Is the GOP Serious about Governing?

Can the GOP govern? Do they want to or know how to? (Does it matter?).

republicans-elephant-flag-shadowI know that GOP-inclined individuals aren’t going to easily accept the source, but Paul Krugman is right:

the broader Republican quagmire — the party’s failure so far to make significant progress toward any of its policy promises — isn’t just about Mr. Trump’s inadequacies. The whole party, it turns out, has been faking it for years. Its leaders’ rhetoric was empty; they have no idea how to turn their slogans into actual legislation, because they’ve never bothered to understand how anything important works.

Take the two lead items in the congressional G.O.P.’s agenda: undoing the Affordable Care Act and reforming corporate taxes. In each case Republicans seem utterly shocked to find themselves facing reality.

If we set aside any discussion of the Trump White House for the moment, there is no denying the utter ineptitude of the Republican leadership in Congress.  As Krugman notes, “we had seven — seven! — years during which Republicans kept promising to offer an alternative to Obamacare any day now, but never did. Then came the months after the election, with more promises of details just around the corner.”  Given the centrality of this issue for the GOP since the ACA’s passage in 2010, it is not unreasonable to think that once the party had unified control of government that there would be numerous, competing proposals for the Congress to debate.  Instead, we get the President, incredibly, stating “Now, I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject.  Nobody knew health care could be so complicated” followed by this Onion-esque tale of one plan (G.O.P. Accused of Playing ‘Hide-and-Seek’ With Obamacare Replacement Bill):

It was “find the Affordable Care Act replacement” day on Thursday as publicity-seeking Democrats — and one frustrated Republican — scampered through Capitol corridors, hunting for an elusive copy of a bill that Republican leaders have withheld from the public as they search for party unity.

Just a week before two powerful House committees plan to vote on the measure, opponents spent hours making the point that almost no one has actually seen legislation that would affect the lives and pocketbooks of millions of Americans.


While Republicans discussed details of the health care bill, Democrats went from office to office, hunting for a copy. Lawmakers were told that Republican members of the Energy and Commerce Committee could inspect the bill on Thursday in the basement of a House office building. When Democrats arrived, they were directed to a room on the first floor of the Capitol.

And, via WaPo:  Rand Paul protests outside room where House Republicans are hammering out Obamacare replacement

Inside a nondescript Capitol meeting room, members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee were discussing the details of a possible Affordable Care Act replacement bill. Outside, there was an unwelcome visitor: Sen. Rand Paul (R).

The Kentucky senator, who has pledged to oppose any bill that does not fully do away with the ACA and its insurance subsidies, learned late Thursday morning that committee members were talking about the bill in H157, a room on the Capitol’s first floor.

“I have been told that the House Obamacare bill is under lock and key, in a secure location, and not available for me or the public to view,” he tweeted.

According to House Republican staff, this wasn’t the whole story. The bill, which has been workshopped and previewed in private meeting, is not ready yet. But at noon, a dozen reporters were already staking out the room — which was being guarded by Capitol Police officers — Paul and several members of his staff strolled up, toting a copier just in case the senator got his hands on the bill. Over the objections of the officers, reporters and photographers followed Paul into the tight space in front of the door to the room.

The whole thing is more farce than anything else.  For some time I have been of the opinion that the Republican Party is not serious about governing, and all of this is just one huge confirmation of that fact.  It is worth noting that there has been no major legislation passed by Congress during the first month-plus of the Trump administration, despite control of the House, Senate, and White House by one party.  Indeed, this lack of seriousness about governing is very troubling, as in a two-party system we need, well, two parties who offer up functional policy options for debate, passage, and deployment.

The truth of the matter is, we almost certainly do need serious tax reform (both individual and corporate), and there is zero doubt that the immigration system needs a major overhaul.  And, yes, the ACA is far from perfect.  I would be more than happy to see serious attempts at resolving these issues, even if they were not necessarily my personal policy outcomes.  I have no problem, from a democratic point of view, to see a public debate in the context of the legislature that would allow the public to appropriately respond via the ballot box.

Now, as I have noted before, there are profound problems with our electoral system, insofar as it does not do a very good job of representing popular interests.  There is a wholly inadequate feedback loop, and that is a huge part of our governing problem.  So, I do not necessarily expect the Congress to behave as if they are truly going to be held accountable by the voters (as they will not, given the lack of competitive congressional races).  However, it is not unreasonable to expect the Republicans to at least have some plans to attempt to execute (like their counterparts in the other party are known to have on occasion).  Indeed, Republicans voters who really do want ACA repeal and tax reform (among other things) should demand it.

Instead, we have a president who does not understand how to govern and congressional leadership who appear unable to do so, whether they understand it or not.  Now, as long as there are no crises or substantial demands on government for years (yeah, right), I suppose we can limp along until, perhaps, someone capable is in office.  However, the reality is, we need a functional government, and so it is quite concerning to realize that there will be real crises, and perhaps soon.

Now, I will admit, much of the above is vested in a normative preference for good government (regardless of the ideological orientation of specific policies, which are ultimately specific, separate debates).  If we set that aside and just look at this in terms of whether passing (or not passing) legislation will affect the re-election prospects of most members of Congress in the 2018 mid-terms, the truth is:  probably not.

This fact, by the way, is not good news for the country.

FILED UNDER: US Politics, , , , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Moosebreath says:

    “Is the GOP Serious about Governing?”

    No. This is another example of simple answers to silly questions.

    “The whole thing is more farce than anything else.”

    Unfortunately not, if for no other reason because when a farce is over, the audience goes home with their lives largely unaffected.

  2. grumpy realist says:

    The Republicans really are the dog that finally caught the car.

  3. michael reynolds says:

    Repealing Obamacare has never been anything but racist spite. They have no real objections, no real plan, no reason to attack Obamacare but for the skin color of its sponsor.

    They have no economic plan beyond slogans and paying off rich people.

    They have no foreign policy aside from offending Muslims, frightening our allies and blowing Vladimir Putin.

    They are exactly what I’ve thought and said they were: empty. Once you get past racism, misogyny, nostalgia and incoherent rage, they’ve got absolutely nothing. And if the past is a guide their trolls will be along to prove everything I’ve just said correct.

  4. @michael reynolds:

    if the past is a guide their trolls will be along to prove everything I’ve just said correct.

    This seems likely.

  5. EddieInCA(but not today) says:


  6. RaflW says:

    So can we finally, with broad agreement, note that Paul Ryan’s alleged policy chops (aka ‘wonkiness’) are a fraud? He has done a spectacular job marketing the notion that he is serious, but of course we see now — some have seen for longer — that he and his whole caucus are unserious about anything but “no!’.
    The conservative party and associated think tanks and publications have all atrophied. In reality only being able to say “no!” is classic infantile behavior. The country is dismally served by Ryan’s putative leadership.

  7. RaflW says:

    @michael reynolds: There is one reason that the GOP elite (including very notably the Koch brothers and other 0.1%ers) oppose the ACA: It imposes additional modest tax burdens on them.
    I don’t find that a persuasive argument for repealing ACA, nor does their pathological tax avoidance negate the other racist as well as poverty-shaming impulses behind repeal efforts. But it does create a particularly well funded unholy alliance behind the Republican urge to wreak havoc.

  8. Davebo says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Repealing Obamacare has never been anything but racist spite.

    So you’re saying if Clinton won in 2008 and enacted the exact same plan the GOP would think it was hunky dory?

    Because I don’t think so.

  9. Scott says:

    The Republicans are hiding the replacement bill because they are ashamed, dishonest, fearful or all three.

    serious tax reform (both individual and corporate)

    Republicans don’t use the word reform like you do. You think improvement. Their definition just has one meaning: cuts. Either cuts to taxes or cuts to safety net. No other.

  10. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:


    So you’re saying if Clinton won in 2008 and enacted the exact same plan the GOP would think it was hunky dory?
    Because I don’t think so.

    But they did find in hunky-dory when the Heritage Institute came up with it…and when Mitt Romney did it in Mass.

  11. Pch101 says:

    I think that liberals make the mistake of believing that Republicans will fail at repeal-and-replace because the results will be worse.

    Of course, the results will be worse, but that’s the wrong way to view it. The GOP doesn’t measure this by how many people are helped by the legislation, they just want to get rid of it because they want to destroy Obama’s legacy and bar him from ever being regarded as the FDR of the Great Recession.

    Repealing Obamacare is easy. Replacing it with something that helps the intended audience isn’t so easy, but the GOP at the federal level simply doesn’t care. (Some of the governors might care, but they aren’t voting in Congress, obviously.)

    The red state idiots who have literally hurt and killed themselves because they will lose their healthcare (these voters believe that ACA “reform” is defined as denying care to furriners and darker folks) will be upset when they find that the party elders won’t help them, either. However, they are not going to punish the Republicans by voting for Dems in retaliation. Accordingly, repeal is a perfectly safe course of action for the GOP in Congress, since they will suffer no repercussions from their supporters.

    The Republicans learned from the 1992 election that the only thing that can do them in is a tax increase. They can get away with anything else and still prevail in their districts. They can shut down the government or whatever, and it won’t matter because there are voters who will never vote for Democrats just as long as they are perceived as the party of tax increases and benefits for minorities. Denying “bad people” (read: minorities) even takes priority over helping themselves.

  12. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    Just to spite SLT the Republicans released their replacement late this afternoon.

  13. Davebo says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:

    So you think they’d have been fine with it if Clinton had got it passed?

    And btw, Mitt only did it for one state.

  14. michael reynolds says:

    Actually yes, I think they would have accepted it. Not that they aren’t also misogynists, not that they aren’t also compulsively against anything that helps the working man, but the extra percentage of intensity is fed by the desperate need to erase the black president from history at any cost.

    In this country it almost always comes down to race. Read Jennifer Rubin today. The GOP is a racist party, a white supremacist party, a party of religious bigots.

  15. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    Hard to say…but I don’t think the racist view can be discounted.

  16. @Pch101:

    Repealing Obamacare is easy.

    Repealing some of it is (relatively) easy, but repealing it altogether isn’t. That is part of their problem,

  17. @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:

    Just to spite SLT


  18. Hal_10000 says:

    TBF: we are only a month and a half in. The Democrats passed the stimulus quickly because they had a filibuster-proof majority. But Obamacare and Dodd-Frank took over a year to pass. With that caveat, I agree with your general point.

    The explanation for this, i think is that the GOP is riven with an internal division. There are some GOPers who are serious about governing. The problem is that that they now have to deal with Trump and the Trump wing of the party who have no idea what they want. Trump has no interest in the legislative process and no real interest in policy. But his rhetoric on issues has them bogged down. Tax reform, for example, has run aground on serious disagreements about the border adjustment tax. Healthcare reform is trapped between the scylla of Trump and the charybdis of voters who don’t want to lose coverage. And while trump’s approval numbers generally are low, they are high enough among Republicans that the GOP congress daren’t cross him.

    If Rubio or Cruz were President … hell, if Clinton were President, we would almost certaintly be seeing more done.

  19. Scott says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl: I read their press release. Nothing on the 10 essential elements of coverage. I wonder what they are not saying.

    Just got to throw Trump’s words back in their faces: better coverage for more people for less cost.

    Over and over again.

    BTW, it is also unscored. Not a good sign.

  20. Hal_10000 says:

    (Also, a lot of the complaints about the GOP not doing anything cross me as “the food is terrible and in such small portions”. If the GOP were enacting an aggressive agenda, opposition would be fierce.

  21. Scott says:

    @Hal_10000: Yeah, that is the upside. It is like when people complain: “Let’s give the President a chance”. I respond: A chance to do what? There is not much anymore that I agree with. So why should I?

  22. The problem is that the GOP is not a Conservatie Party, they are a White Party Identity party. Welfare and government spending is OK for them, if it’s welfare and government spending for White People.

  23. An Interested Party says:

    There are some GOPers who are serious about governing.

    Who? And what exactly do they want to do…

  24. al-Alameda says:

    As long as they have the numbers in the House and the Senate to get their agenda passed it does not matter how the style points look.

    Results? I think that Steve Bannon and a big part of the Trump base and many members of the House and Senate would like to do to the Federal Government what the Republican governor and legislators have done in Kansas with their “Back To Zero” movement. The goal is to bring the government down (Bannon is smart enough to use the term ‘deconstruct’ instead of ‘destroy’) and if there is chaos and discomfort along the way, that’s fine, it’s the price we pay to roll it back to 1928.

    Unfortunately, as I see it, the only thing that can stop them – short of the 2018 elections – is Putin and the murky as-yet uninvestigated Trump connections.

  25. S. Fields says:

    GOP rhetoric operates in a completely different universe than their policy preferences. The incongruity can be obfuscated when you’re sloganeering as the opposition party. Legislating strips away the veil.

    I think it’s less that the Republicans don’t take governance seriously than it is abject fear that their voters are just going to hate the outcome when it’s no longer just words, but law.

    The GOP donor class can throw up smokescreens for a time to keep their tax cuts coming, but after a time that’s got to stop working as the consequences of GOP policy hits the segments of the Republican coalition the moneyed interests need to win elections.

  26. David M says:

    Is the GOP Serious about Governing?

    Depends what you mean by “governing”. If you mean tax cuts for the 1% and fewer regulations, then yes, they will deliver. If you mean anything resembling a responsible, conservative, adult policy agenda, then no.

  27. Sleeping Dog says:

    Governing requires that despite your ideology, you recognize the possible and work to achieve it. Reagan, whether you agreed with him or not, successfully governed, because he didn’t allow his ideal to stand in the way of achieving the possible. Republicans, since Reagan, have become increasingly purists with there continual Stalin like purges of less than true believers.

  28. Jake says:
  29. Gustopher says:

    I live in hope that they are not serious about governing.

  30. gVOR08 says:


    So you’re saying if Clinton won in 2008 and enacted the exact same plan the GOP would think it was hunky dory?

    They were OK with it when Romney did it in Mass. In fact one of the biggest mysteries to me in politics is how Romney got thru the ’12 primaries without Rs making a big deal out of Romneycare. It’s like Rs just decided the easiest way to deal with the cognitive dissonance was to pretend it was maybe some other guy named Romney.

  31. Ratufa says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Actually yes, I think they would have accepted it.

    One possible source of evidence for your view is to look back and see how well Republicans accepted the health care proposals put forth by Bill (and Hillary) Clinton when he was President. The Kristol memo nicely sums up how accepting they actually were:

    To put it briefly, they weren’t at all accepting.

  32. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    …in a two-party system we need, well, two parties who offer up functional policy options for debate, passage, and deployment.

    When was the last time we had two functioning parties? Maybe during the Clinton Administration? At some times during Bush 43, but I’m not so sure about how many.
    @Hal_10000: YMMV, but I’m not convinced that either Cruz or Rubio was any more prepared to actually be President than Trump is. We’d have gotten the same crap we’re getting now from Cruz, and different crap, but still crap, from Rubio. (And the fact that those two are your counter examples may well be telling of some bias on your part, but I don’t care to try to figure out what.)

  33. gVOR08 says:

    @michael reynolds: I think you’re giving Republicans too much credit. Racism, while itself unreasonable, would be a real reason to oppose Obamacare. They really oppose Obamacare only because they oppose Obamacare. They originally opposed Obamacare for short term political reasons. But having demonized it, they have to keep opposing it, even if their stated reasons don’t make any sense, even to them.

  34. Jake says:

    You should watch this but you on’t

  35. Gustopher says:

    The Republican plan looks pretty good:
    – underfunded high risk pools
    – stingy subsidies
    – no defined minimum set of benefits
    – eliminate the Medicaid expansion over time

    Poor people will be priced out. Junk insurance will proliferate, with carefully crafted holes to try to send the unhealthy people to someone else’s plan.

    If I was somehow dependent on a steady stream of medical bankruptcies, I would be pleased as punch. Where do I invest?

  36. DrDaveT says:

    For some time I have been of the opinion that the Republican Party is not serious about governing, and all of this is just one huge confirmation of that fact.

    I think you are perhaps misunderstanding what is going on, Steven. It’s worse than you think.

    The Republican party is serious about ruling — about holding power. Trump would not be their first choice for how to accomplish that, but they’ll take it. While in power, their priorities will be (1) consolidate power, (2) consolidate power, and (3) line their pockets.

    How will they consolidate power? By giving their ignorant, racist, self-destructive base what it wants, while stacking the Court and doubling down on gerrymandering. And you’ve seen from Jake and his friends what it is that the base wants — they want libruls to “lose”. That’s it. They don’t care about consequences, they don’t care about policy, they don’t care about liberty or fraternity or equality. They want to feel like winners, and talk trash. If you can rub a Democrat’s nose in it, that makes it a good thing. Rush said so.

    Even if there are Republicans in Congress who really want to govern, you are not going to see any of them stand up and object to anything that looks like ‘winning’ to the base. Jake is perfectly representative in that regard.

  37. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    Millions are about to lose their insurance due to a combination of ideology and tax cuts for the rich.
    If that’s governing…then Republicans are doing a bang-up job!!!

  38. @DrDaveT:

    The Republican party is serious about ruling — about holding power.

    Even “ruling” suggests governing. I do agree about “holding power”–which is waht I was getting at in the next to last paragraph: it doesn’t matter if they govern or not, insofar as it is unlikely to affect their prospects on remaining in power.

  39. Kylopod says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker:

    YMMV, but I’m not convinced that either Cruz or Rubio was any more prepared to actually be President than Trump is.

    I really feel the need to push back against this, because (as I’ve expressed in other threads) I think one of the biggest challenges of the Trump era is the normalization of Trump. Most of the normalization comes from Republicans, and a lot of it comes from the media. The above statement is an excellent example of how liberals help normalize him.

    It’s a sentiment I’ve been hearing a lot on the left, the devil’s-advocate idea that other Republicans–Cruz, Rubio, Pence, or whomever–would be just as bad as Trump or worse. I frankly am not convinced people who say this truly believe it, I think it’s something they’re telling themselves, and it shows a failure to grasp just how profoundly abnormal Trump is. Trump didn’t make the party dysfunctional, he’s the ultimate end result of it. Rubio and Cruz are both, in their own contrasting ways, instruments of this dysfunction. But they both at least have some understanding of how government works. They wouldn’t have become Putin puppets. They wouldn’t be issuing midnight tweets accusing the previous president of conspiring against them. Potentially they’d have a higher success rate at passing destructive legislation. But I wouldn’t have to worry about waking up tomorrow to find Kim Jong Un had dropped the bomb on South Korea because Cruz or Rubio had insulted his, um, hand size.

    One does not need to view the pre-Trump GOP as some Golden Age of good governance to recognize the truly uncharted waters we are in now.

  40. @Kylopod: I think this is very important to stress. Trump represents a deviation from basic American norms. He does not understand, nor respect, the institutions of the US government. He is not just the manifestation of a bad political choice by voters. He is different.

    Cruz, who I think would have been a bad president (but “bad” within normal parameters) would at least understand the role of the State Department, to pick one example (see my post on that from Saturday at the linked Atlantic article).

  41. JohnMcC says:

    You people don’t follow conservative media. If you did you would know that all the problems with the Republican agenda in Congress and all the difficulties that the President has run into are because of all those liberals making them feel bad!

    Once Rep Steve King finishes purging all the leftists – it’ll be wonderful!

    (Facepalm, pour another drink)

  42. al-Alameda says:


    Once Rep Steve King finishes purging all the leftists – it’ll be wonderful!
    (Facepalm, pour another drink)

    The current Republican Party is even more appalling than even I imagined they could be.

    Unfortunately I’m now in the position of having to hope that Putin and/or his operatives leak a lot of damaging information about Trump’s financial interests, and concerning Trump’s knowledge that Russians were going to hack the DNC servers and leak information in an attempt to influence our election. All of that would bring the Republican administration and Congress to a halt, and buy time until Pence was installed as president (not a good outcome).

  43. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Even “ruling” suggests governing.

    No. No it does not. You are unconsciously normalizing what is going on to fit your personal notions of what government is for. The current administration literally does not care about ‘governing’ in the sense you mean. This is not a relationship; it’s a rape. The well-being of the victim, short-term or long-term, is not a consideration.

  44. DrDaveT says:


    You people don’t follow conservative media. If you did you would know that all the problems with the Republican agenda in Congress and all the difficulties that the President has run into are because of all those liberals making them feel bad!

    I worry that we are already past the point of no return — the Big Lie strategy has worked, and enough of America has been bamboozled that there’s no place left for the Truth to stand and get a hearing. The Republicans are currently not a political party; they’re a cult.

  45. Moosebreath says:

    As an example of how unserious Republicans are about governing, it looks like Ryancare is in serious trouble in its first 24 hours after the wrapping paper coming off:

    “An array of conservative lawmakers, organizations and activists are demanding a swifter and more aggressive remake of the Affordable Care Act than many Republicans are comfortable with, raising questions about whether President Trump and the GOP are headed toward gridlock as they try to fulfill their promise to repeal the health-care law.

    Three conservative senators known for bucking GOP leadership during Barack Obama’s presidency — Ted Cruz (Tex.), Rand Paul (Ky.) and Mike Lee (Utah) — are raising the possibility of doing the same under Trump.

    And outside Congress, three prominent groups — Freedom­Works, Americans for Prosperity and Heritage Action for America — plan to increase pressure on lawmakers to repeal the law fully or risk retribution from the conservative grass roots.

    If they hold together in the Senate, where Republicans have just 52 seats, the three senators alone could sink a Republican bill.”

  46. nickthap says:

    I concur with most posters–the Republican party has become the party of white identity and that’s it. If anyone has been guilty of living in a bubble of late it’s the “principled conservatives,” who thought they were actually driving the bus. Paul Ryan ain’t no leader–the base doesn’t want Ayn Randism, they want Charles Lindberghism.

  47. JohnMcC says:

    @DrDaveT: You use the metaphor of flight with the phrase ‘point of no return’. I prefer a historic analogy. I think that the so-called ‘conservatives’ have crossed the Rubicon. They are seriously akin to Julius Caesar’s legion having arrived in Italy at a barrier which no Roman army had ever crossed, which only the enemies of Rome had marched past, and on they marched. At that moment Caesar became the enemy of the Roman Republic.

    We are discovering the meaning of the famous remark of by Ben Franklin at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention that we have a Republic “if you can keep it.”

    Like you, I am afraid we aren’t going to keep it.

  48. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Jake: What’s your point–Tucker Carlson’s a RINO?