July 24, 2020 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Why are Senate Republicans dithering?

Some of them believe Donald Trump has already lost.

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The goal, when you think about it, seems pretty simple: juice up the economy enough before the election so that the president looks like a strong leader who took decisive action in the face of a deadly new coronavirus pandemic that has hobbled the national economy. You’d think the Senate Republicans would be all-in. You’d be wrong, though.

Instead, they’re dithering. (The AP’s Lisa Mascaro incorrectly called it a “GOP revolt.”) Donald Trump is demanding a payroll tax cut for some reason. (That’s unhelpful when you don’t have a job.) Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell favors extending the $600-a-week in unemployment insurance. Texas’ Ted Cruz hates that because that might be a buck or two more than people earn. Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, meanwhile, opposes all forms of fiscal spending, citing his growing concern for the national debt.

I don’t know which way this is going to break any more than you do. What I do know, however, is the importance of vigorously debating the Republican Party’s bad faith.

You’d think the goal is pretty simple, but that presumes the incumbent has a better than even chance of winning reelection in the next four months. Recent polling in critical states like Florida suggest he doesn’t. They show him trailing Joe Biden by double digits. What we are seeing is not a “revolt” by any stretch. It’s the challenge of political calculation resulting in indecision. The Republicans can’t decide which is the better course: injecting trillions into the economy to save Trump (assuming that it would) or redigging ideological trenches in anticipation of a Democratic president.

I don’t know which way this is going to break any more than you do. What I do know, however, is the importance of vigorously debating Republican bad faith. There are many good people of good faith truly concerned about our debts, but none of those people are currently in the Senate or in the national ranks of the GOP. Debts and deficits, history shows, only matter to elected Republicans when Democrats are in charge. As long as a Republican is president, the party is more than willing to spend freely, because they are spending freely on things they like. The conservatism put into practice by national Republicans calling themselves “conservative” is fraudulent.

Here’s the tip jar!

Bad faith is more than intent to deceive. In Bad Faith and Antiblack Racism, UConn philosopher Lewis Gordon said that, “It is a denial of human reality, an effort to evade freedom, a flight from responsibility, a choice against choice, an assertion of being the only point of view on the world, an assertion of being the world, an effort to deny having a point of view, a flight from displeasing truths to pleasing falsehoods, a form of misanthropy, an act of believing what one does not believe, a form of spirit of seriousness, sincerity, an effort to disarm evidence, a form of sedimented or institutional version of all of these, and a flight from and war against social reality.” Bad faith, as philosopher Jason Stanley said, is one of the many variants of fascism.

Put more simply, it is not mere hypocrisy. It is the intent to harm.

If the Senate Republicans were truly concerned about debts, they would have repealed their 2017 rewrite of the US tax code in order to pay for half of last spring’s $2.2 trillion stimulus legislation that is going to run out by the end of this month (starting today). They didn’t, because they don’t believe in fiscal responsibility—in which budgets are meaningful instruments and revenues matter as much as expenses. They decided to put all that money on a credit card for the next Democratic president to deal with. (This is why Ron Johnson is suddenly voicing concern for debts and deficits.) They did that in order to prevent their greedy billionaire donors from having to foot the bill.

If the Senate Republicans were truly concerned about individual dependence on government subsidies (as Ted Cruz says he is), they would lambaste states like Alabama and Kentucky, which take in more money from Washington than they give in return, while states like New York and Connecticut do the opposite. Cruz does no such thing, because federal subsidies give red states license to keep their tax bases low, benefiting rich residents, while starving public services of resources and accusing poor residents who need those services of being dependent on “government handouts.”

If the Senate Republicans were truly concerned about state’s rights, as they said they were when they said Obamacare imposed the federal government’s will on state sovereignty, they would right now be excoriating the president for deploying paramilitary forces to gas, apprehend and terrorize local residents in Portland and (soon) other cities for the “crime” of demonstrating their constitutional rights. Instead, they are looking the other way or worse: accusing peaceful protesters of rioting. Why? Because the people being harmed are probably Democrats who don’t matter anyway.

Even when conservatism is practiced in good faith, as some people believe to be the case when the Trump administration decided to let the states handle the pandemic, rather than imposing the will of the federal government on the states, it turns out catastrophic. According to the Times, Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, was explicitly ideological when explaining the administration’s approach: “Only in Washington, D.C., do they think that they have the answer for all of America.” The result has been four million infections and over 147,000 dead with no end in sight. Conservatism can be compassionate in theory. In practice, however, it’s harmful.

John Stoehr

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.


  1. Holly Bryan on July 30, 2021 at 10:47 pm

    ALL OF THIS. One of your best yet.

    • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 10:47 pm

      Oh wow thanks!

    • RUArmyNavyMominTX on July 30, 2021 at 10:47 pm

      Agreed…this explanation finally makes sense for what otherwise appears to be the sporting equivalent of throwing a game.

  2. Jim Prevatt on July 30, 2021 at 10:47 pm

    Excellent piece John. Thank you.

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