More than half of Republican primary voters currently support either Donald Trump or Ben Carson — two candidates who do not hold, and have never held, elected office. And in perhaps the most candid moment of Wednesday’s undercard debate, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) revealed why.
Congressional Republicans have spent the last five years making promises they knew they never could deliver. By doing so, they directly agitated their conservative base and turned off moderates and independents through resulting actions like feckless government shutdowns that led to no actual policy successes.
“We’re running to be president of the United States, the most important job in the free world; with it comes a certain amount of honesty,” an emotional Graham told fellow candidate Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, who also once served in the U.S. House.
“I’m tired of telling people things they want to hear that I know we can’t do. [President Barack Obama] is not going to sign a bill that will defund Obamacare. If I’m president … I wouldn’t put one penny in my budget for Planned Parenthood — not one penny — I’m as offended by these videos as you are. But the one thing I am not going to do going into 2016 is shut the government down and tank our ability to win. What you are saying and what Sen. [Ted] Cruz is saying, I’m really sick of hearing.”
The evidence supports Graham’s assertions.
Since 2010, House Republicans have voted more than 50 times to repeal Obamacare, knowing that such legislation would never pass the Senate and certainly would never be signed into law by President Barack Obama himself.
They attempted to shut down the government in 2011 over Planned Parenthood funding, knowing the Senate would not accept that outcome and that Obama would not sign such a bill into law. That standoff closed the government for a few hours in the middle of the night at the deadline before House Republicans relented. Conservative Republicans are again threatening a shutdown over defunding Planned Parenthood, and lawmakers have two weeks left to find a way to avoid one. The Senate does not have the votes to pass a spending bill without Planned Parenthood money, and Obama would veto that legislation even if it were to make it to his desk.
Republicans — led by Cruz — shuttered the government for 16 days in 2013 because they said they would not approve any spending bills that included any money to support the health care law. That standoff ended with tanked approval ratings for the GOP and also funds for Obamacare because a bill without that money had no chance of becoming law.
Earlier this year, Republicans threatened to shut down the Department of Homeland Security in order to defund the president’s executive actions on immigration, yet they knew — and senior GOP lawmakers conceded — it would be “impossible” to defund those executive orders because the agency within DHS that executed them is completely fee-based and operates independent of government appropriations.
So, yes, Graham is right: Republicans in Washington have consistently made promises they knew, from basic Schoolhouse Rock knowledge of government, they never could keep.
Others have hinted at this dynamic without saying it as clearly as he did Wednesday.
In August, in an interview with the Atlantic, conservative pundit Erick Erickson said, “The Republican Party created Donald Trump, because they made a lot of promises to their base and never kept them.”
He stopped short of saying that Republicans made promises they knew they couldn’t keep, but perhaps that’s just insight Graham has gained from actually being there.