“There are two ways to conquer and enslave a nation. One is by the sword and the other is by debt.”
– John Adams
“Fiscal conservatism,” R.I.P. And while the Democratic Party has been an aider and abettor of this untimely death since at least the presidency of Lyndon Johnson, it is the Republican Party — the purported partisan home for fiscal conservatism — that ought to be credited with the fatal coup de grâce.
The much-vaunted Tea Party movement that rose to prominence in 2009 – 2010 always was, as I put it three years ago, “internally compromised by its warring constitutionalist and populist factions.” For a brief period of time, following the 2010 U.S. Senate primary victories of Mike Lee in Utah and Rand Paul in Kentucky, it seemed that genuine constitutionalism and debt-averse fiscal conservatism were on the ascendancy. In the summer of 2011, House Republicans managed to leverage control of one half of one-third of the federal government to force Senate Democrats and a breathtakingly leftist White House to compromise on real, meaningful spending reforms. The Budget Control Act of 2011 — and the so-called “sequestration” it wrought upon the federal fisc — capped discretionary spending over the ensuing ten-year period, resulting in roughly two trillion dollars in savings.
It is pretty depressing to look back, eight years later, and recognize that the summer of 2011 likely represented the high watermark for fiscal conservatism in the modern Republican Party. What has happened since then is nothing other than massive deficits run amok, indefensible budget cap busting, debt binges galore, and reckless borrowing on the nation’s proverbial credit card in large service to the Chinese Communist Party. This perfidy has now taken the form of a horrific budget bill that Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell and President Donald Trump are now set to enact into law. The new budgetary capitulation would lead to nearly two trillion dollars in new spending over the next decade and outright cancels the budget caps for the final two years of the Budget Control Act, among other betrayals.
For the second straight day, I ask: Why do Republicans even bother to win elections?
In the aftermath of the 2012 presidential election shellacking, the Republican National Committee (RNC) analyzed the results and told conservatives that fiscal conservatism was the leg of the traditional Reagan-era “three-legged stool” on which to focus. That RNC “autopsy” was very clearly wrong. It is actually libertarianism and classical liberalism — an innate hostility to government interventionism in any and all areas of life — that lack a core base of popular political support and electoral relevance. But the point is that the Republican Party cannot even do that right. Whereas the Party ought to be eschewing its erstwhile uncompromising attachment to classical liberalism while doubling down on debt-averse fiscal conservatism, it seems that Republicans are actually doing the complete opposite.
Fiscal conservatism arguably had a nice run — or at least a nice rhetorical run. But it is now deader than a dodo bird. And Republicans killed it.