Paul Krugman: The GOP plot to sabotage 2021

(Doug Mills | The New York Times) President Donald Trump arrives at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, en route to Nevada. "One thing that’s clear, however, is that Republicans — not just Donald Trump, but his whole party — are acting as if there’s no tomorrow. Or, more precisely, they’re acting as if there’s no next year," writes Paul Krugman.

Nobody knows for sure who will win in November. Joe Biden holds the advantage right now, but between the vagaries of the Electoral College and whatever October surprises the Trumpists cook up — you know they’re coming — who knows?

One thing that’s clear, however, is that Republicans — not just Donald Trump, but his whole party — are acting as if there’s no tomorrow. Or, more precisely, they’re acting as if there’s no next year.

And this means that if Biden does win, he will have to govern in the face of what amounts to nonstop policy sabotage from his political opponents.

To see what I mean about acting as if there’s no next year, consider the large (and illegal) indoor rally Trump held Sunday in Nevada.

Before the release of Bob Woodward’s new book, you might have argued that Trump doesn’t believe the science and didn’t realize that his event might well sicken and kill many people. But we now know that he’s well aware of the risks, and has been all along. He just doesn’t care.

Or consider Trump’s weeks of silence and inaction on the wildfires ravaging Western states. It’s true that he won’t win California, Oregon or Washington. But he’s supposed to be the president of America, not just red states.

Furthermore, those states account for almost 19% of the U.S. economy; you might think that he’d care about the damage they’re suffering, which will spill over to the rest of the country. But he clearly doesn’t.

For me, however, the most striking demonstration of Republican refusal to think ahead is the fact that nothing has been done to alleviate either the suffering of unemployed Americans — who lost much of the benefits that were sustaining them at the end of July — or the looming fiscal crisis of state and local governments.

I read a number of business newsletters that try to offer guidance on future economic and policy developments; early in the summer just about all of them predicted that the Democratic House and the Republican Senate would reach some kind of compromise on economic relief. The unemployed would keep getting enhanced benefits, although less than the $600-a-week supplement they’d been getting under the CARES Act; state and local governments would get significant help, although not as much as Democrats wanted.

But there was no deal, just Trump executive memorandums that authorized some extra payments and a gimmick that has already fizzled. What happened?

My interpretation is while Democrats passed a relief bill that was supposed to serve as a starting point for negotiations way back in May, Republicans dithered, held back both by hard-line right-wingers and by fantasies of a V-shaped economic recovery. And by the time they realized that their fantasies wouldn’t come true, it was too late to take action that would have much impact on the election. So why bother doing anything?

That is, it’s as if Republicans don’t expect to win, and they figure that if they do, they’ll deal with the mess somehow.

Now, a naïve observer might expect politicians to consider the national interest, not just the political fortunes of their own party. But not these politicians, and not this party.

All of this has ominous implications for the state of the nation in the months and perhaps years after the election.

Suppose that Biden wins (which isn’t a safe assumption) and that he does so without Trump and his supporters generating a hugely disruptive constitutional crisis (which is definitely not a safe assumption). Even so, there will still be two months during which Republicans hold both the White House and the Senate.

Traditionally, departing administrations try to smooth the path for their successors. If you think that’s going to happen this time, I have miles of new border wall, paid for by Mexico, that you might want to buy.

What’s actually going to happen, at best, is nothing: no actions to limit the spread of the coronavirus, no financial relief for families and local governments in crisis. And does anyone want to bet against the possibility of deliberate actions to make things worse?

So if Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20, he’ll be the second Democratic president in a row to inherit a nation in crisis, but this time one much worse than the one facing Barack Obama.

And the troubles won’t end on Inauguration Day. If Republicans still hold the Senate, they’ll do everything they can to sabotage the new Biden administration.

Remember, back in 2011 House Republicans held America hostage, threatening to force a default on the national debt unless Obama gave in to their demands. And that was the pre-Trump GOP — already an extremist party, but not to the degree it is now.

Things will be better if Democrats take the Senate as well as the White House. But Biden will still face constant obstruction. My guess is that whatever they say today, Democrats will eventually be forced to eliminate the filibuster, simply to make the nation governable.

The point is that while a Biden victory, if it happens, will save American democracy from immediate collapse, it won’t cure the sickness that afflicts our body politic.

Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman, winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science, is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times.