The Republican Establishment's Overthrow Project

Although Donald Trump is currently making the G.O.P. establishment's presidential candidates look ineffectual, the rest of the establishment is continuing its long term project of overthrowing the present U.S. government. It hopes to replace that government with one that is essentially an appendage to private enterprise.
01/07/2016 11:19 am ET Updated Jan 07, 2017

Although Donald Trump is currently making the G.O.P. establishment's presidential candidates look ineffectual, the rest of the establishment is continuing its long term project of overthrowing the present U.S. government. It hopes to replace that government with one that is essentially an appendage to private enterprise.

The new government will be very small, its main task being to free the business community from regulation and taxes that interfere with its money-making -- and to subsidize it with public funds whenever possible. The new government also seeks to enrich the owners and managers of that community and to establish a public infrastructure that, among other things, keeps the community safe and provides it with compliant workers.

Many of the government programs serving these workers and the rest of the citizenry will either be privatized or eliminated, including their entitlements. With the exception of the military, many of the remainder will be cut to the bone and largely financed by a flat-and-sales tax system requiring the citizenry to pay for much of the cost of government.

While the G.O.P. overthrow project could be described as revolutionary, it resembles neither violent foreign revolutions nor the American revolution. The participants in the project do not think of themselves as revolutionaries and are not treated as such, including by the news media.

In fact, the activities of the overthrow project are perfectly legal. In addition, the project's leaders are particularly skilled at finding opportunities and loopholes in the political process, resorting to hardball politics when necessary.

At times, the G.O.P. establishment seems to be following a master plan. While it constantly obtains strategic and tactical guidance from conservative think tanks, legislative councils, intellectuals and radio pundits, some with master plans in mind, the GOP itself does not seem to have such a plan. It may, however still be pursuing Karl Rove's program for a political realignment that would keep the party in power for many years, perhaps even for decades.

Actually, the project to replace the present government with a smaller more privatized one is not new. Nearly a century ago Calvin Coolidge proposed that "the business of America is business."

In the past, when the G.O.P. was led by a combination of moderates and conservatives, its aims were more modest, and it was willing to achieve them by negotiation and compromise. However, about a half century ago, the party began to lose or extrude its moderates. In the last quarter century or so it has become an ultra conservative and ideology driven party, which eschews compromise, and politicizes all issues so that it can achieve its aims.

The first stirrings of the overthrow project began at the same time, but it turned serious only during the Reagan administration. Some new tactics were added during the short reign of Speaker Gingrich in the mid 1990s. and the project became systematic after George W Bush jettisoned his compassionate conservatism persona and led the party's march into its ultraconservative present.

Since then, the G.O.P. establishment has emphasized a handful of activities, concentrating particularly on cutting back the domestic programs of the government whenever it could.

During every primary or election, its presidential and other candidates regularly talked about eliminating whole cabinet departments such as Education, Housing and Energy that serve a sizable Democratic constituency or regulate important G.O.P. corporate supporters. The Internal Revenue Service was also on several hit lists.

The party continued to press its government cutback schemes after Obama won the White House and did its best to prevent him and the Congressional Democrats from maintaining and much less growing the government. It filibustered most legislation, refused to approve or endlessly stalled Obama appointments, and sabotaged his Administration in other ways, including threats of government shutdowns and vetoes of debt ceiling increases.

The G.O.P. was able to perpetuate most of the Bush tax cuts that further enriched the very rich and that, like high Pentagon budgets also further reduced monies for government social programs.

In addition, the G.O.P. continued its push for privatizing government agencies, including Social Security and Medicare while the increase in private contractors further privatized the military. It has also regularly tried deregulation schemes to reduce consumer safety and other forms of consumer protection. Periodically, its attempt to turn government into an appendage of the business community even trumps continuing entitlements favored by its own voter base.

At the same time, the G.O.P. acted to gut agency programs unpopular with its campaign funders and other high income supporters. For example, the I.R.S. had to reduce its tax audits of the richest taxpayers, and the S.E.C., its programs to inquire into the campaign donations from the oligarch community.

The party also sought to restrain or eliminate information producing agencies that could hurt its high income base or publicize public suffering, especially among poor citizens. The party targeted not only the U.S. Census but tried to put an end to the American Community Survey and even academic social research programs that collected data about the poor.

Meanwhile, the G.O.P. establishment has sought to hurt its Democratic opposition in unusually fierce ways. Its attacks on Obama and his administration have been more intense than any in recent memory, and it has continuously pursued ways of shrinking the Democratic constituency.

Most of the state governments in Republican hands have energetically gerrymandered their states to reduce the number of Democratic representatives, launched voter suppression programs to reduce the number of Democratic voters. Budget reductions for the 2020 Census will limit the agency from collecting information on minority and other Democratic voters. It is a data suppression scheme that will complement its voter suppression initiatives.

Recently, some G.O.P. members proposed to end the popular election of U.S.Senators and Texas politicians frequently suggests seceding from the union.

A significant proportion of the voter suppression projects took place in the South and were intended in part to cut down the black and Latino votes. White racial hostility also accounts for attacks on affirmative action and other programs for greater racial equality, all of them impelled by the party's racially fueled hatred for Obama.

Both voter suppression and gerrymandering are intended to create election districts safe, and possibly even permanently safe, for their GOP representatives. Consequently, these representatives can ignore most of their constituency when necessary, and sometimes even their base. They thereby free themselves to vote the party line and to please campaign donors and the corporate lobbies that constantly demand legislation and other favors.

Since the G.O.P. establishment must also attend to the everyday chores of political parties, its project to replace the current government could not proceed without assistance from like minded others.

So far, perhaps its most important help has come from the federal courts and the judges appointed by Republican presidents over the last quarter century. Whatever their intent, many of these judges seem to be driven by the same ideology as the G.O.P. establishment. Consequently, they interpret the Constitution, its amendments and precedents with an ideological eye that sometimes turns them into de facto participants in the G.O.P.'s overthrow project.

That project could not proceed as smoothly without recent Supreme Court decisions, the first of which named George W Bush to the presidency in 2000. The Citizens Union decision further opened the pockets of party campaign donors and turned individual oligarchs into campaign funders as well. The elimination of Section V of the 1965 Voting Rights act enabled several Southern states to immediately implement old and new voter suppression schemes.

The Supreme Court has also favored business interests, most recently, for example, through its decision in the Hobby Lobby case that enable businesses to reduce certain employee benefits on grounds of religious liberty. Changes in bankruptcy and related laws now prevent citizens from bringing class action suits against businesses that have victimized them.

The overthrow project has many other supporters. Despite the Tea party's opposition to crony capitalism and corporate welfare, it supports the establishment's program for a shrunken government, lower taxes on the rich and less regulation of the business community. So do the evangelicals, anti abortion groups and their various fellow travelers. In exchange, the GOP establishment supports many of their religious, social, racial, nativist and libertarian goals.

Further help is being supplied by Republican politicians in state governments, especially in red states. Governments under total G.O.P. control can undertake schemes not available to the national party, such as gerrymandering and voter suppression. They can also pass envelope pushing legislation that could someday be tried at the national level.

At times, the overthrow project even receives assistance from the Democratic party. When business interests demand loopholes and other legislative favors, they can always call on a few Democratic legislators who are beholden to the businesses in their districts that provide many jobs and big tax payments.

The G.O.P. also exploits the inability or unwillingness of the less ideologically driven and politically more conventional Democratic opposition to counter the G.O.P.'s legislative maneuvers and hardball politics.

To be sure, the Democratic party is no angel. It would also like to achieve a long term realignment that gives it federal and state governmental control. It does not shrink from gerrymandering when the opportunity presents itself, and its business and other lobbies, as well as the handful of Democratic oligarchs and lesser rich demand the same special privileges as their GOP peers. Thus, they too benefit from some of the GOP engineered governmental budget cuts and data suppression programs.

Although Democrats have their own think tanks, the party lacks the single minded ideology of the G.O.P. and seems forever split between liberal and centrist wings.

While the liberal wing of the Democratic party stands for a significantly different government, it does not seek to overthrow the present one. Instead, liberals want to change or grow government, especially its welfare state institutions, so that it benefits its constituents and not just the business community.

Needless to say, the G.O.P. establishment's overthrow project can be halted by a Democratically controlled federal government. It could perhaps be terminated permanently by a liberal Democratic government that retained federal and state control for a generation.

In addition, the project is burdened by some major contradictions. Despite the attempt by several Republican administrations to shrink the government, it continues to grow. Eventually the G.O.P. establishment will discover that gutting the government could impoverish much of the citizenry and wreck the consumer economy on which the business community depends.

In the long run, that establishment might therefore have to restore much of the present government and even move toward a Republican welfare state.

Herbert J. Gans is the Robert S Lynd Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Columbia University. His most recent book is Imagining America in 2033.