Monday, February 01, 2021

Political Notebook – Republicans’ last chance

It’s February now, and as New Zealand begins to move from summer holiday mode back toward normality, I will, too. That means it’s as good a time as any to begin more normal blogging, too. Maybe I’ll even do more of these Political Notebook posts this year. We’ll see—no promises, of course, but it’d be easy to beat last year, when I did only one post.

At the moment, the USA is still adjusting to saner, more rational politics, now that the loser of the 2020 presidential election is finally gone (Related: Roger Green's post, "January 6 to competence"). Naturally, it can’t and won’t be as easy as simply “going back to normal”, not with so much lunacy afoot and so many radicalised, violent, conspiracy theory-loving extremists on the loose in the USA, determined to wreak havoc—and control the Republican Party. Still, it doesn’t have to be that way.

The Republican Party: Do or die?

The Republican Party has one last chance to save itself: Convict the ex-occupant of the White House in the upcoming impeachment trial because he incited the US Capitol riot. If they refuse, despite so many of their lot calling him a danger only a few short weeks ago, then it could be all over for the party. As Republican strategist Sarah Longwell warned, if they don’t convict the ex-occupant of the White House, he’s “going to control [the Republican Party] for the next 10 years.”

It’s likely that even if the losing candidate fades away for whatever reason, there will be plenty of others to take up the cause, such as it is. The Republican leader in the US House boarded a flight to the 2020 loser’s Florida house to kiss his, um, ring. As Steve Benen of MSNBC noted, “GOP leaders would have us believe that they're not necessarily kowtowing to their corrupt former leader; they're merely using him to acquire power.” Sure they are.

The Republican Party has made such “deals with the devil” repeatedly over the past 40 years, and it’s always been a disaster. Reagan brought far-right “Christians” into his coalition, and now they dictate much of the party’s policy and have ultimate say in who is, and who is not, appointed to the federal judiciary by a Republican president. In 2010, the party leaders thought they could control and exploit the teabaggers, but it turned out they couldn’t (funny to think we used to think they were the nuttiest Republicans around). Then, in 2016, when that former reality TV series performer decided to run for the party’s presidential nomination, they decided they could control him, too. In a way, they did, since they could do whatever they wanted, like appointing extremists to Federal courts, but what they couldn’t control was the frothing mob that supported their party’s Dear Leader.

That mob is still there and still dangerous. Just today, “Dodger Stadium’s COVID-19 vaccination site temporarily shut down after protesters gather at entrance”. Everyone knows that more violence is inevitable, and the more we learn about their storming of the US Capitol, the more we can see how very, very, very lucky it was that Members of Congress weren’t murdered. Next time, the seditionists be better organised for whatever violence they choose to unleash.

Insanity seems to be the main problem with what now appears to be the Republican base. Before the blockade of Dodger Stadium, organisers went online inviting people going to what they called their “Scamdemic Protest/March”, and urged them to “please refrain from wearing Trump/MAGA attire as we want our statement to resonate with the sheeple. No flags but informational signs only. This is a sharing information protest and march against everything COVID, Vaccine, PCR Tests, Lockdowns, Masks, Fauci, Gates, Newsom, China, digital tracking, etc. [Emphasis added]. This means that they’re learning from the huge mistakes in the attempted Capitol Hill coup and are already fine-tuning their tactics.

The modern Republican Party, then, has become the party of bizarre conspiracy theories, “alternative facts”, lies, intimidation, white grievance, and utter insane nuttiness. “Jewish space lasers,” anyone? How about their bizarre and utterly insane belief that Hillary Clinton cut off the face of a young girl, wore it as a mask, and then drank her blood? Then there are the oldies-but-goodies, like the non-existent basement in a pizza parlour where imaginary children being sexually trafficked by imaginary people were supposedly held captive in imaginary cages, or even the shapeshifting reptilian aliens who supposedly control everything (oh, how we used to laugh at that one…).

And then there are their ongoing lies about the Sandy Hook school shooting and also about the shooting six years later at Parkland, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, or maybe Seth Rich’s murder, who, exactly, was behind the insurrection on Capitol Hill, the “stolen” election, and on, and on, and on—all lies and insanity they seem to actually believe.

None of that, nor the fact that the Republican Party’s leadership condones such dangerous insanity, is funny any more. Those people are armed and dangerous—and are now at the very heart of the Republican Party: “A guide to likely member of Congress Marjorie Taylor Greene’s conspiracy theories and toxic rhetoric”, or “Marjorie Taylor Greene's record of radicalism gets even worse”, or the stunt pulled when “Rep. Boebert causes delay at U.S. House security, refuses to turn over her bag”. These are mere samples of the future of the Republican Party. Clearly good times are ahead…

The leadership of the Republican Party needs to take responsibility for the monster they unleashed, aided, abetted, and encouraged. They need to fix this. The best place to start would be to convict the loser of the 2020 presidential election, and then strip him of the ability to ever run for office again. If they don’t, the insanity of the Republican Party’s base will become the only acceptable way to be a Republican, and the USA will only have one functioning, sane, rational, fact-based political party—and even then it will struggle to gain power. That’s the future the Republicans plan to give the USA this month.

In crisis, there is hope

There are things that could help fix this situation. Most of the reforms that are critically needed are also impossible, or nearly so. One of the things that will help is if the Senate abolishes the filibuster, but, yeah, that’s sooooo going to happen, right?

Failing that, there are more things in the mix. For example, “DC statehood bill introduced in Senate”. No one expects that to go anywhere, but statehood for DC and, if they want it, Puerto Rico, would add more Democratic US Representatives to help reduce the effect of the gerrymandering used to rig elections for the Republicans. If both of them became states, it would also add four Democratic US Senators, and that matters because of how anti-democratic the US Senate is (a better solution overall would be a proportional Senate, with the Senate apportioned like the US House is, though in my opinion abolishing it altogether shouldn’t be off the table).

There’s also hope in that some Republicans do seem to get it. Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska wrote a timely opinion piece for The Atlantic, “QAnon Is Destroying the GOP From Within”. US Rep Adam Kinsinger of my native Illinois is another. He was one of a mere 10 Republican US Representatives voted to impeach the loser of the 2020 election after he incited the seditious attempted coup at Capitol Hill (see also “Betraying Your Church—And Your Party”, also in The Atlantic). Just today, it was announced that, as the Washington Post put it, he “has launched a new political action committee that is designed to become a financial engine to challenge the former president’s wing of the GOP caucus and stand up against a leadership team still aligned with him.” I wish him luck with that—sincerely—but the survival of the republic requires more than those efforts. In the meantime, plenty of Republicans are voting with their feet and walking away from the party, including many with lifetime of service to the party.

The forces of darkness are strong, and the Republican Party is on a knife’s edge. If it survives, it will come down to what Republicans do later this month. A fallback is if a few rational Republicans left succeed in re-capturiing their party. And maybe substantive reforms will actually be made. And, if all that fails? No idea. But the resultt can’t be good.


Roger Owen Green said...

My daughter's been studying the antebellum shifting political parties. as you well know, we're not DESTINED to have the same two political parties. If they can't figure out how to get rid of the Marjorie Taylor Greene-types, those Lincoln Republicans will have to go somewhere else. They can "punish" Liz Cheney or Mitt Romney, but long term, the GOP is in trouble. And so is America.

Arthur Schenck said...

Completely agree. I think either the (few) sane, rational Republicans left will regain control of their party. OR, the inmates will take over the asylum and those (few) sane, rational Republicans will leave to form a new conservative party, maybe one that—GASP! might be based on principle. I doubt I'd support such a party, but it would at least be refreshing to not experience fear and loathing at the mere mention of the USA's party on the right.