On Thursday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy winged his way down to Mar-a-Lago, America’s newest Superfund site, to kiss the ring of a vanquished would-be king.
McCarthy was there to plead for forgiveness. You see, three weeks and apparently ten million years ago — when Congresspeople like McCarthy were running for their lives in a Capitol building under violent siege by Trump voters, remember? — the minority leader summoned the will to blame Donald Trump for his outsized role in inciting the mob. One fellow GOP House leader, Liz Cheney, went farther and actually voted to impeach when provided the opportunity, even as then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made definitive noises to the effect that being rid of Trump would be advantageous to all.
For a brief moment, it seemed possible that the Republican Party would pull up and out of the political gravity well they had created by empowering and protecting Trump’s monstrous administration. They would break free, take their chances with Trump’s violent base, and then dance like Sméagol after the shunning of Gollum: “Gone! Gone! Gone! Sméagol is free!”
Trump, sensing slippage in his stranglehold over the GOP, responded immediately with threats to split the GOP by starting his own party, the Patriot Party. This threat was ostensibly made to warn Republican senators not to vote against him in the impeachment trial, but it was also a warning to the wider party at the state and local level. I will crack this party like an egg, was the message, unless I get everything I want.
Somewhere in that nebulous struggle for control, something enormous shifted. On Tuesday, Rand Paul turned a procedural vote on the upcoming impeachment trial into a litmus test for who in that chamber was brave enough to defy Trump. A meager five GOP senators rose to support the trial, while the remaining 45 — including Rand Paul — chose to laager in Trump’s camp. It was a seismic vote that altered the political landscape overnight.
By Wednesday morning, the situation had gained grim clarity. “The nation’s two most powerful elected Republicans have signaled that they are ready to look past questions of responsibility for the violent effort to overturn the result of the presidential election,” reported The Washington Post that day, “an attempt that left a Capitol Police officer and four rioters dead, as they maneuver to avoid a divisive battle within the Republican Party and try to position it to reclaim power in 2022.”
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, a Trump devotee, put out a statement after the Paul vote: “Not only is this impeachment trial a distraction from the important issues Americans want Congress focused on, it is unconstitutional, and I join the vast majority of Senate Republicans in opposing it. As Democrats continue to sow division and obstruct, Republicans will keep fighting for the American people.”
“As Democrats continue to sow division and obstruct…” The irony fairly seethes. We seek unity, which means do as we say, and if you don’t, here are these violent followers of ours who are liable to do anything. When they show up, it is your fault because you are sowing division. This is the base tactical “logic” of fascism: The use of language against itself. It is not supposed to make sense. It is supposed to intimidate.
In Oregon, the state’s GOP leadership issued a statement claiming that the sacking of the Capitol had been a staged “false flag” event. The Arizona GOP censured that state’s Republican governor for refusing to overturn the election results. Domino after domino began to fall, and in every instance, Trump became that much more unbound, Promethean in his wrath, and once again the center of attention.
By the end of the week, the deal had gone down. Congress was in chaos, with Democratic members fearing to be in the same room with GOP colleagues who had openly cheered for their assassinations beneath the Capitol dome. A few “moderate” Democrats cooed about “moving on,” even as whole swaths of House and Senate Democrats were aghast at the capitulation they were witnessing.
Under the leadership of Donald Trump, the GOP had lost the House, Senate and White House, watched idly as hundreds of thousands of people died in a pandemic that could have been contained with a bare modicum of competence, and watched again as a sitting president exhorted an angry mob to smash their way into the seat of congress so they could kill the leadership of same. This incredible totality of disgrace and infamy, in the end, was not enough to inspire a final break from the author of all this misery.
McCarthy’s obsequious journey to Mar-a-Lago was the final penny to drop. The GOP civil war is over for now, and Trump remains the core power within the Republican Party. QAnon devotee Marjorie Taylor Greene and her ilk are the new face of the party. There is video of Greene harassing a survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre, accusing him of being part of a staged event. Today, she sits on the House Education and Labor Committee, an insult stacked upon an insult. Her party lacks the courage to expel her, and she knows it, because she rolls with Donald Trump. Now, and for the foreseeable future, so do they all.
There is an old saying: If there are 11 people seated at a dinner table with a fascist, and none of them are denouncing the fascist, there are 12 fascists at that table.
That is the Republican Party in a nutshell.
There is no cooperating with this mayhem. There is no trying to get along, offering concessions, or searching for bipartisanship.
President Biden has strongly signaled his desire for Congress to settle this matter rapidly. Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine wants to cut a deal to censure Trump that Republicans can agree to. GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, in reply, pushed back on both impeachment and censure in perfect Republican doublespeak: “I would encourage people to move on rather than live in the past.”
Let it never be said that these people are anything other than seamlessly true to form. The Benghazi attack earned years of congressional GOP hearings and investigations, as did Hillary Clinton’s emails. A frontal assault on the very home of American democracy by Republican Trump supporters? It’s time to stop living in the past. Next up: The GOP deficit hawks with five verses and a chorus on fiscal responsibility. Their greatest strength is their lack of shame.
The Republican Party today is about one thing: Using democracy to destroy democracy, and all in the name of their thwarted autocratic leader. They don’t want to make deals. They want to take, and take, and that is all.
You don’t make deals with that if you are the Democrats. You defeat it, using the majorities millions of voters and grassroots activists labored to provide you. You pass legislation by hook or by crook that improves people’s lives whether they want it or not. FDR’s Tennessee Valley Authority program is instructive: You win, make things better for people, and wait for the light bulb moment to arrive.
Today’s GOP is a beast. You don’t negotiate with rabid dogs. You’re a damn fool if you try.