Third And Long For GOP

[ Posted Tuesday, September 26th, 2017 – 16:51 UTC ]

Since football and politics collided on the gridiron last weekend, it now must officially be considered "football metaphor season." So, to get in the spirit: Republicans in Congress are facing third down with a long way to go, right before the end of the first half.

The game so far, for those who may have missed it: Republicans won the coin toss (by putting their own referee on the Supreme Court), but since then have put zero points on the board, failing spectacularly in multiple drives (using their healthcare reform playbook). The Democrats have put the only points on the board, scoring twice (since the only two big pieces of legislation that Trump has signed have been largely written by Democrats). Their last touchdown was a spectacular interception (by "Chuck and Nancy") which was run in for a touchdown (hurricane relief) with a two-point conversion (the budget and debt ceiling extensions).

We're almost halfway between congressional elections, meaning we're fast approaching the first two-minute warning. And while Republicans are still deep in their own territory and face third and long, they're feeling a bit optimistic, because the next play they're going to run (tax cuts) is their favorite play of all time. It's worked well for them repeatedly in the past and they usually function smoothly as a team on this particular play, so it could do wonders for them right now (they hope).

Too much footballery? Perhaps. But no matter what metaphor you choose, the Republicans in Congress are having a terrible time trying to actually govern. They've wasted almost the entire year on a push that officially failed (again) yesterday, when Senator Susan Collins became the third unequivocal "No" vote on the Graham-Cassidy healthcare bill. Tomorrow, Trump and the Republican leadership are slated to unveil more details on their plan to cut taxes. If Republicans can't get this done, they should really consider just packing it in and going home, because they will have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are incapable of being a governing political party.

Cutting taxes is the core issue which really binds Republicans together, after all. Their basic plan is: "Tax cuts are good. Those who pay more taxes should have their taxes cut the most. These 'job-creators' will then pass along all these savings to their employees, and as the money trickles down, everyone will happily live in the Land Of Unicorns And Rainbows." This has been their basic strategy ever since Ronald Reagan [pause, for Republicans to finish genuflecting] sold the idea back in the 1980s. It has never, ever worked out the way Republicans believe, but that doesn't stop them from continuing to utter the "tax cuts pay for themselves/trickle-down" mantra.

The current effort was sold, at the beginning, as "once-in-a-generation tax reform," which would both cut everyone's taxes and simplify the tax system. Loopholes would be closed, but any money raised by doing so would be returned as lower tax rates for all. They have already completely punted on this idea (whoops, sorry, those football metaphors just sneak in there at times). Now, they're back to "deficits don't matter" mode, and are focusing solely on just cutting the heck out of taxes, especially for rich folks. Again, this is what they're good at doing, so it's not too surprising they've reached this fallback position.

However, it remains to be seen whether Republicans can keep together even on this basic idea. There's a reason no tax reform bill has appeared yet, and the reason is that it's incredibly hard to get the Republican caucus to agree on much of anything these days. With the Tea Party giving Paul Ryan fits in the House and with the margin in the Senate being only three (the number of Republicans that Democrats have to convince to vote "No"), little has been achieved so far this year. So when an actual tax cut bill appears, it's still a very open question whether it'll get enough Republican support to pass both houses.

Then there's another problem. In an excellent rundown of the "10 lessons from the GOP's failed effort to kill Obamacare" in today's Washington Post, the eighth bullet point in the list really stood out (emphasis in original):

8. Trump will, through his ignorance and impulsiveness, undermine any attempt by Republicans to pass complex legislation. Every time the president injected himself into negotiations or public debate on health care, he made things harder for Republicans in Congress, often by promising things they had no intention of delivering. He never bothered to learn anything about the subject or about the bills he was promoting, and that made everything harder for them. Just watch: The same thing is going to happen on tax reform, and on any other ambitious legislation Republicans attempt.

Trump has already shown a propensity to interject such promises into the tax cut debate, especially on the subject of tax cuts for the wealthy. It remains to be seen whether Chief of Staff John Kelly's changes to the White House process will succeed in altering this behavior. President Trump, so far, has been a lot more invested in the tax cut debate than he ever was on healthcare. Unlike healthcare, Trump actually knows a few things about taxes (everyone who pays taxes could say the same thing, really). Also unlike the healthcare fight, Trump is already holding rallies specifically on the subject of tax cuts, in an effort to build popular support for the idea. He's never done that for any other issue, so again it remains to be seen how this will impact the debate.

Nobody really knows how this is all going to play out. After the big announcement tomorrow, Trump will hold more rallies, but will he stick to the script? If the GOP tax plan starts getting a lot of criticism, Trump may decide he doesn't like certain parts of it (he's already reportedly wavering on the whole "giant tax cuts for the wealthy" idea). What will happen if the GOP effort stalls within their own caucus? If the House or the Senate can't pass whatever bill gets written, then what will happen next? Is there a possibility "Chuck and Nancy" could convince Trump to pass a Democratic tax reform package instead, with the help of Republican moderates?

Democrats are already organized against the GOP tax cutting plans. Their organization is called "Not One Penny," which is taken from the pledge they want all Democrats to take: "I pledge to oppose any effort to cut taxes for the wealthy and well-connected. Not one penny in tax cuts for millionaires, billionaires, and wealthy corporations." This means Democrats are staking out a clear position with a catchy and memorable motto, in sharp contrast to whatever Trump and the Republicans announce tomorrow. I've already heard Nancy Pelosi use this refrain in an interview, and it's likely it'll soon become the default Democratic position in the upcoming fight.

Focusing so clearly on the issue of tax cuts for the wealthy is a winning issue for Democrats. Polls show an overwhelming majority of Americans think rich people actually pay too little in taxes, so shining the spotlight on this aspect of the GOP plan draws clear ideological lines. Republicans have usually been able to defend their core idea of "tax cuts for your boss, which someday may trickle down to you" to their base multiple times in the past, but this time around things may be different. Trump never campaigned on tax cuts for rich folks -- he instead campaigned on tax cuts for the middle class and working class. If the Republican plan does the opposite of his campaign promises, it's going to be pretty obvious to everyone.

To end on the same football metaphor I began with, the Republicans are now in the huddle in a third-and-long situation. They're ready to line up for their favorite "cut taxes on the wealthy" play, which has worked so spectacularly for them in the past. There are really only three possible outcomes.

They could successfully complete the play and get the first down (or even score a touchdown). This would mean they'd be in a stronger field position overall, and hand their quarterback a solid gain. Successfully passing tax cuts would mean they might be able to pass some sort of infrastructure bill, or perhaps get their act together on the budget. Further gains would be easier, though, no matter what they moved on to next.

Or the play could fail. A few of their own players might just tank the play, or perhaps a strong Democratic defense will shut them down. Either way, they'll have to punt the ball away once again, as they had to do repeatedly on healthcare reform. This will leave them incredibly weak heading into the second half, as the midterm election clock ticks down. If they fail to put any points on the board at all until the final whistle blows, their fans may just not buy tickets for the next game -- which could hand control of Congress either partially or totally to the Democrats. After all, what would the Republicans have to campaign on? We tried a bunch of stuff but failed to complete any of it? That's supposed to get their base excited?

The third option is not probable, but stranger things have happened. The Republicans could throw the ball right into Democratic hands, and Trump could join with Chuck and Nancy for a dance in the endzone after the Democrats score another touchdown. That sounds pretty farfetched, but in the craziness of this particular game anything could really happen, so it has to at least be mentioned as a possibility. To show precisely how crazy this game has been, here's another Hail-Mary idea: The quarterback switches sides! Trump could, out of sheer frustration, work with the Democrats to pass the DREAM Act before the end of the year, after which he could plausibly claim to be a better Democratic quarterback than even Barack Obama. Democrats in the stands might even cheer if Trump pulled off his red jersey and put on a blue one, who knows?

To end the metaphor properly: If Trump and Team Republican can't pull off the play that's been most successful for them for the past 30 years, then even their own fans are going to consider leaving the game early to beat the traffic. Failure to pass tax cuts would mean nobody should expect much of anything from the GOP for the next solid year -- even though they control both houses of Congress and the White House. This is the team's signature play, so if it fails (like all the healthcare drives failed), then it will prove that Republicans just don't know how to play this game at all. Maybe they should just take up golf, or something.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


21 Comments on “Third And Long For GOP”

  1. [1] 
    neilm wrote:


    If we ever get a chance to meet up over a beer I'll tell you of my disastrous and HR-escalated time I once tried to use an American sports analogy in a presentation in NY to our sales department and then went on to expound on my other challenges with American sports analogies.

  2. [2] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    They've got bigger problems than looking like losers. That radio-active orange "person of interest" is actually a Super Massive Black Hole. The orange is just make up. Chuck and Nancy really should steer clear.

  3. [3] 
    dsws wrote:

    [pause, for Republicans to finish genuflecting]

    No! No no no no no! Genuflecting is GOP-bad now. Bad bad bad bad bad bad. Only GOP-bad people genuflect now. GOP-good people don't even know the meaning of the word.

  4. [4] 
    Kick wrote:


    To repeat a previous comment that is football related, why could Jason Pierre Paul count the number of times you have mentioned One Demand using just the index finger on his right hand?

    Unnecessary Roughness!

    Being that it's CW's stadium, he undeniably and without question should be the one to decide what plays are going to be called. Since he's already given a hint in the title -- and I will add that it doesn't matter whether the hand he chooses is right or left -- anyone here have a guess which finger CW is likely to use to count the number of times he's mentioned One Demand on his own turf?

  5. [5] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    Forgive me CW, but if Football is our analogy, then we should be approaching the end of the first quarter, not first half. At the end of the 1st quarter, the teams switch sides of the field (i.e., the GOP starts playing mostly defense), the 2018 midterms is, then, the two-minute warning, and the lame duck congress is the halftime show. The second half begins Jan. 2019, and the teams will 'switch sides' of the field again in Jan. 2020, leading to the general election and end of the game.

    The analogy requires one fizzbin-ish tweak however, and that is, if Trump wins in 2020, the clock is then reset back to the end of the half, and a new 'second half' would then be played with two two-year quarters.

  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Persistency and resilience will be rewarded here, I am sure of that.

  7. [7] 
    TheStig wrote:

    As in professional football, an alarming number of veteran politico players are having obvious cognitive issues....memory lapses, inability to do simple math, angry outbursts.
    You can only bash your head into heathcare, taxes and other weighty issues so many times before your neurons head to the exits.

  8. [8] 
    altohone wrote:

    Hey CW

    Trump asked for an extra $46 billion for the military budget, and Senate Dems joined with Repubs to give him an extra $80 billion per year.

    I don't understand how you can pretend like that didn't just happen.

    Dems helped Trump fulfill a major campaign promise which will be nothing short of a massive legislative victory. It's a done deal.

    And, for the record, for the last 30 years Dems have been supporting tax cuts for the rich... even Obama made the Bush tax cuts permanent... so the whole premise that Dems are good on this issue and the GOP bad is fantasy football.

    We seem to be watching different games.

    Also for the record, "unicorns and rainbows" is the exact same language the Hillary campaign used to describe Bernie's plan for free public college... which was an unattainable, unaffordable promise he couldn't possibly deliver on... and would only have cost about half as much as the new annual increase in the military budget... which Dems helped pass without any questions about how we could afford it.

    Go team!


  9. [9] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    The football analogy works well; especially since President Trump acts as if he suffers from serious CTE damage! The quarterback who only calls plays where he runs with the ball and won't pass to anyone else.

    It doesn't help that the Republicans have no idea how to work as a team to get anything accomplished -- most of them having spent the entirety of their careers focused on preventing their own quarterback from running a single play successfully! The Freedom Cock-us refuses to do anything unless they get the ball every 1, 2, 3, and 4 downs.

    Everyone wants to be a running back; no one wants to work together and block to protect the QB.

  10. [10] 
    Paula wrote:

    [13] Don: I have been angry occasionally at CW columns over his treatment of HRC and have expressed my feelings. But it never occurred to me to attempt to dictate to him what HE MUST WRITE ABOUT or from what pov.

    If there are topics you or Altohone want to see addressed, address them. Get your own blogs if you feel so srongly and do the slogging it takes to attract readers. CW puts out 5 columns a week -- hard work, unpaid. When you do that you write about what you want to write about, you don't take orders from readers.

  11. [11] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    Al [10]: We seem to be watching different games.

    Or seeing the same games with different 'color' commentary. Just last week, the local football team lost, but the local sports press played it as a 'near win' and 'team improvement'. If I'm rooting for the other team, it's either a 'solid win' or a near loss.

    Depends on perspective. You've been reading about some horsetrading on the budget, and say, "Look, they're giving something away". But someone else could look at that same deal and say, "Pelosi and Schumer are obviously cleverly trading something the GOP plans to pass anyway for something else that they want."

    You don't really think the Democrats are going to fatten up the Pentagon without getting something in return, do you? Don't you know these people?

  12. [12] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Make mine a double!

  13. [13] 
    altohone wrote:


    Republicans scored with the massive new military spending.
    I say they did.
    You say they did, but may have lost some unnamed player in a yet to be announced trade.
    CW says they didn't.

    My perspective is factual.

    I'll give your perspective the same credit if you can substantiate your claim that Dems got something in return.
    But until then, it sounds like wishful thinking, making excuses or just denial.
    Horse trading usually occurs BEFORE the vote.

    CW's perspective is just wrong.

    A 13% increase in military spending is huge, it's all going to add to the deficit since no new revenue was included, it's contrary to the wishes and interests of the majority and Democratic voters particularly, and with most Dems supporting it they can't gain any political advantage from it, and the Dem supporting punditocracy seem to have all been off getting nachos or something.

    The bipartisan support for militarism which exposes the lie behind the Dems supposed resistance to Trump is a sacred cow for the establishment.
    Pundits ignoring that ugly reality are indeed doing the bidding of the establishment.

    And it certainly doesn't help that the historical role the corporatist Dems played in cutting taxes on the rich is being swept under the rug as well.
    Despite their new gimmicky motto, not only do their prior actions not match the current rhetoric, they also just gave away an extra $80 billion dollars worth of pennies per year too.

    At some point, acknowledgement and criticism are necessary.

    Do you personally support the massive increase in military spending?

    Do you think it has been and will be spent wisely?

    Are you happy that Dems helped Trump fulfill his campaign pledge?


  14. [14] 
    altohone wrote:


    Despite the criticism, another ugly reality should be kept in mind.

    Those who cross the establishment by goring their sacred cows face consequences.


  15. [15] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    neilm [1] -

    Gimme a hint, at least. What sport was it?


    dsws [4] -

    OK, touché! Good point!

    Heh. I actually heard a newscaster use the word "genuflect" about the football players today, too.

    How about "pause for Republicans to fully prostrate themselves in front of their personal Reagan altar"? Better?


    Balthasar [6] -

    OK, nice Fizzbin cite, there. Just had to say that.

    But to me, the "game" is the current Congress. Halftime would either be November (election time, when it'll be halfway between House elections), or the end of this calendar year (since they don't get sworn in until Jan.).

    But hey, it's all metaphorical, so you can move the goalpoasts (so to speak) at will!


    altohone [10] -

    Valid points, all, except that Obama kept all the Bush tax cuts except the ones at the very tippy-top. Even that was hard to get through Congress, as I recall. You're right about Dems being almost as bad, though, that's for sure...

    ListenWhenYouHear [11] -

    I thought about the scene from M*A*S*H (the movie, I believe, not the TV show) where they injected a guy on the other team with happy juice and he ran a touchdown in the wrong direction. Seemed to fit, with the way the GOP in Congress is behaving these days...

    It's hard to count how many "own goals" (to borrow a soccer term) the Tea Party is now responsible for, in fact...


  16. [16] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Balthasar [15] -

    Lemme take a wild guess... the 49ers?

    Sigh... as a die-hard fan keeps telling me, "it's a rebuilding year..."

    Go Ravens!


    Don Harris [16] -

    Hold the mayo? Inquiring minds want to know...


  17. [17] 
    Kick wrote:

    Since he's already given a hint in the title -- and I will add that it doesn't matter whether the hand he chooses is right or left -- anyone here have a guess which finger CW is likely to use to count the number of times he's mentioned One Demand on his own turf?

    Answer: "Third and Long" finger!

    And just to clarify, I totally forgot to put my ;) or *wink*. That was meant to be a joke... and, yes, I already know I suck at jokes. :)

  18. [18] 
    Kick wrote:


    Kick, LIz-
    Neverless, I persist.

    *LOL* Great answer.

    Okay, Don... I totally forgot to place my ;) *wink* at the end of my lame attempt at teasing you for giving CW so much attitude about your "One Demand." In my defense, I am back on pain meds, but thanks for being a good sport about it.

    I will try to cease trying to be funny, but I can't make any promises because... full disclosure/disclaimer... *meds* ! :)

  19. [19] 
    Kick wrote:


    The Freedom Cock-us refuses to do anything unless they get the ball every 1, 2, 3, and 4 downs.

    Now that's funny... Free-dumb Cock-us. *LOL* :)

  20. [20] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    CW [21]: For the record, it was the Bengals.

  21. [21] 
    MHorton wrote:

    I'm back, post Harvey~

    Sucker got me square in the face!

    Jumping in here; I have to say that I don't think an increase in military spending is a partisan victory; there are plenty of hawkish Dems who support increased military buildup; HRC among the most prominent.

    Odds are, either way the election went, the DoD was going to get a funding increase.

    This is an issue where the Dems NEED to make a stand; we could afford Medicare for all or free college with a 10% cut to the DoD, afterall.

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