01/12/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

GOP to America: Drop Dead, or "What's in it for Me?"

My friend swears this story about Donald Trump is absolutely true, and I believe him.

In a Park Avenue office building, Trump gets into an empty elevator alone. Five stories later, the doors open and a woman enters. The doors close and the elevator continues carrying both of them upward.

The woman, a gorgeous 24-year old statuesque blonde, turns to him. "Excuse me," she says. "Are you Donald Trump?"


The woman pushes a button to stop the elevator between floors. "Oh Mr. Trump," she says. "I've been in love with you since I was 13. I want to get down on my knees and give you a blow job right now."

"Yeah," said Trump, "What's in it for me?"

Now here's the absolutely true part. My friend repeated the joke to someone in real estate management who, over the years, had business dealings with Trump. The real estate guy didn't laugh. "Oh," he said, stone faced. "So you know Donald."

Or, as they say today in Kentucky, "So you know Mitch."

By "they" one would mean the workers at the Cadillac plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky, or the Ford plant in Louisville, or the Georgetown Toyota plant which uses parts from suppliers shared with the Detroit Three, or anyone else whose livelihood was related to the 50,000 people in Kentucky who, up till now, worked for the auto industry. By "Mitch" one would mean of course, Senate Minority Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, where, aside from Michigan and Ohio, more automobiles are produced than in any other state.

Last September in California, they said, "Oh, so you know Darrell." By Darrell, one would mean Rep. Darrell Issa, whose California district, encompassing Riverside and northern San Diego, has suffered the very worst of the real estate meltdown. After he and his colleagues successfully sabotaged the initial bipartisan negotiations to craft a bailout bill, Issa ran on to Hardball to tell his constituents, underneath all his doubletalk about eliminating mark-to-market accounting standards, f______ you. "You know, in fairness to Hank Paulson, I don't know him well," said Issa, "but I know enough he's not a banker, he's comparatively a day trader."

McConnell, who won't face reelection for six years, and Issa, whose reelection last September was assured, share the same attitudes held by most Republicans on Capitol Hill. They view the economic crisis in terms of, "What's in it for them?" For them it is an opportunity to create failure that can be blamed on the Democrats, and to destabilize a traditional Democratic constituency. And if the collateral damage causes permanent harm to the nation, so be it.

Looking forward to November 2010 or later, voters may not remember how Republicans sabotaged a compromise to facilitate an orderly restructuring of America's auto industry. Nor will they remember that Republicans stalled the Democrats' good faith efforts to negotiate terms of the bailout, or that McConnell's colleague, (almost certainly Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning), delayed efforts to implement oversight on the bailout after its delayed approval. Since they only think about what's in it for them, the suffering of ordinary Americans and collateral damage to the country gets lost on the shuffle. Look at how McConnell and his colleagues dealt with the Iraq war for the past six years. Do you really think they acted out of empathy for the families of American soldiers who were sent out on their third and fourth rotations?

Let's be clear, the Republican senators' moves against the Detroit bailout is not about $15 billion, which is a rounding error in the context of the Iraq surge or the financial bailout. The distinguishing Republican characteristic, which we saw during the initial financial bailout negotiations, is the last-minute monkey wrench designed to stymie negotiations that lead to compromise.

Put another way, their reaction to major problems is lifted from the Bush/Cheney playbook. Give lip service to the media, then stall, stall, stall. This was Bush's consistent approach to Katrina from the days before the hurricane made land fall, right up until today. Before Katrina, Louisiana was a purple state. After 300,000 African Americans were displaced elsewhere, it moved into the solid red column. If you look at the administration's actions, and inactions, instead of its words, the intentions are unmistakable.

But then, what else do Republicans have going for them?