The hottest new sport in the season of the coronavirus is ambitious Republican politicians competing to most angrily condemn the idea of representative government. What better sendoff to our reality television president than watching the Grand Old Party descend into hair-pulling, drink-throwing chaos?
On Wednesday, Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz vaulted ahead of a crowded field with strident pledges to oppose Senate certification of Joe Biden’s electoral victory on January 6. An act of desperate political theater by two leading Trumpworld bootlicks—including one whose wife and father were both the subject of vicious personal attacks by Trump—isn’t in itself surprising, and it won’t change the outcome of the election. But what still saddens, even if it no longer shocks, is the silence from Republicans with standing who believe themselves more principled than their headline-chasing colleagues but lack the courage to say that publicly with their name attached.
The Republican Party that enters 2021 is a party without a formal platform and defined by its entirely situational ethics. It is no longer interested in pursuing power under the restrictions of democracy or voting or free and fair elections. It is simply interested in obtaining, expanding and perpetuating itself, a virus on the body politic that publicity-hounds like Hawley and Cruz think they can direct and control all the way to the White House in 2024. And if 2020 has taught us anything about viruses, it is how readily they defy containment, and how deadly they become when met with silence.
“I cannot vote to certify the electoral college results on January 6 without raising the fact that some states, particularly Pennsylvania, failed to follow their own state election laws,” Hawley said in a statement posted to social media announcing his plan to do so while condemning “mega corporations, including Facebook and Twitter” for supposedly tipping the election to Biden.
Cruz, for his part, hasn’t committed to challenging Biden’s electoral victory but also refuses to rule it out. He’s hardly alone: over a dozen of Texas’ 22 House Republicans still refuse to admit Trump lost. Rep. Louie Gohmert has gone so far as to sue Vice President Mike Pence for refusing to go along with a Gohmert-hatched scheme to disenfranchise millions of American voters.
Both Hawley and Cruz are cribbing the same batty “stop the steal” rhetoric that’s been laughed out of 60 state and federal courthouses during Trump’s failed effort to overturn the 2020 election and that will soon consume and demean the Senate, while their colleagues there have been silent precisely because they know they can’t mount a legitimate defense. The self-styled moderate Republicans who once saw their job as controlling their party’s Trumpist wing—those supposed “grown-ups in the room”—now find themselves grasping for relevance in a party where support for authoritarian Trumpism was literally the sole plank in the party platform this year.
It seems like the only honest voices left in the Republican party belong to the losers, in Trump-talk, who’ve been pushed out of the party or positions of power within it for insufficiently embracing Trump and Trumpism, like Virginia Rep. Denver Riggleman, who lost his 2020 congressional primary in part for that reason.
“The only thing I can say is it’s nuts,” Riggleman said in an exchange on MSNBC Wednesday afternoon about his party’s efforts to challenge the clear results of an election in which it held the Senate and gained seats in the House. “All of this is based on disinformation and conspiracy theories. They’re throwing away federalism, throwing away what makes this country great.”
Noting that the embrace of Trumpian conspiracy has been a boon for Republican fundraising, Riggleman asked, “When does a scam become a coup?”
There’s no chance Hawley, a Yale Law School graduate who taught constitutional law as an associate professor at the University of Missouri Law School, actually believes his own conspiratorial Trumpian rhetoric. Ted Cruz, a Harvard man, doesn’t believe in the moral justice of a pro-Trump coup.
But they and others are gleefully stepping in as pro-Trump megaphones. In the process, they’re amping up the adrenaline of the thousands of Proud Boys and far-right neo-Nazis descending on Washington on January 6th to put a little paramilitary muscle behind Trump’s autocratic demands.
They’re also making a mockery of our country. In their antics, Americans are witnessing a nihilistic shredding of all the pablum Republicans once professed to believe. MU Law professor Frank Bowman expressed his shock at the transparent power grab by his former colleague, Hawley, in a tweet: “I had no idea how low you would be prepared to go in pursuit of power. You call yourself a ‘constitutional lawyer.’ But you disgrace the profession & dishonor constitution daily.”
Silent as that happens is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has made no effort to preserve either the legitimacy of the democratic system nor the legitimacy of the Senate’s majority party.
The Republican Party has never been shy about flirting with antidemocratic and authoritarian tactics. Witness the rise of the national security surveillance state during the Bush years, or the stunning success of the GOP’s decades-long experiments in race-based voter suppression. But never before have the senior Republicans so fully lost control of their party in such a sweeping and public way.
The Proud Boys, QAnon and the golf-course fascism of the Trumps have filled the leadership void left as the party’s alleged leaders were so busy counting the record fundraising raked in from gullible Trump voters that they didn’t even notice when those voters co-opted and then seized control of the GOP.
It remains unclear what happens to the GOP’s identity in the months after Joe Biden swears the presidential oath of office on January 20, 2021. Its future depends on senior party leaders speaking out against what Trumpism represented in life and will continue to espouse in its political afterlife. If this week’s silence is any indication, Republicans have much further to fall. Speaking out against Hawley and Cruz’s disgraceful theatrics would be a good start.