Donald sucked up all the air in the room in 2015, Paul Krugman notes in Monday's column, but however much the GOP establishment laments him, their frontrunner has helped them out in one important way: "It has distracted pundits and the press from the hard right turn even conventional Republican candidates have taken, a turn whose radicalism would have seemed implausible not long ago."
Krugman recounts how, unbelievably, instead of the party engaging in some serious reexamination after the "debacle of George W. Bush’s presidency," what we've seen is "a doubling down, a determination to take whatever didn’t work from 2001 to 2008 and do it again, in a more extreme form."
There is the matter of tax cuts:
Big tax cuts tilted toward the wealthy were the Bush administration’s signature domestic policy. They were sold at the time as fiscally responsible, a matter of giving back part of the budget surplus America was running when W took office. (Alan Greenspan infamously argued that tax cuts were needed to avoid paying off federal debt too fast.) Since then, however, over-the-top warnings about the evils of debt and deficits have become a routine part of Republican rhetoric; and even conservatives occasionally admit that soaring inequality is a problem.
Moreover, it’s harder than ever to claim that tax cuts are the key to prosperity. At this point the private sector has added more than twice as many jobs under President Obama as it did over the corresponding period under W, a period that doesn’t include the Great Recession.
You might think, then, that Bush-style tax cuts would be out of favor. In fact, however, establishment candidates like Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush are proposing much bigger tax cuts than W ever did. And independent analysis of Jeb’s proposal shows that it’s even more tilted toward the wealthy than anything his brother did.
All of the GOP candidates have similarly embraced the idea that banks should operate without any regulation as well as the debunked notion that it was the government that somehow caused the financial crisis. They have, Krugman allows, moved away from W's monetary policy which called for “aggressive monetary policy”, but in the wrong direction, of course, the direction of "right-wing fantasyland." Then there's Cruz's crazy call for a return to the gold standard. And this man stands a chance of gaining the nomination.
In foreign policy, this crop of extremists running for the oval office is, almost unimaginably, just as bad or worse than Bush, with Jeb actually reassembling the same team that was behind the whole Iraq catastrophe.
Trump is the least of the GOP's (and our) worries, Krugman concludes. "The point is that while the mainstream contenders may have better manners than Mr. Trump or the widely loathed Mr. Cruz, when you get to substance it becomes clear that all of them are frighteningly radical, and that none of them seem to have learned anything from past disasters."
Simply not being Trump is no guarantor of reasonableness, and not nearly nearly enough.