Bruce Bartlett Nails It

A number of my posts have emphasized the ways in which today’s GOP is dramatically different from the party I used to belong to. (To echo a number of other defectors, I didn’t leave the party, the party left me.)

Bruce Bartlett is one of the more prominent of those defectors. He was a domestic policy advisor to Ronald Reagan, and a Treasury official during the tenure of George H.W. Bush– in other words, a professional Republican. In recent years, he has consistently pointed to the radicalization of the party he served for so many years, and recently, he wrote a scathing article on that subject for Politico.

Bartlett began by admitting that–even though he’d chronicled the rightward lurch of the party–he was astounded and disheartened when Trump won, and even more appalled since.

Trump has turned out to be far, far worse than I imagined. He has instituted policies so right wing they make Ronald Reagan, for whom I worked, look like a liberal Democrat. He has appointed staff people far to the right of the Republican mainstream in many positions, and they are instituting policies that are frighteningly extreme. Environmental Protection Administration Administrator Scott Pruitt proudly denies the existence of climate change, and is doing his best to implement every item Big Oil has had on its wish list since the agency was established by Richard Nixon. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is actively hostile to the very concept of public education and is doing her best to abolish it. Every day, Attorney General Jeff Sessions institutes some new policy to take incarceration and law enforcement back to the Dark Ages. Trump’s proposed budget would eviscerate the social safety net for the sole purpose of giving huge tax cuts to the ultrawealthy.

Bartlett points to additional positions Trump has taken that should be anathema to genuine conservatives, and then underlines a point that so many ex-Republicans have made:

And yet as surprising as this all has been, it’s also the natural outgrowth of 30 years of Republican pandering to the lowest common denominator in American politics. Trump is what happens when a political party abandons ideas, demonizes intellectuals, degrades politics and simply pursues power for the sake of power.

Bartlett’s article–which I encourage you to read in its entirety–then goes on to catalogue the party history to which he alludes, from Goldwater through Reagan.

When I became active in the Republican Party in the mid-1970s, it was the party of thoughtful men and women who were transforming America’s domestic policies while strengthening its moral leadership on the global stage. As Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote in a July 1980 New York Times article, “the GOP has become a party of ideas.”

And then, everything began to change.

Republicans took control of Congress in 1994 after nationalizing the election into broad themes and catchphrases. Newt Gingrich, the marshal of these efforts, even released a list of words Republican candidates should use to glorify themselves (common sense, prosperity, empower) and hammer their opponents (liberal, pathetic, traitors); soon, every Republican in Congress spoke the same language, using words carefully run through focus groups by Republican pollster Frank Luntz. Budgets for House committees were cut, bleeding away policy experts, and GOP committee chairs were selected based on loyalty to the party and how much money they could raise. Gone were the days when members were incentivized to speak with nuance, or hone a policy expertise (especially as committee chairs could now serve for only six years). In power, Republicans decided they didn’t need any more research or analysis; they had their agenda, and just needed to get it enacted. ..

In the 14 years since then, I have watched from the sidelines as Republican policy analysis and research have virtually disappeared altogether, replaced with sound bites and talking points.

Bartlett concludes that America needs a responsible, adult GOP, and that won’t happen without what he calls a “crushing Republican defeat—Goldwater plus Watergate rolled into one. A defeat so massive there can be no doubt about the message it sends.”

What Bartlett and others have described is the devolution of a once-respectable political party into a cult built on seething anti-intellectualism and racial resentment. The loss of one of America’s two major political parties has had grave consequences for the nation–and those consequences go well beyond the election of a dangerous and totally unfit President.

These are perilous times.


  1. But…2008 and 2012 were resounding defeats, right? The problem with the GOP is that they have to get foreign assistance now to win. Isn’t anyone suspicious about their complete control of Congress and now the courts? It’s a coup! Every day I wake up and wonder, is this the day the country wakes up and ousts those in power? What is it going to take? The GOP has lost their way.

  2. To the previous comment; every day, we wake up and we continue to resist. We continue to work to regain our government and our country. So, yes, this is the day. Every day is the day.

  3. i also would add to today’s analysis and say that the role of money is key to the evolution—or devolution—of the Republican party. Ronald Reagan’s “trickle down” theory of economics not only was completely flawed and inaccurate as a policy. It also fed and increased the entanglement of the Republican party and big money, making the party ever-more beholden to big money and not to their constituents.

  4. Sorry, but I will not bow to Mr. Bartlett. It is not his johnny come lately assessment of his political party, but rather his journey to this point.

    You write that he became active in the Republican Party in the mid 70s. Really? The mid 70s? Right after Watergate was when this man decides to saddle up with the party of crime and corruption? And during the Republican lurch to the extreme right, the era of Rush and Sean, and the rise of FOX he did what? He chronicled? And now he is astounded at the election of Trump? He has even become disheartened and appalled?

    Some might say “better late than never.” I say “phony baloney”!

  5. AgingLGirl,

    2008 and 2012 were losses of the Presidency. In 2008 Dems already controlled both the House and Senate, but Republicans were in control in a majority of the states. When the Dems lost the House in 2010 and the GOP solidified their control in the states, it allowed the GOP to re-draw districts in most of the states, cementing their control of the House for at least a decade.

    One of the main problems Dems have had is that they don’t seem to understand that all politics are local. Start at the grass roots level and build strong local and state parties. Dems have to take back the states, as well as the House and Senate to provide the kind of crushing defeat Bartlett mentioned.

  6. In a report on the disastrous republican Herbert Hoover presidency, The Miller Center wrote that republican policies (even before Hoover’s election) of ethics-blind, near-religious faith in unfettered, un-directed laissez faire capitalism had led the country into a self-imploding trap in which “(by) 1929, five percent of the populace held nearly a third of the money and property; over 80 percent of Americans held no savings at all. In addition, the stagnation in wages, the collapse of agricultural markets, and rising unemployment (all of which led to the growing gap between rich and poor), meant that most Americans could not buy the products that made the economy hum. Wealthier Americans, moreover, failed to spend their money, choosing instead to invest it. In short, the American economy was a consumer economy in which few consumed.”

    In the 1880s and 1890s, William McKinley led Republican policies to push isolationism, high tariffs (The Dingley Tariff Act), encouragement of and protection for “good monopolies” and disfranchisement and exclusion of black Americans. As president, McKinley refused to condemn or to crack down on the alarming rise of lynchings of black men, and like Hoover later, he instituted a purging from government of intellectuals and Jews.

    Run that by me again how today’s Republican Party is different from the old Republican Party.

  7. Unlike Mr. Bartlett, I always heard Ronald Reagan’s “dog whistles” to the “common White man. In studying political shifts from the Progressive Era to current day, I’ve learned that you can usually predict how a party will decline by analyzing the components of its original coalition.

    The Democrats embrace of the “common, White man” allowed it to retain its majority status until it pivoted and embraced the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. Nixon saw an opportunity to establish GOP prominence by implementing the “southern strategy,”

    Thank God, so far, the Democratic Party (because they can read current demographic trends) have chosen not to go down that road. I choose to be optimistic and believe that the Party which plays that game will lose.

  8. Sheila; after reading all of the above, and the repeated references to decades long Republican far right and religious, money backed, leadership, I have a question for you?

    Was Mayor Bill Hudnut a closet Democrat? One of my first jobs with the City was in the Division of Community Services which was a Division of the Mayor’s Office. We monitored all federal funds going into multi-service, senior and health centers throughout Marion County. A highly qualified system due to dedicated employees who often donated their own time and money when needed to assist anyone in need. Politics was never an issue; the Administrator of DCS was and is a Democrat. Mayor Hudnut was very proud of this Division and what we accomplished here; there was a state-wide system of these services at that time. That virtually disappeared after the election of Reagan; the three-day Annual Social Services Convention began the day after the election and was thrown into a panic. I was one of the attendees and saw first hand the deep fear of losing all help for Indiana residents in need.

    These are indeed perilous times and the issues in peril of being destroyed are not political in nature; only a political stepping stone to aid the wealthy who fully own the Republican party at this time.

  9. ‘As Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote in a July 1980 New York Times article, “the GOP has become a party of ideas.” ‘

    Begging to note this point :: he doesn’t say what the ideas were. Now they have come to their logical conclusion he says he’s shocked?
    [Shocked? Yes, shocked to find there is right wing racism going on there?]

  10. Bruce Bartlett said in his article you linked to: His (Bush the Younger) worst transgression, for me, was the budget-busting Medicare Part D legislation, which massively expanded the welfare state and the national debt.
    Part D Medicare is the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan (Part D). Wow, allow me to retort, providing a Prescription Drug benefit under Medicare to keep people alive was budget busting. This sounds like a typical modern Republican to me. The real problem is Medicare Part D cannot negotiate the price of drugs, and the coverage must be purchased from an insurance company.

    This was the “worst” transgression for Bartlett. What about the invasion of Iraq??? A million or so Iraqi’s dead, wounded, missing or refugees that resulted from the invasion. Billions of dollars wasted on the Wall Street-Security-Military-Industrial Complex, and the fighting goes on.

    Bartlett is counted as a defector, but only because he is anti-Trump, even though he voted for Trump in the primary, and he voted for Hillary.

  11. My objection to Medicare Part D was solely based on its lack of financing. Every dollar of spending added to the national debt. Additionally, I objected to the prohibition on Medicare negotiating drug prices as every private insurance company does.

  12. I can’t remember who but someone once said. “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. ” I am an avid reader who deeply appreciates the legendarium of Tolkien. The Republican party it seems to me has fallen to the lust for power much like the unwary who become enamored of Sauron’s ring. I don’t believe in laissez-faire capitalism which I believe is what Ayn Rand promoted in her book ATLAS SHRUGGED. As a nurse who was licensed in 1972, I have watched our health care industry move toward Ayn Rand’s capitalism. As a result keeping people sick has become profitable, and prevention is neglected because it is not lucrative. I don’t believe anything will get better until we politicized gerrymandering becomes illegal and we change the way we use the votes in the electoral college in such a way that it truly reflects the voters’ wishes.

  13. Such BS. Bartlett helped create today’s Republican Party. How many times have we read from commenters on this very blog as to how bad economic policy favoring the wealthy started with Reagan? Yet,we’re supposed to accept his (an architect of Reagan’s policy) supposed regret as to what the party has become? I call BS.

    I believe his regret is probably motivated by Trump’s smashing of the Bush Legacy. This is Bartlett’s way of supporting the old guard,Bush Inc.

    Anyone canonizing Reagan and his administration has lost their mind. I would bet Salvadorans would disagree with Reagan’s actions. I guess Bartlett has forgotten Iran-Contra as well.

    The GOP has always been a pro-business,racist and class conscious organization. Outside of the uppermost 5%, Republicans have nothing to offer those outside of their bubble. Unfortunately,the Democrat Party is becoming very similar to the Republican party. It’s funny how Trump was friends with the Clintons and et al…..Until he won. I think his lack of humility is revealing….Too revealing. Because he truly represents the folks of the donor/investment-class. I’m convinced our wealthiest are anything but adult.

    Gingrich had “Liberalism is killing America”…….Today’s Democrat Party has “OH MY GOD,RUSSIA!”

    While we pine for the days of Ronald Reagan,Democrats having blocked single payer accuse their constituents of being gauche! People may lose their lives—-but can we please be pleasant about it? We are doomed.

  14. I despise the Republican agenda no less when it is clothed in its cleanest and most formal epithets as when it is brandished with its vilest and most vulgar intent fully exposed.

    In my opinion, many of those who cringe at the crudenesses and insults of the Trump administration would dance along with the Republican parade of poison policy…if only they could “act nice” while they destroy democracy.

  15. It’s worth noting and I believe revealing. Bartlett in a reply to Louie states he is opposed to Medicare Part D because of a lack of financing. But these folks always dance around the monies,cost and loss of lives in our quest for empire. They always ignore inconvenient truths–especially if those truths involve folks in other countries and with differing skin colors from the folks living within the confines of their gated enclaves.

    Hell,I’m convinced the professor is a neoliberalist (which current Repubs and Democrats share wrt MMT).

    She would probably still be a Republican if those white-trash hillbillies had not infiltrated the party and demanded to attend their cocktail parties!

  16. mmm,republican wordspeak, joseph goebels,to reagan. then trump,drain the swamp,ment get rid of the liberals, simple, catch phrase, obama care,to,,,,,dont care, hey,we can do that too!but its no joke here, its a serious problem,and its divided our country. seems social media has bloomed into a lack of social intercourse,and now we see where we may have a real problem. dont overlook the changes in just talking one on one,and the dealing face to face,we have become humans with intelligence,now we have lost a common need to connect as humans,and now were becoming a mere artificial intelligence. is the choice tomarrow to answer to a computer with answers,hey watson? or, do we intergrate into a new open society where we again get to compare the needs of this country over power and money. If we are to win tomarrow,we have to take those who need a study in why this mess is what it is,instead of just shoveling money into a big hole. mentorship,young,old,the ones who, work for a living,and want to see America again,be the kind of nation that walked with soft shoes and didnt need a stick. mentor,help,have a bbq,help some one get a i.d. so they can vote. fighting for rights is good,but not when we need action by 2018 and start a climb back up. im holding a bbq in my front yard on labor day,for the reason? labor day and why. free,out of my pocket,bring a chair,byob,and its for us.. happy forth,and remember why,its the forth of july!

  17. Well, of course, Bartlett is a political sinner, and he has plenty of company on both sides of the aisle (see Gingrich and Baucus in history). However, he seems to have reformed his views in the face of reality and I think his views as of date are spot on. The party of Lincoln and his Gettysburg observation of “that government of, by, and for the people” has been eclipsed by a government that is of, by and for the rich and corporate class and their moneychanger minions on Wall Street dedicated to turning America into some sort of authoritarian ATM machine. Things change, and necessarily, so do evaluations of change. I will give Bartlett the benefit of the doubt as the (chastened by events) son comes home from the political wars. Despite his murky political past, I think he speaks truth for today.

  18. They said before republicans were mean. Now they have morphed into the least understanding bloated infantile bullies who are exemplified by Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and then they all fall over themselves trying to the the meanest things. They lack good ideas and represent only the wealthy donors and trump rewarded the cronies who paid for the transformation of the party into representatives of corporate interests over climate and environment while they can only win by voter suppression, russian interferance and they can only win by cheating and winning is everything.

  19. He sums up exactly why I feel the Republican Party left me. Now as an independant I pick and choose those who I feel show genuine concern for their Communities and its unique cultural fabric, candidates concerned about equality for all, concern for the local environments and global cause & effects, corporate quality control regulations and small business development support. Personal safety, education opprotunities for everyone and comprehensive health care that’s fair and equable for all people.
    A military that’s strong enough to defend our nation any time or any place but constrained enough to require a draft for military adventurism.
    I want a nation that educates all of those interested in high education, and a trade skills system that trains all citizens with skillsets to build or repair anything in our nation so everyone can find and hold a job.
    I want cities that work with transportation options, housing opprotunities and a quality of life that safe & healthy with communities involved in running it.
    AND THE BIG ONE: Create a New American Forign Legion, profile every person incarcerated in our nation with non violent convictions. Write an iron clad contract with each to join the foreign legion to go into the world to build roads, sanitary systems and infrastructures, for pay.
    I see work camps with the strictest rules for reducing 1/2 of their sentences for working with for pay that goes into their accounts if they finish the program honorably they get set free with money and skills with full rights granted.
    However if the fail they go back to jail for their full sentence , loose their bank account with no parole. This is based on and not unlike the military sea-bees or construction battalions and the honorable discharge you receive at the end of your service.
    I believe this origination could do great good in the world, instill a sense of worth to those who join, And control the outcomes of projects we undertake for developing nations and spend billions on with little results. If former military men and women ran these programs along with a mix of correction personnel it could be very successful.

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