Rhetoric is Easy; Governing is Difficult

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is a veritable rock star among Republican base voters, as evidenced by his reception at the recent Western Republican meetings in Salt Lake City. Cruz can toss out the red meat and work up a crowd with the best of them. Lots of conservative Republicans would like him to run for president, and they might get their wish.

Cruz, of course, has no real chance of being elected president of the United States. Democrats would love for him to be the nominee because Hillary Clinton would cruise to victory. Cruz can excite the Republican base, but he would bomb with mainstream voters.

Cruz illustrates the gulf between conservative Republican rhetoric and the realities of governing in America today. Personally, I agree with Cruz on most of his goals. I believe the federal government has become too big, too expensive and too centralized. I believe taxes are too high and stifling regulations are out of control. I believe we must get control of deficits and entitlement spending. I believe the budget should be balanced.

But I differ with Cruz in how we reach those objectives. His rhetoric makes it sound simple and easy. Elect conservative Republicans and they’ll turn things around in a hurry. In reality, dismantling the welfare state will take many years and will be excruciatingly difficult. I wish we could do it quickly, but we can’t. It has taken many decades to get into this mess and if anyone tries to move too fast, they will rapidly lose public support. So many people are dependent on so many government programs that it would be enormously wrenching to society to abruptly cut taxes, eliminate programs, reduce entitlement payments and balance the budget.

I devoutly hope Republicans take over the entire government in 2016. However, if they do, they have to govern. And that presents enormous problems. Conservative Republicans have raised expectations with the base that they’re going to dismantle the welfare state, drastically cut taxes, and quickly balance the budget. If they don’t do it, the base will be angry.

But if they take aggressive action they will alienate the majority of voters and be unceremoniously voted out of office in the next few elections. Most citizens will rebel against drastic changes. Turning the country around has to be done gradually.

Look at what happened to Democrats after Obama was elected in 2008. They controlled the entire government. They quickly overreached. They passed Obamacare. They passed an enormous stimulus program, throwing money at every liberal program they could think of. They racked up enormous debt.

And that caused the rise of the Tea Party in 2010 and Democrats suffered an enormous humiliation at the polls, with Republicans taking control of the House and making up considerable ground in the Senate.

Republicans probably would have won control of the Senate outright over the next couple of elections if they hadn’t nominated far-right candidates in a number of races.

I support Republicans holding firm against more big-government spending. And I understand why Democrats won’t support drastic cuts in the safety net system. But between those two positions is plenty of room for compromise. Responsible tax reform could be revenue neutral, but eliminate tax breaks and subsidies and reduce rates. Entitlement spending could be slowed gradually, not hurting anyone currently receiving benefits. The budget can be balanced over time, bolstered by an improved economy with pro-growth policies. It’s insane that we don’t pass comprehensive immigration reform. If we did those things the economy would take off and many more Americans would find jobs.

So Cruz and other conservative Republicans need to talk more realistically about what’s possible and the difficulty of the road ahead. They shouldn’t rev up the Republican base at the cost of scaring middle class America.

I hope Republicans win the government. But we need to prepare for that day by being a lot more realistic in our rhetoric.