Liz Truss crashes the party (Republican)
If Truss had reconsidered the propriety of a program that had plunged the pound, triggered emergency actions by the Bank of England and openly drawn contempt from the Biden administration, she did not say so. . On the contrary, she seemed to believe that her flawed strategy of borrowing Republican ideas could be improved by borrowing more Republican ideas.
And in Washington, Truss found a new one she admired: the Republican Study Committee, an influential body within the House of Representatives that serves as an ideological anchor for the GOP and a clearinghouse for government reduction policies. In a meeting with Rep. Kevin Hern of Oklahoma, the group’s chairman, Truss said she wanted to create a similar Westminster caucus to “bring all their ideas into one collective group, to hold the current Premier responsible minister,” according to Hern.
Truss has come up with a few names for this entity. One of them, Hern told me, was the “Conservative Growth Group.”
Weeks later, my colleague Eleni Courea reported that a handful of MPs, including Truss and several former ministers, had gathered to toast the creation of a group with precisely that name.
Truss’s tour of Washington came at a time of testing for conservative movements on both sides of the Atlantic. In Britain and the United States, the ideology of small government faces a new test of relevance in an age of populism and interventionist economic policy. The austere conservatism of the Great Recession gave way years ago in both countries to the spirit of culture warfare and nostalgic nationalism, leaving lawmakers who really want to roll back government marginalized even within right-wing parties. .
If Truss has taken a narrow, tactical look at the Republican Party of late, American conservatives may learn greater lessons from her tribulations.
Here, Republicans envision their own adventure in economic reengineering. After abandoning budget restrictions during the Trump presidency, they are now demanding spending cuts from President Biden in a fight to increase the legal limit on government borrowing. If Democrats do not agree to some form of cuts, Republicans have threatened to risk a calamitous national default by refusing to raise the debt ceiling.
There’s not much evidence that Republicans have a strategy to prevail in this showdown, or to avoid the kind of market panic that broke the Truss government. Republicans did not campaign in the midterm elections on a definite plan to downsize government. Like Truss, they are pursuing structural changes in their country’s finances without an electoral mandate.
Unlike Truss, the Republicans still have time to adjust their course.
Conservatives Truss met in Washington didn’t seem inclined to see her as a ghost of the future of Christmas — a grim embodiment of what happens when you try to overhaul the relationship between taxpayers and their government without first persuading taxpayers. voters to follow you. Instead, they welcomed her as a struggling friend.
Accompanied by two colleagues — Jake Berry, the former chairman of the Conservative Party, and Brandon Lewis, a former cabinet minister — Truss visited Capitol Hill and advocacy groups like Americans for Tax Reform. Voluble activist Grover Norquist, a self-proclaimed Truss fan, told me he urged her to focus relentlessly on lowering tax rates and avoiding further factional strife within her left. This, he said, is how you build a diverse bloc of support for lower taxes.
“You are doing a number. You do Jack Kemp. You do, “We’re the lowest paid people,” said Norquist, who displays a 1990s Conservative poster in his office (“New Job, New Taxes”).
In Britain’s immediate political environment, this is obviously not good advice. Sunak dismissed another push for tax cuts as unworkable; her government is beset by labor disputes, crises in health care and the cost of living, mounting ethics scandals and doomsday polls prompted in part by Truss herself. An anti-tax message read from my lips doesn’t quite sound like a path to relevance for a former prime minister now back in the backseat.
But it was an open door for Truss in Washington. Hern told me his session with Truss was supposed to last 15 minutes and then unfold over an hour as he, a 61-year-old entrepreneur from Tulsa who amassed a fortune owning McDonald’s franchises before joining Congress in 2018 outlined its legislative playbook for Truss, a lifelong activist who, at 47, served in parliament for more than a decade, including as foreign secretary.
Hern told me they were bound by a common vision that their countries were on a dangerous path. Referring to Truss as having been “Prime Minister of what was once a great nation”, Hern credited him with trying to “save Britain”, even though his attempt failed.
“I think she felt like she tried to do too much, too soon, and didn’t have a sequel,” he said.
When I asked Hern if Truss’ plight could shed light on the fight against the debt ceiling, it didn’t sound like he had considered the idea before. But he didn’t completely dismiss it.
Truss, he said, tried to impose his plans in a “top-down” way that would never work here. Hern said Republicans need to have a “tough conversation” with Americans about how the government spends money.
A Congressional aide who met Truss said she had expressed concern that Britain’s Conservative movement could “disappear completely”. Truss didn’t quite say she expected the Tories to be wiped out in the next election, according to this aide, but she warned Britain’s unstable electorate had a way to wipe out political parties in a way that rarely happens in the United States.
I imagine much of Truss’s party would find it infuriating to think of their ousted prime minister plotting in America to revive his unpopular agenda and squeeze his struggling successor. So it wasn’t too surprising that a spokesperson for Truss declined to make her available, sniffing that her office wouldn’t provide “routine comment” on her activities.
But one of his traveling companions was more candid about their mission to America.
Berry, a veteran MP in the North of England group known as the ‘Red Wall’ for its historic Labor leanings, told me in late January that it was painfully clear his party had ‘failed for a significant period of time” in the task of explaining “why we are conservative in a convincing way”. His dire outlook reflected a widespread feeling in Britain that the Conservatives’ imagination and credibility are exhausted after a dozen years in power.
Berry, who is 44, said his country now needed “a sort of Marshall Plan for conservatism”, citing the US aid program that rebuilt Europe after World War II. Republicans, he said, have been admirably successful in forging mass support for lowering taxes and trusting the private sector to govern themselves. The British right could use a kind of intellectual rescue mission on this front.
What the Republican Party hasn’t done better than its British counterpart, however, is persuade voters to forego expensive federal spending in order to balance the public ledger, while limiting taxes. The only trick for modern American conservatism has been to campaign on tax cuts while embracing deficits and debts that would be intolerable for almost any other country – certainly for the UK. This most potent weapon in the Republican arsenal cannot simply be hired out to beleaguered British Tories.
It may not be easy for Americans like Hern either, even if they sincerely want to get their country out of its lax tax system. Voters here are used to living in a country where taxes are low, spending lax and public debt soaring. If Republicans want to engage Americans in a demanding reassessment of this formula, there is not much time to do so before the fight against the debt ceiling comes to a head.
They too might find that they tried to do too much, too soon, without enough follow-up.