In the age of Trump, the Republican party and those associated with it are completely unrecognizable. John McCain has become a liberal hero, the bumbling George W. Bush is being presented as a source of sage wisdom and, most significantly, the objectivist Paul Ryan is pushing bills that will end up drastically increasing the size of the national debt.
No one prior to the inauguration of Trump would have predicted any of this. It’s as if the party has completely redefined itself around Donald Trump, jettisoning once-sacred principles such as limited government and fiscal austerity. These changes in the party’s philosophy reveal a deep-seated hypocrisy that lies at the heart of American politics, where supposed principles are second to partisan politics and political power. Rand Paul’s brief overnight government shutdown early Friday morning does more than enough to expose the enormous rift between the GOP and their previous principles.
Whereas Paul would have been lauded as a hero by the Obama-era Republicans, from Thursday night into Friday morning he was nothing more than a nuisance. His speech, railing against runaway government spending and ballooning national debts, was familiar fare. Rand Paul ranting about government spending is not exactly breaking news. The key difference this time is the target of his speech.
As Paul pointed out, the Republican party of the Obama era built its entire identity around opposing large increases in government spending. Under Trump, the GOP is passing bills that increase government sending to levels comparable to the amount spent by Obama during the depths of the Great Recession. This is a complete 180 on principle for the Republican party, which has become hardly recognizable over the past year. Gone is pseudo-libertarianism and deficit hawkishness, the elements that defined the GOP for some during the era of the Tea Party. The Republican party has revealed its true face as a party interested primarily in crude power.
The actions of the GOP in the era of Trump have shown us that it was not for principled reasons that the party went to such great lengths to oppose Obama’s increases in government spending. It seems that it is not government spending that enrages the GOP, but rather Democratic spending. This is just as true of the party’s base as it is of the leaders. As Obama has left office, the deficit has quickly faded in importance for Republican voters, according to polls.
This is the reality of politics, that what matters is not some abstract guiding principle, but rather the accruing of power. Most liberals are no better themselves, often turning a blind eye to horrendous actions that are carried out by leaders they like. Had the Trump administration instigated the Pakistan drone strike program or agreed to bankroll the Saudi war in Yemen, liberals would be frothing at the mouth, yet all too many were conspicuously silent when Obama was doing these things during his presidency.
The actual technical issue being addressed by Paul Thursday night is of little concern. There’s no reason to think that the proposed bill will destroy the economy or significantly affect the average American. His speech still deserves praise for revealing blatant Republican double standards. The so-called "Libertarian moment" of 2014, spearheaded by Paul, is dead.
For at least as long as Trump is president, the GOP will not hesitate to do the very things that they condemned Obama for doing. Unless a politician has proven otherwise, as Paul did Thursday, it is best to take any supposed “principles” or ideals with a grain of salt.