It doesn't happen often, but every once in a while, a prominent Republican will acknowledge that the GOP only seems to care about the deficit when there's a Democrat in the Oval Office. For example, the Washington Post obtained an audio recording of acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney making just such a concession yesterday.
"My party is very interested in deficits when there is a Democrat in the White House. The worst thing in the whole world is deficits when Barack Obama was the president. Then Donald Trump became president, and we're a lot less interested as a party," Mulvaney said at the Oxford Union to a group of several hundred people.
It's encouraging, at least to a degree, when hypocrites publicly acknowledge their own hypocrisy. But I'm not sure Mulvaney fully appreciates the fact that it's not just his party that's been inconsistent, it's Mulvaney himself.
The White House chief told Politico a few years ago that he got involved in politics in part because he disapproved of the Bush/Cheney administration's big budget deficits. After getting elected to Congress, the South Carolina Republican declared, "Anybody who is up to speed on budget issues should be scared to death by what's happening with the debt and the deficit in this country. If you're not losing sleep over it, then you're simply not paying attention."
It was rhetoric like this that helped Mulvaney get on Trump's radar. "Right now, we are nearly $20 trillion in debt," the president-elect said in December 2016, "but Mick is a very high-energy leader with deep convictions for how to responsibly manage our nation's finances and save our country from drowning in red ink."
Soon after, Trump and Mulvaney quickly proceeded to add $3 trillion to the $20 trillion debt in just three years. At the time, Mulvaney publicly endorsed larger deficits, while privately telling GOP officials that "nobody cares" about the annual budget shortfall anymore.
It's against this backdrop that Mulvaney said yesterday, "My party is very interested in deficits when there is a Democrat in the White House." That's true, though there's one specific member of Mulvaney's party that appears to have some explaining to do.