Opinion: GOP substance vs. style

Legislators this past week passed a significant income-tax cut for Georgians. Both the House and the Senate passed their own versions of a plan to coordinate and expand mass transit in metro Atlanta. A raft of bills to boost rural Georgia advanced in the legislative process, as did measures to take cellphones out of drivers’ hands and keep the mentally ill from buying guns.

Agree or disagree with any or all of those, they are substantive, meaningful policies receiving sober consideration. And yet, the only story many Georgians — not to mention millions outside the state — might recall from the week’s action under the Gold Dome is the move by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle to block the elimination of the jet-fuel tax for commercial airlines because Delta Air Lines ended a minor discount for NRA members.

If that’s not emblematic of the age of Trump, I don’t know what is.

The substance of Trumpism alarms many people. Possible political dalliances with Moscow by his campaign, restrictionist immigration policies, little seriousness about the national debt, the new tariffs on aluminum and steel he announced Thursday: There’s something worrisome for everyone. But even when the substance has been better — the long-needed revamp of the corporate tax code, regulatory relief, success against ISIS — it’s only temporarily gained notice before being drowned out by the latest tweet, or outburst, or White House infighting.

At some point, all many people remember is the style of Trumpism, which can range from tinpot dictator to somewhat-controlled chaos.

You have surely heard even the MAGA-iest Trump supporter concede it would be nice if the president would either stop tweeting or learn to bite his tongue just a bit. Yes, the lack of political correctness or what experienced politicians call “message discipline” endeared him to some voters. But eventually the unpredictability wears on people.

So you might think the political class would take a hint and avoid running a bunch of clones of this style. But theirs is an industry in which many copycats just want to wring one more electoral victory (or consulting contract) out of a formula that worked once before, no matter how poorly the suit fits their client. And when the substance is impossible to mimic — because hey, it’s hard to predict who will be the last person in the president’s ear before he opens his mouth — the style is all that’s left.

While we haven’t (yet) gotten to that point in this year’s gubernatorial election, this past week was an indication we might be heading in that direction.

It’s an open question whether Cagle helped himself in May’s GOP primary and/or hurt himself in the general election, should he win the nomination. But he was hardly the only Republican to employ the talk tough/tweet tough method. Not to be out-pandered, Secretary of State Brian Kemp proposed replacing a sound tax change (removing a tax on a business input, i.e. jet fuel) with a truly un-sound one (a sales tax holiday, which shifts consumption rather than stimulating it, for guns and ammunition).

The real problem here, as the Kemp example ought to illustrate if the Cagle one didn't, is the style eventually becomes the substance.

We already saw that with some lower-tier candidates. It’s not reassuring to see the front-runners adopt that tactic.