Paul Krugman is always worth reading, but this morning’s column is a masterpiece. The Nobel Laureate in economics is also pretty good at history.
The Road From Mitt Romney to MAGA
Krugman, unlike some commentators (whom he calls “hagiographers” — saint-makers), doesn’t give Romney a free pass for his current excoriation of his colleagues:
So Mitt Romney is retiring from the Senate. This is bad news. As excerpts from a forthcoming biography reveal, Romney is cleareyed about what has happened to his party and, if what he says is true, is a profile in courage compared with colleagues who share his horror but are unwilling to say anything.
Yet some of the commentary I’ve seen about Romney comes close to hagiography, which he doesn’t deserve. It’s good to see Romney speaking up now, but the party he’s criticizing is in large part a monster that people like him helped create.
But he goes well beyond Romney. The GOP, in Krugman’s telling, wasn’t so bad under, for example, Eisenhower, when the top tax bracket was 91%. But things changed in the 1970s, when big business began to plot a rollback of the New Deal and thought they could use the culture wars to get a majority (or a minority within the Rove margin — a number close enough to 50%+1 that it becomes feasible to steal the rest):
Why didn’t Republicans pay a big political price for their hard right turn? Largely because they were able to offset the unpopularity of their economic policies by harnessing the forces of religious conservatism and social illiberalism — hostility toward nonwhites, L.G.B.T.Q. Americans, immigrants and more. In 2004, for example, Bush made opposition to gay marriage a central theme of his campaign, only to declare after the election that he had a mandate for the aforementioned attempt to privatize Social Security.
The pattern of using social issues (like gay marriage and abortion) to achieve economic and political control continues today. When our would-be (and sometimes actual) overlords thought Trump might be carrying too much baggage to still be useful, they sought out DeSantis:
Big-money donors attempted a similar play when they poured cash into the DeSantis campaign early this year. It’s doubtful that they shared Ron DeSantis’s obsession with being anti-woke, but they thought (wrongly, it seems) that he could win on social issues and then deliver tax and spending cuts.
Though Krugman doesn’t cite the analogy to Hitler’s big business backers, it’s there. German industrialists thought they could control Hitler (who, not unlike Trump, never did get a popular vote majority), but of course he ended up controlling them (by force, mostly). Even so, he makes the same point this way:
But eventually the forces that economic conservatives were trying to use ended up using them. This wasn’t something that suddenly happened with the Trump nomination; people who think that the G.O.P. suddenly changed forget how prevalent crazy conspiracy theories and refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of Democratic electoral victories already were in the 1990s. The current dominance of MAGA represents a culmination of a process that has been going on for decades.
So, half a cheer for Romney (whose common nickname around here, RMoney, is even more appropriate than usual), but only a half cheer:
It’s to Romney’s credit that he finally reached his limit. But he did so very late in the game — a game that people like him basically started.
Final thought: The Bible, for all its flaws, does contain a lot of human wisdom. Example: “For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7).