July 18, 2017
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For the last several months, I have tried to understand what is not working with the new Republican team.
The GOP-led White House, House, and Senate have not been getting key legislative results at the level that people reasonably expect.
One national Republican leader said to me this week: “When you travel around the country, you discover the base is very unhappy because they do not see any of the major projects being completed. They elected a Republican House in 2010. They elected a Republican Senate in 2014. They elected a Republican President in 2016. Now, they are getting frustrated. They want results – big results.”
The unhappiness is growing so strong that it is conceivable the Democrats could take the House in 2018. That would be a disaster.
The core problem is not that Republicans are not trying hard enough. The problem is that Republicans have set unattainable goals and have publicly crashed on the rocks of the impossible for six solid months.
Former Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck warned that “politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best.”
The job of leadership is to define what is possible and then achieve it.
Sometimes, trying to do something you can’t do is a formula for frustration and defeat.
Republicans keep telling me what they have to do, but they don’t have the votes to do what they have to do. Instead, they must learn to identify what they can do.
When I worked with President Reagan, he had a constant desire to force a successful negotiation, get as much as he could, and then come back another day for another step forward.
Reagan understood that dismantling the big government system was like eating an elephant – you must take one bite at a time to succeed.
Republicans are about to face a serious challenge trying to cut taxes. If they persist in pushing a large, complex tax reform plan, they will almost certainly fail.
So, it is imperative that they keep it simple.
Americans love tax cuts. Well-designed tax cuts can attract a wide range of support from people who will get to keep more money and create more jobs. Well-designed – and popular – tax cuts can attract a big enough coalition that Democrats who are up for re-election in 2018 may decide that survival requires voting yes. Look at the 1981 Reagan tax cuts and the 1996 welfare reform bills to see how it works when a large number of Democrats have to vote with Republicans to survive.
On the other hand, aside from the government elites, most Americans don’t care about tax reform. Tax reform invariably creates winners and losers – and the losers invariably fight harder than the winners.
Republicans spent a long time talking about repealing and replacing Obamacare. They thought they could get it done in the first quarter, with one bill. We saw the result.
Republicans have been talking about a large, complex tax reform bill, which some thought they could have marked up back in February. We know how unlikely it is that such a bill can pass soon enough to boost the economy for 2018.
Before following the same road on taxes that they have followed on health care, Republicans might remember Albert Einstein’s warning that insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Let’s get what we can done, as fast as we can, and then use the momentum of winning to come back and get more. Ten steps can cover more ground than one giant leap – and steps are more doable.
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