The Republican presidential field can be divided into two groups: the politically sane (Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Jon Huntsman), and the politically insane (Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachmann, Ron Paul and Herman Cain).
The politically sane trio appear to recognize that America is not solely populated by Glenn Beck disciples, and occasionally make a comment that could have appeal to the broad middle. The politically insane only know how to wallow in their assigned bubbles of the right-wing ideological fever swamp.
A representative of either camp could potentially win the Republican nomination. In a fractured field without a clear frontrunner, it only takes about 35% of vote to win an early primary or caucus. John McCain broke out of the 2008 pack by winning the South Carolina primary with 33%, despite facing deep animosity from conservative movement leaders. George H.W. Bush beat back Bob Dole in 1988 by winning New Hampshire with 38%. In 1996, Bob Dole was nearly knocked out of the race when Pat Buchanan took New Hampshire with a mere 27%, but recovered once an ideologically and temperamentally similar candidate, Lamar Alexander, faded.
In other words, the candidate who can consolidate their faction, and can avoid having a rival candidate consolidate a bigger faction, will win the nomination.
That means there is no candidate whose views are not worth scrutiny. No candidate too crazy. No candidate too boring.
And the recent action comes from the boring, er, politically sane camp, with Pawlenty delivering the first major policy address of the campaign.
His speech is showing that even politically sane in the today’s Republican Party are policy insane.
Pawlenty’s obscenely named “Better Deal” package is more like “Bush On Four Loko.”
After 10 years of Bush tax cuts for the wealthy produced the “worst record on record” for job creation, according to the Wall Street Journal, Pawlenty proposes giving the wealthy even more handouts: eliminating any tax brackets with higher rates for the wealthy, effectively slashing taxes on the wealthiest Americans from the already low 35% to 25%.
And he goes even further on giveaways for corporations, shoving down their tax rate from 35% to 15%.
Pawlenty compounds that insanity by proposing a cap on overall spending of 18% of GDP, a harmless sounding number which would actually be devastating to the middle class.
The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities criticized proposals to cap spending at a higher of 21% of GDP, noting that:
…from 1970 through 2009 … expenditures averaged nearly 21 percent of GDP. Those averages reflected a federal government with far less responsibility than today, and a country with a much smaller percentage of elderly people and considerably lower health care costs …
…aiming to stabilize the budget at the recent historical spending average of 21 percent of GDP might be appropriate for the years ahead if the age distribution of the population remained the same as it was in recent decades; if health care costs grew no faster than the economy; if Medicare had no drug benefit; if we were willing to leave more than 30 million Americans without health coverage; if there were no terrorist threats and hence no need for homeland security spending; if no wounded veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan needed medical care and income support; and if decisions and events over the last decade had not nearly doubled the national debt as a share of GDP. But that’s not the world in which we live, and it’s not the target at which we should aim.
The New York Times notes that Pawlenty’s embrace of policy specifics is designed to distinguish himself from the nearest and most similar rival Mitt Romney.
Romney has yet to take the plunge into specifics, but he is pointing in the same direction as Pawlenty, and their forefather Bush, on his initial strategy for “Job Creation,” calling for “lower taxes on businesses to keep America competitive.” And he embraces a similar deceptively cruel spending cap of 20% of GDP.
Neither candidate, nor any other Republican of note, has bothered to come clean and explain why they believe the Bush tax cuts failed so completely to create jobs, let alone why we should deliver more of them to the wealthy while gutting services for everyone else in order to meet an arbitrary spending cap.
Instead of showing that they learned lessons from the failures of the past, they propose expanding on them.
It is often said that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” Sadly, two of the sanest candidates in the Republican race for president have yet to apply their sanity to their policies.