A Handy Guide for Translating Republican-Speak into Plain English

by | Jan 13, 2024 | Opinions & Commentary

Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis. Haley Photo by Sam Holland, Wiki Commons and DeSantis Photo by Gage Skidmore, Wiki Commons

A Handy Guide for Translating Republican-Speak into Plain English

by | Jan 13, 2024 | Opinions & Commentary

Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis. Haley Photo by Sam Holland, Wiki Commons and DeSantis Photo by Gage Skidmore, Wiki Commons

In the Republican debate Wednesday night, Haley and DeSantis tossed around Reagan-era talking points that most people don't understand, so here’s a handy guide to translate Republican-gibberish into plain English.

Republished with permission from Thom Hartmann

Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley had a spitting match Wednesday night on CNN as they fought for, well, something. Vice president? Unlikely. Beating Trump? Probably not. Book deal? Who knows?

Anyhow, during the “debate,” they both threw out numerous Reagan-era GOP talking points that most people probably poorly understand, so here’s a handy guide to translate Republican-speak into plain English.

Federal Spending

Haley: “I think we have to acknowledge that Republicans and Democrats have both done this. I mean, the fact that they’ve done all of this wasteful spending, they did a $2.2 trillion COVID stimulus bill that expanded welfare that’s now left us with 80 million Americans on Medicaid, 42 million Americans on food stamps. That’s a third of our country.”

Reality: The economy crashed in 2020 (due to Covid) in a way that hadn’t been seen since Republican President Herbert Hoover oversaw Black Tuesday, 1929, which kicked off the start of the Republican Great Depression. Covid initially cost our economy an estimated $14 trillion, throwing 3 million Americans out of work. Donald Trump was the first president since Hoover to see significant job losses during his presidency. Unemployment hit 15% (Hoover’s was 23.6%).

While a loose money policy by the Fed helped, the main thing that prevented America from sliding into a second Republican Great Depression was Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s success in shepherding through Congress legislation that softened the impact of Trump’s 15% unemployment; without it, if those unemployed people had lost all their demand-creating spending power (which is what drives economies), the nation would almost certainly have slid into a long-lasting depression.

That was apparently what many in the GOP wanted: in May 2020, for example, when Pelosi shepherded through the House a nearly-$3 trillion coronavirus relief bill, only 44 Republicans voted for it, while 130 voted against it. Although it saved America, Republicans like Haley and DeSantis are still complaining about it.

Currently there are around 84 million low-income Americans on Medicaid, our country’s largest and most successful single-payer healthcare program. It’s far more efficient than any for-profit health insurance programs (no executive salaries, dividends paid to stockholders, or commissions to salespeople) and, with tweaks, could be the foundation of a Medicare-for-All national system like Canada, Costa Rica, and most of Europe have.

Republicans see this as a bad thing, though, because they want all our healthcare to be paid for by private, for-profit health insurance companies that will then kick back part of their profits to GOP political campaigns and other now-legal (Citizens United) bribes.

Food stamps (SNAP), on the other hand, reflect a failure of the rules that govern the American economy. Every family should have enough money to buy food, but, with 20 mostly Red states (including all 13 former Confederate states) keeping their minimum wage at or below the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour, in virtually all of those states full-time minimum-wage workers can’t afford to provide their families with shelter, transportation, and food.

Nonetheless, Republicans would like to eliminate that food support. After all, they believe, when poor people are down they will only get up if you kick them hard enough.


Haley: “We’ll go and instead of 87,000 IRS agents going after middle America…”

Reality: This wild exaggeration of the number of IRS agents funded by the Inflation Reduction Act is a simple lie, promoted by think-tanks funded by America’s rightwing billionaires. Because nearly every time Republicans control the House, Senate, and White House they cut funding to the IRS, it’s been decades since that agency could effectively audit the nation’s largest tax cheats: those very same billionaires.

While the IRS has 79,000 employees, the largest block (13,000) are customer service representatives, and another 10,000 are seasonal employees who file mail or record data. There are lawyers, office staffers, administrators, etc. Only about 10,000 are agents, and that number would expand with the new money available in the Inflation Reduction Act, but not by more than a few thousand, virtually all of whom would direct their efforts to catching billionaire tax cheats.

This is why the “compromise” legislation being worked out right now between the House and Senate, at Republican insistence, contains a $10 billion cut to the IRS budget: they want to again kneecap the agency so their billionaire patrons can continue to steal our tax dollars.

It’s also worth noting that every $1 spent by the IRS investigating tax cheating by billionaires typically returns between $6 and $12 to the federal treasury. The fastest and easiest way to lower the national debt without raising taxes is to audit billionaires, but Republicans will lay down on railroad tracks to try to prevent that.


DeSantis (arguing for a flat tax): “We have a spending problem in this country. It’s not a tax problem in this country. And if you had something that was simple and transparent, not only would that [be] better for economic growth, it’s also better to end the weaponization of government.

“The IRS has been weaponized against conservatives going back to the Obama administration. I was there for that. No one’s been held accountable for doing that. … [T]he weaponization of federal power ends the day I become the president of the United States.”

Reality: Last year, the US government spent 22% of GDP, covering everything from the military (the largest single expenditure) to Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, all social safety net programs, education, and administration. But by comparison with other OECD countries, we’re misers: France spends 58.34%, Japan 44.09%, the United Kingdom 44.3%, Sweden 47.32%, Spain 47.11%, and Italy 56.74%

These countries spend more because they cover all or nearly all of the healthcare and educational costs of their citizens, as well as providing quality housing support, unemployment, paid sick and maternity leave, and other benefits.

The rightwing billionaires who own the GOP don’t want our government to do this because they fear their income taxes may be raised—like in those other countries—to fund quality-of-life programs for average and poor people.

A “flat tax”—where billionaires pay the same rate as average working people—has long been a dream of Republicans, with rightwingers like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul pushing it for years. They cite Hungary’s 15% flat tax, although Hungary’s billionaires routinely avoid paying anything close to that by living off money borrowed against assets instead of paying themselves wages (a trick emulated by most American billionaires, which is why they only pay 3%). They’ll also live off capital gains, which are taxed at a lower rate and almost entirely benefit the morbidly rich at a scale capable of supporting a wealthy lifestyle.

The net effect of instituting a flat tax in America would be that low-income people, who currently don’t pay income taxes or pay a very low rate, would have to start paying far more, while billionaires could still run their shell game with regard to their own living expenses. Squeezing the lowest income Americans hard to pay America’s bills is a very attractive prospect to Republican politicians and their billionaire owners.

Fossil Fuels and Green Energy

DeSantis: “We’re looking forward to be able to open up energy production… We’re going to be able to open up production. We’re going to choose Midland over Moscow. We’re going to choose the Marcellus Shale over the mullahs. And we’re going to choose the Bakken over Beijing.

“Energy independence isn’t even — it’s not — it’s good for consumers. It’s good to reduce inflation. And it’s one of the best things we can do for our national security. So we’ll do that on day one, and we are going to reverse Biden’s green new deal and the electric vehicle mandates. We’ll save the American automobile.”

Reality: DeSantis and Haley, afraid to offend the fossil fuel billionaires who’ve funded a massive national support network of think-tanks and get-out-the-vote efforts for the GOP, argue that we should largely abandon any effort to cut oil, coal, or methane production and instead increase our dependence on the rightwing fossil fuel billionaires’ products.

Somehow, they manage to ignore the fact that producing electricity by wind or solar is now cheaper than any fossil fuel, and water power has been for centuries. They claim to love the “free market” but will go to the mat to defend hundreds of billions of dollars a year in federal and state subsidies (including military subsidies) to the fossil fuel industry.

Additionally, electric cars are becoming much cheaper to produce than internal combustion engines (they only have a handful of moving parts, never require oil changes or fluids, and don’t even have a transmission), save thousands a year for the average driver on the cost of gasoline, and are fun to drive (they take off like rockets because they have such great torque).

There are now multiple electric cars available at the very bottom end of the new car market, so affordability is no longer an issue, either. All we need is a national network of charging stations, which is what Biden’s “Green New Deal” (actually, it’s the Inflation Reduction Act) is funding over the next few years.

This GOP fealty to fossil fuels and the billionaires the industry produces could all be described as, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”

Ukraine and Fascist Russia

DeSantis: “I supported Trump’s policy vis-a-vis Russia, Ukraine, and it was successful. You know, the Biden policy has not been. But, Nikki Haley is basically a carbon copy of what Biden is. It’s an open-ended commitment. They want another $108 billion. They will not tell you when the — they have achieved their goal. And this is going to go on maybe hundreds of billions more into the future. I think a lot of people have died. We need to find a way to end this, because our priorities for national security, of course, the border, which we talked about, and people like Nikki Haley care more about Ukraine’s border than she does about our own southern border, which is wrong.”

Reality: Trump is owned by and terrified of Putin, a vicious fascist dictator who routinely murders his political opponents and imprisons journalists. Putin has ordered Trump to stop the US from further funding Ukraine, so he can add that nation—the largest country in Europe, about the size of Texas, with some of the most productive farmland and largest oil and natural gas reserves on the continent—to his empire.

DeSantis, trying to do whatever Trump wants so he doesn’t offend Trump’s fascist base, is willing to sacrifice a fellow democracy (Ukraine) just to curry favor. It’s frankly pathetic. And Ukrainians, trying to defend their own country, are dying every single day under Russia’s brutal attacks. As Republicans continue to withhold aid to Ukraine, blood is on their hands.

On this one issue, Haley is right and deserves credit for telling the truth.


Jake Tapper: “Governor [DeSantis], just a point of clarification, do you want to implement Florida’s education policies nationwide?”

DeSantis: “It depends on the policy. School choice universal, yes. I don’t want a nationalized curriculum. I think that that’s a bottom up thing. I want to get rid of the federal Department of Education, get that weight off the backs of the state and local governments. …”

Haley: “I have fought for school choice in my entire career because I think parents know their children best, and I think we should always do that. That’s why we passed charter school legislation in our state. That’s why we empowered homeschoolers in our state. …”

Reality: The entire “school choice” movement emerged in America following the 1954 Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court decision ordering the desegregation of America’s schools. DeSantis and Haley—both governors of former Confederate states that exploded in response to that decision—know this well.

Prior to that time, Republican presidents from Teddy Roosevelt to Dwight Eisenhower were promoting public schools and helping build them as fast as possible.

The second major change in Republican attitudes around public education came in 1980, when David Koch ran for vice president on the Libertarian ticket and part of the billionaire’s platform explicitly demanded public schools in America be shut down:

“We advocate the complete separation of education and State. Government schools lead to the indoctrination of children and interfere with the free choice of individuals. Government ownership, operation, regulation, and subsidy of schools and colleges should be ended. … We condemn compulsory education laws, which spawn prison-like schools with many of the problems associated with prisons, and we call for the immediate repeal of such laws.”

Reagan, enchanted by Koch’s suggestion, put Bill Bennett in charge of his Education Department—the guy who said we could reduce crime in America by “aborting every Black baby”—and called for massive cuts to federal aid for education. The result was that many American students today are largely ignorant about civics and college debt has gone from negligible in 1980 to a nearly $2 trillion drag on American families and our economy today. But it’s very profitable for the banks that donate to the GOP.

Social Security and Retirement

Jake Tapper (about raising the Social Security retirement age): “Just a clarification, Governor Haley, in 15 seconds, should voters in their 20s plan on having to work until they’re 70?”

Haley: “They should plan on their retirement age being increased, yes. We’re going to change it to reflect more of what life expectancy should be.”

Reality: Reagan, using the same rationalization of “rising life expectancy” lifted the Social Security retirement age from 65 to 67, made Social Security benefits taxable, and refused to index them to the inflation gauge that reflects the needs of the elderly. Republicans have hated Social Security—calling the program “socialism” or “communism”—ever since it was passed in 1935 as part of FDR’s New Deal.

Now they want to raise the qualification age to 70. As Haley pointed out about DeSantis’ years in Congress: “Three years in a row, he voted to raise [the Social Security retirement age] to 70 years old, three years in a row. Go to desantislies.com and you’ll see it. So, now suddenly he’s going to tell you because he’s running for president and he’s not going to do it, you can’t trust him.” Well said.

Term Limits

DeSantis: “So, number one, we need term limits for members of Congress.”

Reality: This has been another Republican wet dream ever since the Reagan Revolution for a very simple reason: it increases the power of lobbyists.

Historically, when a new lawmaker comes into office, he or she will hook up with an old-timer who can show them the ropes, how to get around the building, where the metaphorical bodies are buried, and teach them how to make legislation.

With term limits, this institutional knowledge is largely stripped out of a legislative body, forcing new legislators to look elsewhere for help.

Because no Republican has ever, anywhere, suggested that lobbyists’ ability to work be term-limited, in those states with term limits the lobbyists end up filling the role of permanent infrastructure to mentor and guide new lawmakers.

Of course, lobbyists—and the billionaires and corporations that pay them—love this. It dramatically increases lobbyists’ power and influence, giving them an early and easy entrée into the personal and political lives of the individual legislators who lean on them for guidance.

Voter Suppression

Haley: “And I think we have to always be strong on the fact that, look, we want fair elections and we saw some discrepancies in those elections in 2020 that should be concerning. That’s why I passed voter I.D. in South Carolina. That’s why I think when absentee ballots go out, you should be able to verify signatures.”

Reality: Republicans want to make it harder to vote. As Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, told a group of Reagan campaign workers in a Dallas church in 1980:

“How many of our Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome: good government? They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

For over a century, most states used biometrics to verify voter identity. Signatures done in front of a witness are nearly impossible to fake (unlike IDs, which can be easily faked). Polling place workers would compare the original registration signature with the signature of the person signing in to vote, and if they didn’t match, the worker would disqualify the voter.

When the Motor Voter Act was passed in 1993, not a single state required proof of citizenship to vote, and there was no national problem of voter fraud. The threat of a few years in jail was more than enough to discourage even the most ardent partisan from trying to double-vote or fraudulently vote.

But when Republicans realized that many Democratic voters—low-income people living in cities with mass transit—didn’t have drivers’ licenses, they began a campaign to require “voter ID” not just to register but to vote. It was a solution for a problem of “voter fraud” that didn’t exist: the first Red state to put mandatory ID laws into place as a way of suppressing the urban vote was Republican-controlled Indiana in 2005.

Now they’ve taken it a step further. Because mail-in and absentee ballots—heavily favored by Democratic voters—are authenticated by a signature on the outside of the ballot envelope, the GOP is sending people into ballot-counting venues in Blue cities to challenge signatures.

Once your signature is challenged, your ballot is removed from being counted until you can show up in person at a state or county elections office to produce ID and confirm your identity. Because most people never do this—most don’t even know their ballot has been challenged (it varies from state to state)—this has become one of the GOP’s favorite way of discarding Democratic votes. (See: The Hidden History of the War on Voting.)

On Other Issues:

  • Haley argued that the solution to healthcare unaffordability was to publish prices, so people could comparison shop hospitals and doctors as the ambulance is carrying them from the scene of their car crash. She also argued for expanding the Medicare Advantage scam, because “seniors love it.”
  • Haley added: “We’re going to pass Tort Reform around this country” because why should you be able to sue a doctor or hospital who harms you? They need to make a buck, too, plus they’re big donors to the GOP.
  • Both Haley and DeSantis feigned lack of concern about climate change by claiming that Obama has a big house and John Kerry has a private jet. This is a common diversion from the topic promoted by climate change denial groups funded by fossil fuel billionaires.
  • Both also trash-talked trans kids and adults, arguing, as Haley said, “Boys need to go into boys’ bathrooms, girls need to go into girls’ bathrooms.” The medically sound reality of gender dysphoria, known for literally centuries under a variety of names across virtually every culture throughout history, has become a simple punching bag for Republicans. And it’s driving suicides across the country.
Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann, one of America’s leading public intellectuals and the country’s #1 progressive talk show host, writes fresh content six days a week. The Monday-Friday “Daily Take” articles are free to all, while paid subscribers receive a Saturday summary of the week’s news and, on Sunday, a chapter excerpt from one of his books.

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