allies in the media who are pushing for the expansion of Obamacare, welfare, and socialized medicine.” “Instead, seek innovative free-market solutions that disrupt traditional health-care delivery models, increase competition, and lead to better health outcomes for Mississippians.” Last month, in a poll from Mississippi Today/Siena College, about 80% of Mississippi voters wanted Medicaid expansion.  

This theory also says that the government should also stay out of the business of protecting civil rights, because state governments are the centerpiece of American democracy. That’s the idea behind yesterday’s decision by a panel of three judges of the right-wing Fifth Circuit. They ruled that a federal law prohibiting people who are under a domestic restraining order from owning a gun is unconstitutional.

In the 2022 New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen decision, the Supreme Court said that the government must prove that any gun regulation is “consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation,” and because the Constitution’s Framers didn’t stop domestic abusers from possessing guns, we can’t either. As Ian Millhiser points out in Vox, it was not until 1871 that a state court determined that “a husband has no right” to beat his wife. 

Slate’s legal reporter Mark Joseph Stern notes, “There is no real doubt that the 5th Circuit’s decision is going to lead to more abusers murdering their wives and girlfriends. It will also increase mass shootings. Domestic abuse[rs] are vastly more likely to commit heinous acts of gun violence.” Millhiser says it is very likely the Supreme Court will take up the case. 

Under the Republicans’ theory, the country has seen wealth move upward dramatically, hollowing out the middle class and leaving it vulnerable to leaders who have attracted voters by telling them that minorities and women who want “socialism” are to blame for their loss of power. 

Today an audio file from November 5, 2020, just after the presidential election, was leaked that shows members of Trump’s campaign staff in Wisconsin acknowledging Trump’s defeat before Andrew Iverson, who led the Wisconsin team, said, “Here’s the deal: Comms is going to continue to fan the flame and get the word out about Democrats trying to steal this election. We’ll do whatever they need. Just be on standby if there’s any stunts we need to pull.” 

Iverson now runs operations in the Midwest region for the Republican National Committee.

In contrast to the Republican theory, President Joe Biden and the Democrats have revived the theory embraced by members of both parties between 1933 and 1981. That theory says that the federal government has a role to play in the economy, regulating business, providing a basic social safety net, investing in infrastructure, and protecting civil rights. Rather than freeing capital for those at the top, Democrats want to invest in ordinary Americans who will, they believe, spend their paychecks, thus building the economy as they move money directly into the hands of their neighbors. 

Today at a Democratic National Committee finance event in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Biden explained that “when we build from the bottom up and the middle out, poor folks get a shot, the middle class does well, and the wealthy still do very well.” We have to invest in ourselves again, he said. “How…can you be the most successful, powerful nation in the world and have third-rate infrastructure?…  How can you attract business and commerce and keep things moving?”

“[W]e used to invest 2 percent of our G[ross] D[omestic] P[roduct] in research and development…. But about 25 years ago we stopped.” Investment dropped to 0.7 percent of GDP, he said, but now the CHIPS and Science Act will jump-start that research and development again. The administration is also bringing supply chains home and rebuilding foreign alliances. And Biden told the wealthiest people in the room today that they were paying an average of 3% in taxes and needed to pay their fair share. “I don’t want you to pay 90% again”—the top marginal income bracket in the Eisenhower years—but at least 15%, he said. 

From the White House, Biden noted that the “strikingly good” new jobs report issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics this morning proved that his vision of society works. It showed an astonishing 517,000 new jobs added in January, the twenty-fifth straight month of job growth. Unemployment fell slightly to 3.4%, a low last seen in May 1969 (not a typo). 

Between 1933 and 1981, Americans of both parties shared the idea of using the federal government to level the social, economic, and political playing fields. The current Republicans are rejecting that vision, reclaiming that of the business-oriented Republicans in the 1920s. Under Biden, the Democrats are trying to rebuild that shared vision, returning the parties to fights over the kinds and limits of government policies, rather than fights over whether they should exist at all.

Biden told his audience that “once every three, four, or five generations, there’s a fundamental shift in world politics and national politics” and that we are in such a shift now.

“What will happen [in] the next three or four years [is] going to determine what this country looks like for the next four or five decades…. We’re laying down a foundation, because the world is changing—dramatically changing. And we have a choice.”

Extremists are now the face of the new MAGA Republican Party

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson

January 25, 2022

Democrats are generally staying out of the way and letting Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the House Republicans make a spectacle of themselves. In order to get the votes to become speaker, McCarthy had to give power to extremists like Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), and now has openly brought her on board as a close advisor, making the extremists the face of the new MAGA Republican Party. If McCarthy appears to have abandoned principle for power by catering to the far right, Representative George Santos (R-NY) hasn’t helped: stories of his lies have mounted, and financial filings yesterday suggest quite serious financial improprieties. 

Even the Senate Republicans seem to be keeping their heads down while the House Republicans perform for their base. Demanding big cuts in spending before they agree to raise the debt ceiling has put the House Republicans in a difficult spot. They have been clear that they intend to slash Social Security and Medicare, only to have Trump, who was the one who originally insisted on using the debt ceiling to get concessions out of Democrats, recognize that such cuts are enormously unpopular and say they should not touch Medicare and Social Security. Senate Republicans have said they will stay out of debt ceiling negotiations until the House Republicans come up with a viable plan.

While the House Republicans take up oxygen, the Democrats are highlighting for the American people how, over the past two years, they have carefully and methodically changed U.S. policy to stop the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few. 

In July 2021, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to promote competition in the economy. Since the 1980s, he said, when right-wing legal theorist Robert Bork masterminded a pro-corporate legal revolution against antitrust laws, the government had stopped enforcing laws to prevent giant corporations from concentrating their power. The result had been less growth, weakened investment, fewer small businesses, less bargaining power for workers, and higher prices for consumers. 

“[T]he experiment failed,” he said.

Biden vowed to change the direction of the government’s role in the economy, bringing back competition for small businesses, workers, and consumers. Very deliberately, he reclaimed the country’s long tradition of opposing economic consolidation. Calling out both presidents Roosevelt—Republican Theodore, who oversaw part of the Progressive Era, and Democrat Franklin, who oversaw the New Deal—Biden celebrated their attempt to rein in the power of big business, first by focusing on the abuses of those businesses and then by championing competition. 

The administration put together a whole-of-government approach to restore competition based on the 72 separate actions outlined in Biden’s executive order. A terrific piece today by David Dayen in The American Prospect suggests that the effort has worked. Overall, Dayen concludes, the executive order of July 9, 2021, was “one of the most sweeping changes to domestic policy since FDR.” 

While administrations since Reagan have judged whether consolidation is harmful solely by its effect on consumer prices, the Biden approach also factors in the welfare of workers, including their ability to negotiate higher wages. It has also taken on the sharing of medical patents that have raised costs of drugs and equipment like hearing aids by preventing others from entering the market. It has taken on large businesses’ strangling of start-up competitors simply by buying them out before they take off. And, crucially, it has claimed the ability to review previous mergers that it now deems in violation of antitrust laws, citing the 1911 breakup of Standard Oil. 

Dayen notes that one of the causes for a sharp drop in mergers and acquisitions in the second half of 2022 is that government agencies are willing to enforce antitrust laws. “Just about everything on competition has been hard-fought,” he writes, “[b]ut there’s plenty of evidence of real movement.”

Not only government agencies, but also the Democratic Congress—along with some Republicans—passed a number of laws that have shifted the economic policy of the nation. Biden is fond of saying that he doesn’t believe in trickle-down economics and that he intends to build the economy from the bottom up and the middle out. New numbers suggest the policies of the past two years are doing just that.

The December jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that job growth continues strong. The country added 223,000 jobs in December, and the unemployment rate went down slightly to 3.5 percent. The last two years of job growth are the strongest on record, and the country has recovered all the jobs lost during the pandemic. According to the White House, 10.7 million jobs were created and a record 10.5 million small businesses’ applications were filed in the past two years. 

On Monday the Wall Street Journal reported that median weekly earnings rose 7.4% last year, slightly faster than inflation. For Black Americans employed full time, the median rise was 11.3% over 2021. A median Hispanic or Latino worker’s income saw a 4.8% raise, to $837 a week. Young workers, between 16 and 24, saw their weekly income rise more than 10%. Also seeing close to a 10% weekly rise were those in the bottom tenth of wage earners, those making about $570 a week. The day after the Wall Street Journal’s roundup, Walmart, which employs 1.7 million people in the U.S., announced it would raise its minimum wage to $14 an hour, up from $12.

Democrats promised that the CHIPS and Science Act would bring “good paying” jobs to those without college degrees by investing in high-tech manufacturing. A study by the Brookings Institution out yesterday notes that the act has already attracted multibillion-dollar private investments in New York, Indiana, and Ohio and that two thirds of the jobs they will produce are accessible to those without college degrees. Those jobs do, in fact, pay better than most of those available for those without college degrees, although Brookings urged better investment in training programs to make workers ready for those jobs. 

The Inflation Reduction Act gave Medicare the power to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies and capped the cost of insulin for those on Medicare at $35 a month (Republicans blocked an attempt to make that cap available for those not on Medicare). It made hearing aids available over the counter, making them dramatically cheaper, and it also expanded subsidies for the Affordable Care Act. Today the Department of Health and Human Services announced that a record number of Americans enrolled in the ACA in the last open enrollment period: 16.3 million people.

Greg Sargent of the Washington Post notes that much of the investment from these laws is going to Republican-dominated states even though their Republican lawmakers opposed the laws and voted against them. The clean energy investments of the Inflation Reduction Act are going largely to those states, bringing with them additional private investment. A solar panel factory is expanding into Greene’s own district despite her vocal opposition both to alternative energy and to the Inflation Reduction Act. 

For 40 years the Republican Party offered a vision of America as a land of hyperindividualism, in which any government intervention in the economy was seen hampering the accumulation of wealth and thus as an attack on individual liberty. The government stopped working for ordinary Americans, and perhaps not surprisingly, many of them have stopped supporting it. Biden refused to engage with the Republicans on the terms of their cultural wars and has instead reclaimed the idea that government can actually work for the good of all by keeping the economic playing field level for everyone.

Biden and members of his administration are taking to the road to tout their successes to the country, especially to those places most skeptical of the government. If they can bring the Republican base around to support their economic policies, they will have realigned the nation as profoundly as did FDR and Theodore Roosevelt before them.

Republicans again holding the government (and this time, the global economy) hostage

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson

January 17, 2022

Today the bill for the elevation of Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to House speaker began to come due. McCarthy promised the far-right members of his conference committee seats and far more power in Congress to persuade them to vote for him. 

Now they are collecting. 

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who was removed from committee assignments in the last Congress for her racist and antisemitic conspiracy theories as well as her encouragement of violence against Democrats, has a spot on the Homeland Security Committee. Such spots are usually filled by those with experience in either the military or intelligence, neither of which she has. And security is an odd fit for her: voters in her district tried to get her disqualified from running in 2022 because of her participation in the attempt to overthrow the results of the 2020 election.

Greene has not just that plum assignment, but another on the House Oversight and Accountability Committee. That committee manages investigations and has emerged as a coveted spot for the far right as its members prepare to go after figures in the Biden administration. It now includes right-wing figures Greene, Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Scott Perry (R-PA), Byron Donalds (R-FL), and Gary Palmer (R-AL), all of whom refused to acknowledge President Joe Biden’s 2020 election. 

Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ), who was removed from committees two years ago after threatening Democratic lawmakers on social media, is now back on the Natural Resources committee. He also is now on the Oversight Committee.

The elevation of newer representatives over their more senior colleagues caused hard feelings. Tara Palmeri of Puck reported today that Vern Buchanan (R-FL), who was in line to become the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, confronted McCarthy for putting McCarthy ally Jason Smith (R-MO) in the spot instead. “You f*cked me, I know it was you, you whipped against me,” Buchanan told McCarthy.

There were rumors that Buchanan would consider resigning over the slight, and McCarthy cannot afford to lose any Republicans. His desperation is clear in his embrace of George Santos (R-NY), whom McCarthy appointed to two committees: the House Committee on Small Business and the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Santos is facing pressure to resign as his campaign lies appear to include shady financing. 

But in an op-ed today at NBC News, Santos’s fellow New York representative Democrat Ritchie Torres noted: The presence of this man in Congress is a danger to our democracy and national security, a disgrace to this institution, and a major distraction from the pressing problems that are far more worthy of our time, energy and attention,” but the Republican Party will not disavow him because “House Speaker Kevin McCarthy needs every vote he can get, and he needs George Santos to remain in power.”

House Republicans also appear to be prepared to move forward with an impeachment of Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. This is part of the Republican focus on applications for asylum at the southern border despite their recent refusal to consider updating legislation, as Mayorkas has repeatedly asked them to. Only once before has a Cabinet secretary been impeached—in 1876—and he was acquitted by the Senate. Two others resigned before impeachment votes were taken, the most recent in 1932.

Greene has her sights set even higher. She called today for the impeachment of President Biden, advising him on Twitter to “resign now.” 

McCarthy also agreed that he would not agree to raise the debt ceiling unless Congress cuts $130 billion in spending for next year, a demand that amounts to taking the nation and the world economy hostage to overturn measures that Congress has already agreed to. Once again, the debt ceiling is not about future spending, it is about paying the debts Congress has already incurred. Refusing to raise the debt ceiling means the United States will default, wreaking havoc on international markets and our own global standing.

But the right wing appears willing to burn down the global economy and to destroy our place in it to impose their will on the country.  

Emboldened, the far right is already insisting it will not raise the debt ceiling. Today, Andy Biggs (R-AZ), who was involved in the planning for January 6, tweeted, “We cannot raise the debt ceiling. Democrats have carelessly spent our taxpayer money and devalued our currency. They’ve made their bed, so they must lie in it.” 

In fact, the national debt skyrocketed under Republican president Donald Trump even before the pandemic, thanks to the big tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated would increase deficits by almost $2 trillion over eleven years. In 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic hit, the debt had grown to $22 trillion. Trump called it a crisis, but his budget that year increased the debt to $23.2 trillion. The CBO warned that the U.S. had never seen deficits so large in a time of high employment. 

And then the coronavirus hit, and the debt jumped to $27.75 trillion. 

At 5.2% of GDP, the growth of the deficit under Trump was third largest in our history, behind only that under Presidents George W. Bush—who launched two unfunded wars after passing a tax cut and thus presided over deficit growth of 11.7%—and Abraham Lincoln, whose Treasury had to invent a way to pay for a civil war out of whole cloth, resulting in the deficit growing by 9.4% of GDP.  

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says the Treasury will hit the debt ceiling on Thursday but  can extend extraordinary measures to keep functioning until June. McCarthy has called for Democrats to talk with him about a plan that will permit an increase in the debt limit while cutting Medicare, Social Security, and federal agencies. 

Biden and administration officials say they will not negotiate with the right-wing Republicans who are trying to get their way not through normal legislative channels, but by holding the government—and the global economy—hostage

Culture wars, not kitchen-table issues, are the Republicans actual “bread and butter”

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson

January 11, 2022

Watching the news today, I suspect I am not always going to report all the twists and turns of the House Republicans for the next two years. They campaigned in the midterm elections on so-called kitchen-table issues—inflation, primarily—but upon taking control of the House, they instantly reverted back to the culture wars that are their bread and butter. This is largely performative for their base, since the Democratic-led Senate will never pass their extreme measures.

On Monday evening the new Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a bill to cut funding for the Internal Revenue Service that the previous Congress included in the Inflation Reduction Act, funding intending to add workers to clear a big backlog of unprocessed returns, overhaul technology, and improve customer service. Republicans insist that funding the IRS will send bureaucrats to hassle ordinary Americans, but in fact, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has directed that none of the new resources will be used to increase audit rates for small businesses or households with an annual income below $400,000. 

If the House measure were to become law—which it will not because the Senate will not pass it—it would add significantly to the deficit. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said that the Republicans’ bill would increase the deficit by nearly $115 billion over ten years.

The Biden administration has focused on tax evasion among the wealthy and has sought since the beginning of Biden’s term to crack down on tax cheats. 

The administration responded to the House measure with uncharacteristic saltiness. “With their first economic legislation of the new Congress, House Republicans are making clear that their top economic priority is to allow the rich and multi-billion dollar corporations to skip out on their taxes, while making life harder for ordinary, middle-class families that pay the taxes they owe,” responded the Office of Management and Budget. 

“That’s their agenda; not lowering costs or cutting taxes for hard working Americans—as President Biden has consistently advocated. If the President were presented with H.R. 23—or any other bill that enables the wealthiest Americans and largest corporations to cheat on their taxes, while honest and hard-working Americans are left to pay the tab—he would veto it.”

Today the House followed up on its IRS bill with two antiabortion measures. With only three Democrats joining the Republicans, they adopted a resolution condemning attacks on “pro-life facilities, groups and churches.” Democrats pointed out that abortion providers and women seeking to obtain abortions have suffered deadly attacks, including the 2009 murder of Dr. George Tiller of Kansas. 

Mini Timmaraju, the head of NARAL Pro-Choice America said: “If you’re going to put a resolution out on violence against churches and fake pregnancy centers, why are we not also addressing violence against abortion providers and violence in general?”

The second measure is called the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act and requires doctors to care for infants who survive an abortion. Opponents of the measure point out that such a scenario is exceedingly rare and that doctors are already required to do what the bill requires. The new measure adds new penalties for doctors.

The first of these measures is not a law; the second will not pass the Senate. Still, both are much less extreme than what Republicans planned to offer when they expected the 2022 elections to go their way. 

A week ago, Bloomberg’s editors blamed the Republican Party’s dysfunction on the fact that the party has ignored public policy. “After a campaign in which culture-war issues took the place of an actual governing agenda—and in which the GOP nominated numerous on-message candidates who were clearly unfit for office—House Republicans have found themselves in power without a plan,” they wrote. 

Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin today called out the elephant in the room when she wrote that “there are no moderate House Republicans.” The positions of the extremist Republicans in the fight over House speaker often made people talk of the rest of the party as “moderate,” but in fact, as Rubin points out, they all supported Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) for speaker, and McCarthy is an election denier. They also voted for the extremist rules package that threatens to bring the country to the unthinkable: a financial default.

Rubin pointed out that with the House as closely divided as it is, a few of these so-called moderates could defeat the radicals and force the party closer to the mainstream. So far, though, they have shown no inclination to do so. 

But there has been a sign that a new crop of Republicans might someday demand the party clean itself up (which doesn’t sound like much, but a fight against corruption was what launched Theodore Roosevelt’s political career in 1884). Today, four new Republican representatives from New York called on Representative George Santos (R-NY) to resign. During his campaign, Santos lied about his education, work experience,  and also apparently about his finances, which could involve him in legal trouble.

Republican officials in New York’s Nassau County also demanded Santos resign, saying: “This scandalous behavior does damage to all of our reputations because there is a part of our public that is cynical about politicians and public officials.” 

But Republican House leadership, including McCarthy and Elise Stefanik (R-NY), who is the third most powerful Republican in the House and was a key endorser of Santos, have stayed silent. For his part, Santos vows to stay in office. 

As I say, I may well not follow all the performances of House members going forward unless a performance seems like it will change the larger story of the country, in part because I worry that letting them take up all the oxygen will crowd out other crucial stories, like this one:

Since late last year, California has been pummeled by storms traveling in what are known as “atmospheric rivers,” powerful bands of water-filled clouds that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) describes as “rivers in the sky.” These storm systems have created floods and mudslides, especially on land scarred by recent fires, and brought 70-mile-per-hour winds to Sacramento, knocking out power for more than 345,000 people. 

More than 4.5 million Californians have been under flood watches, and at least 17 people have died. According to San Francisco area meteorologist Jan Null, this has been the third rainiest period in San Francisco since the 1849 Gold Rush. 

On January 4, California governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency, and Biden issued an emergency declaration on January 8. 

The warming climate is intensifying both droughts—which feed fires—and storms like those currently creating such destruction.  

GOP choose their obstructionist Speaker, yet Americans have seen that government can work for them. What comes next?

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson

January 7, 2022

The Republicans won a narrow majority in the House of Representatives in 2022—aided by gerrymandering and new laws that made it harder to vote—but they remain unable to come together to elect a speaker. In three ballots yesterday, Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) could not muster a majority of the House to back him, as a group of 20 far-right Republicans are backing their own choices. The saga continued today with three more ballots; McCarthy still came up short.

In contrast, the Democrats have consistently given minority leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York 212 votes, more votes than McCarthy received but not a majority of the body. When former Speaker Nancy Pelosi nominated Jeffries yesterday, she blew him a kiss and the caucus rose up in a standing ovation.

Because it is still unorganized, the House technically has no members. No one is sworn in, and so they cannot perform their official duties or hire staff. About 70 new members brought their families to Washington, D.C., to watch their swearing in, and the extra days as the speakership contest drags on are becoming hard to manage.

The chaos suggests that Republican leadership does not have the skills it needs to govern. Leaders often have to negotiate in order to take power—Nancy Pelosi had to bring together a number of factions to win the speakership in 2019—but since 1923 those negotiations have been completed before the start of voting.

Just weeks ago, McCarthy and his supporters were furious at Senate Republicans for negotiating with their Democratic colleagues to pass the omnibus bill to fund the government, insisting they could do a better job. Now they can’t even agree on a speaker. “Thank God they weren’t in the majority on January 6,” Pelosi told reporters, “because that was the day you had to be organized to stave off what was happening, to save our democracy, to certify the election of the president.”

One story here is about competence. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo points out that Pelosi ran the House with virtually the same margin the Republicans have now and yet managed to hold her caucus together tightly enough to pass a slate of legislation that rivaled those of the Great Society and the New Deal. McCarthy can’t even organize the House, leaving the United States without a functioning Congress for the first time in a hundred years.

But there is a larger story here about the destruction of the traditional Republican Party over the past forty years. In those years, a party that believed the government had a role to play in leveling the country’s economic and racial playing fields was captured by a reactionary right wing determined to uproot any such government action. When voters—including Republicans—continued to support business regulation, a basic social safety net, and civil rights laws, the logical outcome of opposition to such measures was war on the government itself.

That war is not limited to the 20 far-right Republicans refusing to elect McCarthy speaker. Pundits note that those 20 have supported former president Trump’s positions, particularly the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen. They also worked to overturn the 2020 election, challenging the electors from a number of states. But 139 Republicans, including McCarthy himself, voted in 2021 to challenge electors from a number of states and went on to embrace the Big Lie, and McCarthy’s staunchest supporter is extremist Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.

And today, more than 60 prominent right-wing figures, from President Ronald Reagan’s attorney general Edwin Meese III to Trump lawyers Cleta Mitchell and John Eastman, who were both instrumental in the effort to overturn Biden’s election in 2020, and Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife Ginni Thomas, who also participated in that effort, declared themselves “disgusted with the business-as-usual, self-interested governance in Washington.” They declared their support for the 20.

The roots of today’s Republican worldview lie in the Reagan Revolution of 1980.

Reagan and his allies sought to dismantle the regulation of business and the social welfare state that cost tax dollars, but they recognized those policies were popular. So they fell back on an old Reconstruction era trope, arguing that social welfare programs and regulation were a form of socialism because they cost tax dollars that were paid primarily by white men while their benefits went to poor Americans, primarily Black people or people of color. In that formula, first articulated by former Confederates after the Civil War, minority voting was a form of socialism that would destroy America.

When Reagan used this argument, he emphasized its idea of economic individualism over its racism, but that racism was definitely there, and many of his supporters heard it. When he stood about seven miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi, where Ku Klux Klan members had murdered civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner just 16 years before as they tried to register Black people to vote, and said “I believe in states’ rights,” the racist wing of the old Democratic Party knew what he meant and voted for him.

In the years since, party leaders cut taxes and deregulated business while rallying voters with warnings that government policies that regulated business, provided a social safety net, or protected civil rights were socialism that redistributed white tax dollars to minorities. In the 1990s, under the leadership of House speaker Newt Gingrich, Chamber of Commerce lawyer Grover Norquist, and talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, the party purged from its ranks traditional Republicans, replacing them with ideological fellow travelers.

As their policies threatened to lose voters by concentrating wealth upward and hollowing out the middle class, Republicans increasingly warned that minority voters wanted socialism and were destroying the nation to get it. Trump rode that narrative to power, and now tearing down the current government is the idea that drives the Republican base.

Just last night, in his apparent realization that the party is moving beyond him, Trump launched a new attack on Black Georgia election worker Ruby Freeman, falsely accusing her once again of delivering suitcases of fraudulent ballots in the 2020 presidential election to steal victory from him. Trump said he is fighting “the evils and treachery of the Radical Left monsters who want to see America die.”

That Republicans now have a wing openly determined to destroy the federal government is not a function of a few outliers who have wormed their way into Congress; it is the logical outcome of this worldview. Lawmakers like Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Lauren Boebert (R-CO) are clearly enjoying the power they are currently wielding, but their larger project is the one the party has advertised since they were children: stopping the government from any of the actions it has called “Marxist” or “socialist,” burning it all down to make white Americans free.

Destruction doesn’t take skill at governance; it only requires obstruction. The 20 are good at that.

But a new era is pushing the Reagan era aside. Plenty of Republicans who want to deregulate business and cut taxes recognize that it is our democratic government and the rule of law that protects their investments, and that maintaining the government will take basic laws and the skills to negotiate and pass them.

At the same time, after two years of Democratic control, Americans have seen that government can work for them, and they appear to like the new laws that have created jobs—including in manufacturing—and invested in social services and are rebuilding infrastructure. Republicans who want to get reelected are moving away from the extremists to take credit for the laws passed under the Democrats. Just today, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Ohio governor Mike DeWine, and former Ohio senator Rob Portman—all Republicans—joined President Joe Biden, Democratic governor of Kentucky Andy Beshear, and Democratic Ohio senator Sherrod Brown in Covington, Kentucky, to visit the Brent Spence Bridge between Covington and Cincinnati, Ohio. The bridge is on one of the country’s busiest freight corridors and is being rebuilt with money from the bipartisan infrastructure law passed in 2021.

In Ohio yesterday, Jason Stephens, a Republican promising to stop far-right policies, joined with Democrats to snatch the speaker’s chair from a far-right Republican who focused on religion and opposing abortion rights and who believed he had sewn up the necessary votes in his party. A Democratic state representative told Morgan Trau of ABC News, “Speaker Stephens led a coalition of moderate lawmakers from across the aisle, who will now focus on delivering the common sense solutions that Ohioans sent us here to deliver…. Now we can work on investing in our communities, on public education and workforce development.”