Over the weekend, the Republican presidential primary of 2024 saw the first skirmish, which was centered around Social Security and Medicare, rather than traditional conservative themes. The organizations of former President Donald J. Trump and Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, the Republican front-runners, clashed on who could best protect the Democrats’ most valuable policy legacies. Despite years of mounting deficits, rising debt, and political inaction from both parties, the 2024 GOP leaders seem uninterested in grappling with the worsening fiscal condition of the country. This lack of action comes at an inopportune moment as House Republican leaders are preparing for a fight over the government’s borrowing limit, linking any increase in the debt ceiling with strict spending cuts that the leaders of the party in 2024 show no interest in.
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office, expressed concern, saying, “The facts are still on our side, and history is on our side. It’s just a bad era.” The back-and-forth between the super PACs of Trump and DeSantis was centered around advertisements that accused each other of undermining Social Security and Medicare. Maya MacGuineas, the president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, stated that “There is no good, hard governance anymore,” adding that no one is willing to fight for political giveaways, making trade-offs and hard compromises almost impossible.
It has been over a decade since Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, selected as his running mate the party’s embodiment of hair-shirt policymaking, Paul D. Ryan. At the time, Ryan asserted that cuts to Social Security and Medicare were absolutely vital to the country’s future. As a House member a decade ago, Mr. DeSantis readily embraced what was then the mainstream Republican position, voting repeatedly for Ryan-style changes to Social Security and Medicare that went nowhere, and promoting the restructuring of entitlements to make them “sustainable over the long term.”
In the loss of the Romney-Ryan ticket in 2012, Mr. Trump saw a lesson for his own presidential aspirations. Four years later, the business executive and reality television star ran on the improbable pledge to balance the budget, pay off the entire federal debt, and never cut Social Security and Medicare. Despite this promise, the deficits rose every year of the Trump presidency, and according to Brian Riedl, who served as a budget adviser to former Senator Rob Portman of Ohio and is now a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, Mr. Trump added $7.8 trillion in deficit spending over 10 years through legislation and executive orders during his four years.