In another time, say a John McCain presidency, Republicans might have been enthused about a drive to ensure corporations and the wealthy paid their fair share of taxes, and future voters would be around to care because America had finally started dealing with the climate crisis. The GOP might have wondered why the government-run Medicare program didn’t negotiate lower prescription prices to save money for itself and consumers – as many other countries and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs already do.
Instead, as Senate Democrats passed a historic budget package encompassing all of that and House Democrats prepared to do the same, Republicans were trashing the bill and dealing with a cascade of disturbing Donald Trump developments capped by federal agents raiding his home – apparently a first for a former president.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., complained about flight cancellations and the hassle of returning to Washington to vote on “a garbage bill.” Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, groused that he was missing a family reunion because “I’m in DC to fight Dems irresponsible tax&spend bill.” Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said the projected prescription drug savings were "a war on Medicare." Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, branded the bill "a bag of hammers."
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Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, was mystified: “For the life of me, I don’t know how our Democratic colleagues are going to explain this one in November."
Actually, compared with explaining why the home of your party's once and maybe future leader got raided, it’s easy. Take this headline on USA TODAY.com: "Senate OKs Inflation Reduction Act to cut drug prices, combat climate change." That almost fits on a bumper sticker.
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To be slightly more explanatory: Record U.S. investment in climate and clean energy, expected to reduce carbon emissions 31% and 44% from 2005 levels by 2030 and energy costs over the long run. Overdue authority for Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices. A 15% minimum tax for corporations with profits of at least $1 billion. A cash infusion for an IRS so depleted that rich tax evaders aren’t getting caught. And about $300 billion in deficit reduction, which economists say creates downward pressure on inflation and helps the Federal Reserve do its job.
As Democrats celebrate good news and a good few months, the Republican setbacks and miscalculations are piling up: bipartisan voter backlash against the end of a national right to legal abortion, thanks to Trump's "Republican Supreme Court," as former Republican John J. Pitney calls it; a parade of monumentally flawed candidates for state and federal office, some of them fixated on election lies, denial and manipulation; and an unpopular, unfit former president, legal clouds getting ever darker and closer, who plans to run again.
This is a problem GOP senators could have solved had 17 of them joined 50 Democrats in voting to convict Trump in one of his two impeachment trials. Only one Republican, Romney, voted yes on one article in the 2020 Senate trial, after the House impeached Trump for withholding military aid and pressing Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden. A year later, only seven voted to convict Trump in connection with the attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Trump is not just a danger; he's one that keeps growing. America should be on red alert just from three developments in the last few days – his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, a terrifying book excerpt published in The New Yorker and the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago.
The CPAC speech lasted nearly two hours and the transcript is roughly 15,000 words. Michael Hardy, a senior editor at Texas Monthly, called Trump's rhetoric "significantly more extreme" than a few years ago. "This might be most frightening speech I've ever heard. Full-on, unapologetic fascism," he wrote.
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If you're inclined to dismiss this as exaggeration, read about "the war between Trump and his generals," from a forthcoming book by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser. The pair report that Trump once complained to John Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general:
“You f---ing generals, why can’t you be like the German generals?”
“Which generals?” Kelly asked.
“The German generals in World War II,” Trump responded.
He wanted a "yes-man" as White House chief of staff and he wanted his military to attack Black Lives Matter protesters. “Can’t you just shoot them? Just shoot them in the legs or something?” he asked Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Milley later drafted a resignation letter, never sent, accusing Trump of "great and irreparable harm," including racial bias, ruining the international order and subscribing "to many of the principles that we fought against" in World War II.
'Sick, sinister and evil' Americans
At CPAC, Trump's world as usual was upside down and inside out. "Despite great outside dangers, our biggest threat remains the sick, sinister and evil people from within our own country. Never forget everything this corrupt establishment is doing to me is all about preserving their power and control over the American people," he said.
Maybe he forgot that he pardoned his friends and allies, sicced an armed mob on the Capitol, could face charges for trying to preserve his own power and control despite losing in 2020, and is promoting candidates this year who, if elected, could make sure he "wins" in 2024.
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Look, policymaking is boring and requires patience. The Democratic deal took months to work out. Its $2,000 Medicare prescription drug cap takes effect in 2025, its cheaper drug prices in 2026. And sometimes it's all about what doesn't happen – the health insurance premiums that don't skyrocket, the climate change that slows down short of calamity.
The unanimous Senate GOP vote against the climate, health care and tax deal, which Democrat Joe Manchin says would have been bipartisan in any other environment, is one more midterms hurdle for a party with little to offer beyond repetitive investigations, vows to fix global problems no nation can fix, and pyrotechnics: the excitement Trump and his fellow travelers bring to politics with inflammatory claims, projection, incitement and theater like praying in a fake cell for a Jan. 6 rioter. Now we can add rising legal suspense.
"This election needs to be a national referendum on the horrendous catastrophes the radical Democrats have inflicted on our country," Trump said at CPAC.
Lucky for them, he's making this a referendum on himself and the political party that followed him into the gutter in 2016 and still isn't even looking for the emergency exit.
More from Jill Lawrence:
Jill Lawrence is a columnist for USA TODAY and author of "The Art of the Political Deal: How Congress Beat the Odds and Broke Through Gridlock." Follow her on Twitter: @JillDLawrence
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump raid, Inflation Reduction Act, abortion: 2022 hurdles for GOP