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Are Republicans Becoming Progressives?

Image via Boston Globe

If Republicans don’t start to stand up for conservative principles, the United States is going to have two major political parties, and both will be progressive.

Marco Rubio was once regarded as the future leader of the conservative movement.  However, things seemed to take a turn a few weeks ago when he came out in support of Ivanka Trump’s paid maternity leave program.  Rubio tweeted: “In America, no family should be forced to put off having children due to economic insecurity. @IvankaTrump is doing important work.”  As it turns out, Rubio’s plan likely involves a targeted tax incentive for businesses offering leave, rather than a more progressive mandated version.  This is a relief for conservatives, but it is also a reminder that few members of the Senate are truly conservative.

When Ronald Reagan described the Republican Party as an “umbrella,” this meant that people from all values could vote for the party of conservatism.  Unfortunately, Reagan’s words have become prophecy in a way he didn’t necessarily intend.  Modern Republican senators have a wide spectrum of ideologies.  They range from entirely conservative, like Mike Lee (R-UT), to mostly progressive, like Susan Collins (R-ME).  On the other hand, Democrats have embraced their progressivism universally.  Even a mostly progressive Democratic senator such as Joe Manchin (D-WV) seems like an extreme outlier.  

Ben Sasse (R-NE), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Mike Lee are the most conservative members of the Senate.  Each has a 100.00% lifetime rating from The American Conservative Union, which determines score by looking at the office holder’s voting record on key conservative issues.

Aside from the Sasse-Cruz-Lee trio, only five Senators have a lifetime score higher than 95.00 – Rubio (R-FL), Inhoffe (R-OK), Scott (R-SC) and Paul (R-KY).  A multitude of once ultra-conservative senators have seen their scores drop dramatically in the past few years.  Jeff Flake (R-AZ) scored a 79.00 in both 2015 and 2016, despite previously receiving scores well into the 90s – and he’s not the only one.  John Cornyn fared even worse in the last two years.  The list goes on and on, from Lindsay Graham to Thad Cochran to Lamar Alexander.  But you see the point: Republicans are no longer conservatives.  

Modern Republicans have almost collectively given up on many traditionally critical issues, and one example of this is healthcare.  

Senate Republicans just released a draft of the American Health Care Act.  Repealing Obamacare was perhaps the most omnipresent campaign promise for Republicans, and it was a winning promise.  But unfortunately, Republican leadership has caved to the demands of the left and come up with a plan that is hardly any more conservative than Obamacare.  

Heritage Action, a staunchly conservative organization, came out strongly against the bill.  “That is bad politics and, more importantly, bad policy. Rather than accept the flawed premises of Obamacare, congressional Republicans should fully repeal the failed law and begin a genuine effort to deliver on longstanding campaign promises that create a free market health-care system that empowers patients and doctors,” the group’s president said in a statement.  He also said Americans would “notice no significant difference[s] between the Affordable Care Act and the American Health Care Act.”

Only five Republicans have come out against the bill despite its shortcomings.  Cruz, Lee, Paul, Dean Heller (R-NV), and Ron Johnson (R-WI) have stated their current opposition to the bill, citing a number of concerns.  A number of Republicans are still looking over it but are widely expected to be in favor of the AHCA.  

“Currently, for a variety of reasons, we are not ready to vote for this bill, but we are open to negotiation and obtaining more information before it is brought to the floor. There are provisions in this draft that represent an improvement to our current healthcare system but it does not appear this draft as written will accomplish the most important promise that we made to Americans: to repeal Obamacare and lower their health care costs,” Senator Paul said.  He went on to call the bill “Obamacare-Lite.”

While five conservatives in the Senate might save the GOP from this healthcare bill, the fact that it’s going to be close is troubling.  Republicans are becoming less principled.  Part of this might be because President Trump said he wants a healthcare bill “that has heart.”  Part of it could be that, despite all their recent losing, Democrats have a working plan to further their agenda.  Or it could simply be that Republican Senators feel it is advantageous to their electability if they are more progressive.  But the truth is this: if Republicans don’t start to stand up for conservative principles, the United States is going to have two major political parties, and both will be progressive.

Alex Baltzegar is a contributor at Merion West, where he writes about American politics. His columns generally address issues of particular interest to Merion West’s more conservative readers. Originally from California, Alex now lives in North Carolina.

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