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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

Republicans in Washington embrace an alternate universe

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis. speaks during

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis. speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) Credit: AP

A popular entertainer turned populist politician, accused of facilitating and spreading fake news, said last week that the way to determine whether a report is accurate is to let a jury of average citizens decide. And if they declare it false, the editor involved must publicly apologize.

We’re talking about Beppe Grillo, a comedian and anti-establishment party leader in Italy. And what he said was nuts. But no less so than the alternate universe embraced last week by Republicans in Washington.

The commander of this spaced-out mission was House Speaker Paul Ryan. Explaining GOP plans for the 115th Congress, Ryan said America voted for one-party control, or “unified government,” because it wants “results.”

There are many ways to interpret the 2016 election, but that’s not one of them. Voters did not opt for Republican control of all levers of the federal government. Voters opted for Donald Trump, who defies party description, as he proves every day. They wanted Trump the change agent. Not Trump the Republican, whose party registration starting in 1999 went from Republican to Independence to Democratic to Republican to unaffiliated to Republican.

Further repudiation of Ryan’s interpretation: The GOP lost seats in both the House and the Senate.

Ryan also said Trump won “convincingly.” No matter how you slice it, that’s not true, either. Now, this is not an attempt to delegitimize the president-elect. He won fair and square. But when you triumph in the Electoral College by virtue of 77,000 votes and lose the popular vote by nearly 3 million, a gap of more than 2 percentage points, that in no way qualifies as a “convincing” victory.

I mention this because Ryan’s comments are setting the stage for Republicans to make the same mistake they pinned on Democrats, liberals, elites, etc. during the campaign. Those types, the GOP said, missed or failed to respond to the fear, anger and frustration that fueled the candidacies of Trump and Bernie Sanders. And they’re right.

And now Republicans are missing or failing to respond to the fear, anger and frustration of the statistically larger part of America that did not vote for Trump, as well as many of those who did pull Trump’s lever. And now they’re risking an uprising.

The base instinct of Ryan’s colleagues, their first move out of the box, was to try to gut their own ethics watchdog. That’s not what anyone else wanted, which they heard loudly from both constituents and Trump himself. The blowback also scuttled GOP desires to bring back earmarks, the pork-barrel spending of “Bridge to Nowhere” infamy. That might be dead, but the point is that they wanted it and no one else did.

Now Republicans are preparing to repeal Obamacare, but only 1 in 5 Americans wants the health care law repealed immediately, as per the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. Nearly half of the country says it should not be repealed at all. Many live in GOP districts.

Ryan’s dream to turn Medicare into a voucherlike program in which some seniors would buy health insurance on the open market is opposed by 55 percent of voters in a Morning Consult-Politico poll who said leave it alone. Republicans also are teeing up a slash in funding for Planned Parenthood, when poll after poll shows people widely support such funding, especially for non-abortion services, which is what the GOP wants to cut.

And pulling out of the Paris climate-change agreement and weakening regulations that slow global warming would run counter to the 71 percent of Americans polled by the Chicago Council of Global Affairs who said the United States should remain in the Paris pact.

Hubris hurt Democrats in the election. Now it’s poised to undermine Republicans. They should tread carefully and remember the lessons of 2016.

Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.


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