Running a modern state, let alone a global superpower, is a complicated business — and Republicans are absolutely horrible at it.
The Florida panhandle is recovering now from the devastation of Hurricane Michael — a bit over a year since Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed a Republican bill loosening its building codes. Meanwhile, half the Republicans running for re-election in the midterms are swearing up and down that they support ObamaCare regulations to protect people with pre-existing conditions — that is, telling a baldfaced lie about their multiple attempts last year to completely repeal ObamaCare and the ongoing efforts to repeal it through the courts.
How can Republicans get away with this kind of malignant incompetence? Because they're masters of distraction.
Let me start with the Florida story, which requires a bit of background. After Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which obliterated hundreds of thousands of Florida homes, the state adopted the strongest building codes in the country. It made new houses more expensive — but certainly cheaper than having to constantly rebuild. And studies after Hurricane Irma found that houses built under the new code fared much, much better than older ones.
But in 2017, pressed by the Florida Home Builders Association, the Republican-dominated legislature passed a bill easing the code requirements, and Rick Scott signed it into law. It's not clear yet that the less-strict code made the destruction from Hurricane Michael worse (which will take systematic studies). But we can say that loosening building codes at all in an age of clockwork severe weather disasters is extremely stupid. And certainly some new construction did not fare at all well in Hurricane Michael:
— Marc Weinberg (@MarcWeinbergWX) October 10, 2018
Basically, it was inconvenient to a wealthy interest group, and almost nobody (including most state Democrats, to be fair) pushed back. Hey presto, short-term profits at the possible cost of long-term disaster.
Then there is ObamaCare. Last year, congressional Republicans tried multiple times to repeal ObamaCare so they could cut taxes on the rich and came within one Senate vote of success (incidentally, that vote was John McCain's, who has since passed away). And as part of their traditional judicial activist agenda, 20 Republican state attorneys general, including those of Texas, Florida, and Missouri, are pursuing a lawsuit to repeal ObamaCare through the courts.
Yet across the country, Republican House and Senate candidates are lying straight through their teeth, swearing their allegiance to ObamaCare's regulations — even people like Missouri Republican Senate candidate Josh Hawley, who is literally one of the attorneys general involved. I think it's fair to conclude that should they win in November, efforts to take health insurance away from their own constituents will only accelerate.
Why is this happening? One underrated aspect behind why Republican politicians have gone increasingly all-in on culture war, bigotry, enraged nationalism, and bug-eyed conspiracy theories is that they have nothing concrete whatsoever to offer most of their voters. The donor class — generally the top 1 percent, but also any self-interested lobbying group — has an absolute hammerlock on the GOP policy agenda. With rare (and generally grossly incompetent) exceptions, the laws you get when you vote Republican are deregulation of industry (especially finance and bad polluters), and massive tax cuts for the rich paid for by gouging huge chunks out of social insurance. Then, to disguise this incredibly unpopular set of policy priorities, Republican politicians serve up heaping portions of culture war red meat.
Now, this tactic should not be underestimated. For instance, in terms of uniting the Republican base, the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has proved successful precisely because of his multiple sexual assault allegations and his snarling partisan testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Infuriating liberals by nominating a beer-swilling Republican hack operative and accused sexual predator allows conservatives to experience their very favorite thing: marinating in victimhood.
Nothing unites conservatives better like whipping themselves into a red froth of rage over perceived liberal persecution — and there's no better way to do it than standing proudly behind a genuinely horrible person. "I didn't like Nixon until Watergate," as conservative writer Stan Evans once said. Even Bret Stephens, the New York Times' hand-picked Never Trump conservative, went full MAGA over Kavanaugh.
The Republican strategy appears to be to press forward with policy by the top 1 percent, for the top 1 percent, and fire up their base with enraged — and increasingly extreme — culture war signaling. It's unclear whether that will work overall, but the fraction of the Republican base that hasn't drowned or died of a preventable diseases before then will probably lap it up.