GOP boos fool no one: Everyone knows Republicans want to slash Social Security and Medicare

After being forced into submission by people like Donald Trump and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., one would think Speaker Kevin McCarthy would have downgraded his own self-assessment as a master negotiator. But no, ever since he finally secured his seat after 15 humiliating rounds of his own caucus voting against him, McCarthy has forged ahead with what he clearly thinks is a genius plan to trick President Joe Biden into destroying Social Security and Medicare for him: Mobster tactics.

As I explained in the Standing Room Only newsletter, McCarthy’s strategy seems to be to threaten to force the U.S. into debt default and simply let Biden intuit the ransom McCarthy would like paid, i.e. the destruction of Social Security and Medicare. That McCarthy really thought this would work suggests that he is not faking his very public admiration for Trump, who loves to use insinuation to communicate his desires that, usually for legal liability reasons, he can’t speak out loud. McCarthy, not known to anyone to be a bright man, appears to have really thought he could somehow trick Biden into not just decimating these long-standing health care and retirement programs, but that he could do so in a way to force Democrats to take the fall. 

Unsurprisingly, McCarthy’s “clever” negotiation style of being silent about his demands backfired spectacularly.

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McCarthy allowed Biden the space during his State of the Union address to show the public that Republicans are gunning for these popular programs by provoking a defensive denial of yelling and heckling from Republicans that is so over-the-top that it ended up confirming the accusation. Now McCarthy is having to deal with the very thing he was trying to avoid: A news cycle dominated by talk about how Republicans want to steal away the money in accounts workers spend their lives paying into as security when they retire. 

Just how badly did McCarthy’s gambit backfire? So badly that even Republican-friendly outlets like Axios and Politico ran with stories about the GOP’s secret yearnings to end Social Security and Medicare. Axios described Biden as “baiting Republicans to agree with his push to protect Medicare and Social Security.” The New York Times, which is usually overly credulous to Republican talking points, used similar language. Here’s how the Washington Post described the moment

The president responded by professing surprise that they had changed their position and now liked those programs, saying, “I enjoy conversion.” Adding that he would veto any effort to cut Social Security and Medicare, he added wryly, “But apparently it’s not going to be a problem.”

You don’t “bait” people into saying something if they wanted to say it. Implicit throughout the press coverage is that the GOP designs on Social Security and Medicare are well-known. As Tara Golshan at Vanity Fair pointed out in a lengthy Twitter thread, Republican attacks on Social Security and Medicare aren’t nearly as well-disguised as they seem to think they are: 

It’s once again proof that Republicans think voters are extremely stupid.

The euphemisms that Republicans use aren’t nearly as ingenious as they think. 

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Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., offered a hilariously typical example of how bad Republicans are at hiding their intentions. In trying to deny that the plan is to destroy Social Security and Medicare, he ended up tweeting confirmation that this is exactly what would happen:

Despite his flailing denials, it’s been clear from the moment that Scott first released his 11-point plan that the main purpose of the “sunset” provision was so that Social Security and Medicare would expire, and a GOP-controlled Congress would just never get around to voting to keep it around. It’s once again proof that Republicans think voters are extremely stupid. Scott really does seem to think that if Republicans just kill these programs passively instead of taking a vote against them, people wouldn’t notice or blame the GOP. In reality, of course, people tend to notice when their checks stop showing up or their doctor won’t see them anymore. And contrary to the fantasies of McCarthy and Scott, voters are not confused about what party, exactly, wants to slash these programs. As Heather “Digby” Parton reminded us at Salon recently, “Republicans have been trying to do away with these vital programs from the moment they were introduced.” 

The attempts to disguise their desires have grown more convoluted over the decades, of course. During the George W. Bush administration, for instance, Republicans thought they could smuggle Social Security destruction past voters by calling it “privatization.” They soon learned that voters, who tend to be skeptical of politicians already, saw directly through that ruse. Democrats won the 2006 midterms by healthy margins. But the Republican dream that they can fool the public with flimsy code words never dies. Former Vice President Mike Pence, also never mistaken for the sharpest tool, has been out there putting the final nail in his presidential aspirations by talking up Social Security “privatization.” 

Swing voters will reward Republicans for their culture war nonsense up until the point where Republicans cause massive damage.

Being generous to Republicans for a moment, there is one reason for them to think a majority of Americans are stupid: They do keep voting for Republicans. Republicans, in fact, won more voters in 2022 than Democrats. That’s hard evidence right there that a majority of Americans are easily snowed into voting against their own interests. 

Those numbers are disappointing reminders that voters could definitely be smarter, of course, but it’s not the slam dunk evidence of American imbecility that Republican politicians seem to think it is. The likelier explanation is that voters understand that Democrats will protect them from Republican efforts to decimate Medicare and Social Security. Perversely, that understanding freed some people up to vote GOP as a means to exercise their racist and sexist resentments, secure in the knowledge that Biden is in the White House to shield them from the worst consequences of electing a bunch of right-wing radicals.

We’ve seen this time and again: Swing voters will reward Republicans for their culture war nonsense up until the point where Republicans cause massive damage. Then they’ll run back to Democrats, to fish the country out of the gutter. We saw this in 2008 when voters elected Barack Obama to bail them out of the disastrous Bush presidency. We saw it again in 2020 when Biden was brought in to clean up for Trump. Voters are irrational at times and prone to complacency — but they aren’t as dumb as Republicans assume. 

Biden is making a safe bet for his re-election: Remind voters that he’s the only thing standing between them and Republicans ending these fundamental social safety net programs. That’s why the Republican Party increasingly opposes democracy and is even embracing fascism. If they have to rely on democratic systems, their multi-generational scheme to finally end Social Security and Medicare will likely never come to fruition. 

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