Opinion | The Paradox of Pandemic Partisanship

President Biden’s Covid-19 relief proposal remains incredibly popular; if anything, it’s getting more popular as it barrels through Congress. Multiple polls show that something like 70 percent of Americans approve of the $1.9 trillion plan. It’s almost twice as popular as the Republican tax cut of 2017; it’s more popular than the Obama stimulus of 2009; it’s hard to believe now, but the Biden plan is more popular than Medicare was in the months before it passed in 1965.

Big business has also come on board: More than 150 senior executives at major companies have written congressional leaders urging enactment of Biden’s plan.

It’s not too hard to see why Democrats and independents like the plan. What I’m trying to understand is something that seems like a political paradox. Namely, how is it possible that so many Republicans approve of the plan?

Why is Republican support for Biden’s economic plans a puzzle? Because most of the Republican rank and file believe (based on nothing but lies) that the election was stolen. So we’re in a peculiar position where a substantial number of voters don’t believe Biden has the right to be running the country, but effectively approve of the way he’s running it, at least in terms of economic policy.

A recent Economist/YouGov poll makes the point. According to that poll, only 16 percent of self-identified Republicans believe that Biden won the election fairly, while 71 percent believe that it was stolen from Donald Trump. Yet 39 percent of Republicans favor Biden’s $1.9 trillion spending proposal. A Morning Consult poll puts Republican support for the plan at 60 percent!

OK, believing that the presidency was stolen and supporting the policies of the man on whose behalf you think it was stolen isn’t literally a contradiction. But it’s still very strange.

It’s also in stark contrast to what went down under President Obama. What those of us who participated in economic debates during the early Obama years remember was the constant drumbeat of warnings that the new president’s policies would produce disaster. The Obama stimulus was considerably smaller than the Biden plan (indeed, much too small, but that’s another story). Yet not a week went by without loud claims that hyperinflation and a debt crisis were just around the corner.

And Republicans also spent years denouncing Obamacare as a tyrannical job-killer, while they’ve barely mentioned the significant expansion in Obamacare that is contained within the Biden proposal.

So what’s different this time?

There are probably several reasons Republicans are having a hard time making the case against Biden’s policies. I’ve written before that pandemic relief may simply be an easier, more intuitive sell than Keynesian economic stimulus. And Republicans may be paying a price for their past hypocrisy, moving from calling debt an existential threat under Obama to ignoring it under Trump.

I also suspect, although I don’t have solid evidence, that the Republican Party is finally paying a price for its wonk gap — its disdain for expertise on, well, everything, which has effectively driven experts out of the party.

The truth is that Republicans haven’t listened to experts for a long time. Just ask Dr. Fauci. But the party used to have people who could at least act the part.

Remember Paul Ryan, former speaker of the House? He wasn’t actually a fiscal policy wonk — he was, in fact, an obvious flimflam man if you looked closely — but he was pretty good at playing a policy wonk on TV. It’s hard to think of anyone in the contemporary Republican Party who can even do that.

In fact, it’s even hard to think of anyone, aside from some Democratic policy wonks (!), who’s really hammering the case against Bidenomics. Who’s the face of Republican opposition to the American Rescue Plan? Nobody comes to mind.

Put it this way: Republicans appear to be losing the economic argument in part because they aren’t even bothering to show up.

One further thought: An unintended consequence of the Big Lie about the election may be that it undercuts Republican opposition to Democratic policy priorities. The right-wing media complex, vast as it is, has to deal with its viewers’ and listeners’ limited attention spans. Every hour spent promulgating conspiracy theories about election fraud and false-flag Antifa operations is an hour not spent frightening audiences about the imminent death of the dollar at the hands of Democratic big spenders.

So I guess the spectacle of widespread Republican support for the policies of a man they consider an usurper makes a weird kind of sense. But it has to involve a lot of cognitive dissonance; surely it can’t be sustainable over the years ahead.

What nobody knows is which way the dissonance collapses. Most private-sector economists now expect rapid economic recovery over the next year, probably combined with a vast sense of relief as the pandemic fades away. Will positive developments bring Republicans over to Biden’s side? Or will Republicans decide that all the good things happening are fake news?

The political future of America hinges on the answer.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: [email protected].

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.

Source: Read Full Article