When I studied political economy in college, in the first lecture of one of my first courses, I was told that the entire duo-field of politics and economics essentially boils down to the distribution of resources given scarcity.

But the Republican Party seems to have contradictory goals. They want tax-cuts. They want to reduce the deficit. They want to increase government spending on border walls and the Defense.

How do these positions make logical sense? Has the Republican Party explained how it actually wishes to obtain these goals despite the fact that doing one thing makes it harder to do the other thing?

I mean, every one of those positions is something we all want. But we know in life there are trade-offs and we need to compromise.

How do they resolve the contradiction?

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    Don't ask them what they want. They may be lying. Look at what they do instead. Taxes are cut, government spending is stagnant and the budget deficit is large. – Trilarion Jan 15 '19 at 21:19
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    The same question could be asked of the State of California. – Drunk Cynic Jan 15 '19 at 21:28
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    Each party is a coalition of factions, not one bloc of people who agree on everything. – Gramatik Jan 15 '19 at 21:35
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    Dang, I was about 1000 words into what I thought was a pretty good answer, and then got cut off by the question being closed T_T – Ertai87 Jan 15 '19 at 21:47
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    Is your question about the Republican ideology (which is somewhat more about political theory in general) or the current US Republican party (which would need to be answered based on the statements and actions of the party members)? – Chris Hayes Jan 17 '19 at 20:33

When you have a two-party system like we have in the United States, you are basically representing a half to a third of the citizenry. Being a collection of human beings, they have contradictory thoughts and hypocritical positions, and tend to be divided up into internal factions.

For example, the Republican party currently houses:

  1. Ayn Randian Libertarians. Socially liberal but strong believers in individualism and small government, they tend to be against large-scale stuff like military spending.
  2. Tea Partiers. Mostly economics-focused, they want a USA that pays its debts, doesn't buy anything it doesn't need, and want to somehow recapture the era when jobs were for life and higher education unnecessary.
  3. Reagan Conservatives. People who believe in a strong military, low taxes, and that handouts to the rich can solve all economic woes. Socially conservative, often religious.
  4. Evangelicals. Socially very conservative, they want a leader who will remove Roe v Wade and bring back Christian indoctrination in schools. There was a time when they wanted their leader to be a King Solomon of intelligence and piety, but they've decided their other priorities are more important.
  5. Fringe groups. Nazis, I-am-my-own-sovereign-country people, cultists, racists, and religious wackos. Once, these people had very little power in the party, but they increasingly fit well with Tea Party love of a prior age, Libertarian love of small government, and Evangelical desire for the Rapture.

Now, how do you govern a party with that diverse of viewpoints? You compromise. Does it seem illogical? Mostly yes. But you can understand how they've gotten to this point.

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    I've down voted this answer for that it framed every group in a negative light. – Drunk Cynic Jan 17 '19 at 22:01
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    @indigochild Yes, there is evidence that those specific groups or individuals exist within the Republican Party. 1) Rand Paul R-Kentucky; 2) Tom McClintock R-California; 3) U.S. President Donald J. Trump R-NY; 4) Vicky Hartzler R-Missouri; 5) Steve King R-Iowa. There is no prohibition for individuals being representative of one or more of the listed categories simultaneously. – guest271314 Jan 17 '19 at 22:47
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    @indigochild "I am thinking of broad-sweeping evidence that represents the Republican Party at large." You should know that such a category or singular description does not exist. Given the parameters that you have defined is akin to categorizing all individuals who self-identify as "white" being representative of a single "broad-sweeping" ideology. Similar to "race" classification scheme promulgated by the U.S. Census Bureau, any individual can self-identify with any "race". Does not mean that all individuals who self-identify as "white" are white supremacists? – guest271314 Jan 17 '19 at 23:09
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    The details in the list could do with some improvement. Because these details aren't strictly necessary to the answer, I upvoted. You may want to remove the list entirely, as it's unlikely that there's a list everyone agrees with, and the list doesn't add much value. – Peter Jan 18 '19 at 0:12
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    I'm not going to go as far as Drunk Cynic, but I did refrain from upvoting an otherwise useful and insightful answer. Could you please edit for tone/content a bit? – Jared Smith Jan 18 '19 at 14:51

The tactic behind tax cuts is called starve the beast. The beast being government and its food being tax revenue. The idea is that spending is hard to cut. As soon as there is government spending on anything a special interest group will appear and fight any decrease in that spending. However, taxes are easy to cut, those paying lower taxes will back the tax decrease. Then, when a group wants to increase spending, they'll have to fund it from somewhere and there won't be an easy source of funding. An example of this attitude on the right comes from Alan Greenspan in 1978.

Let us remember that the basic purpose of any tax cut program in today's environment is to reduce the momentum of expenditure growth by restraining the amount of revenue available and trust that there is a political limit to deficit spending.

So the end goal is to reduce the size and scope of government. Tax cuts are tool to get there. Obviously this leads to a problem if the tax cuts lead to deficits which politicians ignore and continue to spend money.

In terms of spending, many conservatives in the Republican party are appalled by the hipocracy of supposed 'fiscal conservatives' blowing up the deficit. For example, this came up when the GOP passed a deficit inducing omnibus spending bill in 2018 and almost immediately put out a vote on a blanced budget ammendment that would not have let them pass the spending bill they just authorized.

“There is no one on Capitol Hill, and certainly no one on Main Street, that will take this vote[on the blanced budget bill] seriously,” said Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), on the heels of a $1.3 trillion spending package that Republicans approved just last month...

One conservative commentator, Barbara Boland, equated the upcoming exercise to “gorging on a sumptuous feast while insisting that you want a svelte physique.” And other members of the House Freedom Caucus, all of whom voted against a $1.3 trillion spending package in late March, are calling it little more than a charade.

Issues of taxation and spending definitely divide the party. Republicans who back big spending say they're making pragmatic compromises, while those who don't say it's hypocritical bowing to special interests.

  1. Some voters, members, and elected officials of the party have the stated opinion that tax cuts increase income.

  2. Some voters, members, and elected officials of the party want to significantly reduce government spending in other areas than defense.

  3. Some voters, members, and elected officials of the party only support 2 of the 3 goals you mentioned, maybe even only 1. Yet they associate with and support the Republican party due to political realities. In the US system any third party is severely disadvantaged, which usually means people have to chose either of the 2 major parties.


It's really simple when you think about it. The Republicans want to cut spending, but (simplistically) only on things like social programs. Since those are a large share of total spending, they could theoretically, if given a free hand to eliminate them, cut taxes, balance the budget, and have some money left for their favored programs..

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    Since those are a large share of total spending Not really. Pick a slice of pie to eliminate, you need 23% in order to balance the budget. Social Security is mandatory and may not be cut (as it's ostensibly paying out money it collected in the past). Medicare and Medicade: so you want to take health care away from the poor and elderly? All that's left is defense, surely you don't want to make our country weaker. (Note: not the best pie to use for this, but its the one I can find quickly). – Draco18s no longer trusts SE Jan 18 '19 at 7:04

Disclaimer: I identify as Republican (well, Conservative since I'm not American, but same difference). Here's a single person's take (although I believe my opinion to reflect at least mostly the majority Conservative opinion):

Most of what you have said is correct. Reducing the deficit requires additional income. Tax cuts reduces income. Border security and defense take income. These things are contradictory. However, you are missing what is perhaps the most important part of the puzzle, which is the size and scope of government.

In particular, a core tenet of the Conservative ("Republican") worldview is that a) government should be as small as possible, and b) government is very wasteful and inefficient. To create a concrete example (pulling numbers out of my butt here, please don't ask for citations): Let's say you own a company and you have 100 people on staff, each making, let's say $50k/yr. That's $5M/yr in payroll costs for your company. Let's say, for example, that this company has a 75% output ratio, which is to say, on average, each employee is idle for 25% of their time. That means you can, in theory, fire 25% of your employees, offload those employees' work onto the other 75%, and now you will have 100% output (obviously the real world doesn't work exactly like this, but it's close). So you go ahead and fire 25 people. That's a cost savings of $1.25M/yr in payroll, without decreasing company net output (again, simplification warning). Now you can take that $1.25M/yr and put it into, say, R&D, or buying new machinery, or getting a new, swankier office, or whatever else you like.

The government, say Conservatives, is in a similar situation. There are so many government employees whose jobs are redundant, or who simply don't do them properly (e.g. show up late/leave early/slack off, etc), and if we, to use a colloquialism, "whipped them into shape", then we could fire a whole swath of government employees and save money. Then we take that money and use it to pay down the debt, or implement tax cuts, or spend it on border security and defense.

But that's not the only place where the government can save money. Government contracts are well known to be bloated with a ton of money that doesn't need to be spent. For example (unfortunately a dated one but useful for illutrative purposes), here is a post over on Skeptics SE which, in the accepted answer, states that in the 1960s, the US government bought a bunch of mechanical pencils for astronauts at a cost of over $100 each! Now, while it is difficult to know how much money the government is spending on ongoing government contracts (I presume the budget, such as it is, is public information, but where each of those dollars is going and to whom I'm going to guess is probably classified), it is not unlikely that similar such wasteful spending is ongoing in the modern day as well (and even if we did know the breakdown of money spent on contracts, it would be difficult to know how much of that spending is wasteful, and how much is required to do the job). Once again, if the government can spend in a responsible way on their government contracts, then money can be saved which, again, can be put into tax cuts, or defense, or paying down the debt.

Aside: One of the selling points for Donald Trump amongst Conservatives was the fact that, as a businessman, who literally wrote the book on the art of the deal, it was presumed that he would be a good negotiator to try to knock down the costs of some of these government contracts. Unfortunately I don't have numbers to back up whether or not that has turned out to be the case after the fact (a useful edit to this post might include such data if someone else happens to know where to find it).

An additional way in which the government is wasteful is in wasteful social assistance spending. Not to say all social assistance spending is wasteful, that's certainly not true (a true economic conservative may argue that, but most reasonable people agree that some sort of social safety net is important); the part that is true is that currently, there are social assistance programs which are being exploited by people who do not deserve them. As a simple example, I found this article on Google which states that in the year 2013-2014, the state of Pennsylvania (not the whole US, just Pennsylvania) paid welfare benefits to over 2300 dead people. I don't think anyone can rationally argue that dead people should be receiving social assistance. Once again, if we take that money and stop spending it wastefully, then we can spend it on, again, paying down the debt, tax cuts, border security, and defense.

And yes, before anyone says it: The amount of welfare benefits paid to 2300 dead people in one year is peanuts compared to the whole government budget. This is true. However, every dollar helps, and this is but one very simple, very egregious example that I could easily find with a cursory Google search; more examples most assuredly exist, and the government certainly has the tools to find them.

An additional (but somewhat more controversial) way in which the government wastes money is with regards to regulatory structures. There are lots of business regulations in terms of how businesses can operate (one very easy example for illustrative purposes being greenhouse gas emission limits). It costs money for companies to implement these regulations, but it also costs the government money to oversee these regulations being implemented. Someone has to pay for an inspector to go on site at some manufacturing plant to make sure the employees are being provided, for example, hard hats for construction work (a simple example for illustrative purposes; no reasonable person would argue that providing safety equipment is a negative). Some of these regulations are good and worthwhile, others not as much (and which ones fall into which camp is more or less a matter of opinion, so I'm not going to get into the finer points). Conservatives would argue that the less regulations, the better. There are economic reasons to do this from the perspective of the business, but leaving those aside, from the government's perspective, the less regulation there is, the less money you have to pay public servants to verify those regulations are being followed. This decreases the government's cost, and that money can be put into, you guessed it: paying down the debt, tax cuts, border security, and defense.

This is an insight into a Conservative point of view on the issue, I hope it was useful.

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    every dollar helps While technically true, the size of the yearly US deficit exceeds the entire combined total cost of every "discretionary" funds allocation. You can pinch all the pennies you want, but 65 cents found in the couch doesn't help the 6 trillion loan get any smaller. The 2018 deficit was 19% of total spending (or about 23% of governmental income). The only single expense the US has that is that large is Social Security, which is a mandatory expense. You can quibble over reducing that slice, but you're not going to shave off 98% of it as savings. – Draco18s no longer trusts SE Jan 17 '19 at 22:16
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    @Draco18s I never said that doing all these things would eliminate the deficit. I said that these are things that Conservatives see as exacerbating the problem of the deficit, and these are things that Conservatives say that could be done to reduce the deficit (and/or fund tax cuts, and/or put more spending elsewhere where it would be more deserved). How to eliminate the deficit completely is a whole other can of worms and probably worthy of its own SO post. – Ertai87 Jan 17 '19 at 22:33
  • While I am quite aware of that, I'm saying that the scale of the problem outweighs the thing conservatives point to as a way to solve the problem. I'm just saying that it is a factually wrong argument to make. (Goes right up there with Pennsylvania's plan to privatize the state liqour stores: "prices will go down, wages will go up, AND the state will make more money.") – Draco18s no longer trusts SE Jan 18 '19 at 6:59
  • @Draco18s I feel like you're trying to move away from the point of the answer into another realm of conversation. This answer was not intended to address the question you are trying to ask. I would encourage you to ask that question in another question thread, rather than try to nerd-snipe me here. Thanks for the interest anyway! – Ertai87 Jan 18 '19 at 17:29

The average Republican voter is not the same thing as the average of Republican voters (plural). It's entirely (mathematically) possible for the "average Republican voter" to want contradictory things in a policy prescription that doesn't not actually reflect the position of any actual person.

Which is all cool and abstract, but they still have to elect people. Any given candidate is going to be a mishmash of positions that deviate within an acceptable amount of the average position in the party on any given issue, and any given voter may like that candidate more or less based on his or her ideas of what constitutes an ideal mishmash. Carduus's answer mentions conflicting groups but I think it's more fundamental than that: you need a party to be the proxy for the individual members of it but for n >= 2 it's never going to accurately reflect the needs/wants of any specific individual. Groups are lossy compression. Especially political parties.

So saying that "Republican voters want contradictory things" is not that different than saying "voters want contradictory things".

Also, I'm being kind of generous here because people in general hold contradictory wishes unless they work very very hard at reconciling them. But Republican policy isn't based on some sort of inherent contradiction beyond the dangers of aggregation.

To put it another way, some right-winger could legitimately say "Democrats want to protect Freedom of Speech, but also vigorously suppress hate speech, isn't that a contradiction?". And it is. But it has the exact same explanation: some Democrats really love Free Speech and reluctantly admit this allows for human garbage and some Democrats really dislike hate speech and want to suppress it even at the cost of some false positives.

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