Sunday, May 16, 2021

Sunday Reading

The Unpardonable Sin — Jonathan Chait in New York magazine on why the GOP refuses to excommunicate TFG.

One of the rationalizations Republicans have made for their party’s refusal to disavow Donald Trump’s authoritarianism is that asking a party to renounce a former president is categorically unreasonable. “He’s an ex-president. You can’t just excommunicate him,” pleads Representative Dan Crenshaw. “People in their parties would also have thrown out people openly critical of Obama and Bush,” says Republican pollster Patrick Ruffini.

Parties don’t just disown their former presidents, right? Actually, it has happened. The Republican Party excommunicated George H.W. Bush after his 1992 defeat. That episode was a seminal moment in the formation of the party’s modern identity, and the contrast between its gleeful abandonment of the 41st president and continued fealty to the 45th one reveals a great deal.

In 1990, Bush faced a rising budget deficit that was pushing up interest rates and threatening the recovery. Democrats, who controlled Congress, insisted that any deficit deal impose shared sacrifice on the rich (who had disproportionately benefited from the Reagan tax cuts that had largely caused the deficit). Bush had campaigned against any new taxes but had no choice but to compromise. The price he paid — a tiny increase in the top tax rate, from 28 percent to 31 percent — was small in comparison with the spending cuts he secured, which were in fact one of the toughest austerity measures ever enacted.

But Bush’s deal violated conservative-movement canon, which abhorred any tax increase for any reason. Conservatives in Congress revolted against the deal, and that revolt drove the mainstream conservative leadership out of power and brought a right-wing faction led by Newt Gingrich into ascendancy. The budget official who had advised Bush on his budget deal, Richard Darman, was driven out of Republican politics. Since Bush still had to run for reelection, conservatives temporarily patched things up with him for the purpose of his campaign, during which he apologized for his apostasy and vowed never to repeat it again.

After Bush lost to Bill Clinton, conservatives wrote him out of the party. In conservative mythology, he became the Great Apostate. For years afterward, right-wing propaganda repeated a simple fable in which Ronald Reagan won because he was the good, loyal conservative, and Bush had justly lost because he strayed from the Reaganite path. “He ran as Ronald Reagan ’88,” Grover Norquist explained later. “The problem was he didn’t govern as Reagan. He raised taxes. He betrayed the people who elected him.”

The purge was so thorough that when George W. Bush sought the nomination eight years later, the central message he used to woo conservative elites was that he would not repeat the mistakes of his banished father. In a series of interviews, Bush disavowed his father’s tax-hiking apostasy. “A George W. Bush presidency, he signaled, will be Reagan III, not Bush II,” noted one conservative columnist.

George Bush had been a popular president with the Republican base, which lionized him for his role in leading the Gulf War. They turned against him in part because the party’s leaders hammered the message that he was an ideological traitor and used his defeat to discredit him.

When a Republican president had actually violated a core tenet of conservative belief, his fellow partisans knew what to do about it. They shunned him, turned his name into a synonym for “loser,” and forced even his children to denounce him. The difference is that Bush had committed a truly unforgivable sin: agreeing to increase the top tax rate by three percentage points. Trump won’t be purged because he committed what is, in the eyes of the conservative movement, a more forgivable sin: fomenting the violent overthrow of the government in order to seize an unelected second term.

Silencio — Fabiola Santiago in the Miami Herald on the cowards in the Miami-Dade Republican delegation.

Of all the cities in the United States, in Miami — populated by people who stood up to dictatorship, some risking their lives, all paying the price of being exiled — the throngs should be standing up for and applauding Congresswoman Liz Cheney.

She stood on the side of democracy. She told the truth and, for this, the Wyoming conservative was ousted from her leadership post in Congress.

Yet, all we hear from Republican congressional representatives and their followers in Miami is . . . silence.

No colorful placards being held up for Cheney at Versailles.

No ¡Viva Cheney! chants at La Carreta on Bird Road.

No one is remarking about what a pair of c—–s, a la Madeleine Albright, she has.

The Republican leader put country and democracy above party, and she told the truth: Donald Trump lost the 2020 election and incited the deadly attack on the Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification process in Congress.
Gimenez, Salazar, Diaz-Balart

For truth-telling, cowardly Republican members of Congress voted — in secret and by voice vote — to oust the third-highest ranking Republican from her leadership position.

At the very least, Miami-Dade’s Republican representatives in Congress — Carlos Gimenez, Maria Elvira Salazar and Mario Diaz-Balart — should be upfront with their constituents and tell them how they voted on Cheney.

But the trio is taking the cowardly way out. They won’t say how they voted.

They want to save their own political skins at whatever the cost.

They don’t want to offend the anti-Trump crowd, voters they will need come re-election next year.

They don’t want to offend the cult-of-Trump crowd, voters they also will need come re-election next year.

A little too late for that game of hide-and-seek.

Delayed in going to Washington because of COVID, Salazar missed the Electoral College vote certification. But Gimenez and Diaz-Balart showed their stripes when they voted to uphold the lie that there was election fraud the certification vote.

All three voted to support the instigator of the Capitol insurrection during Trump’s second historic hearing.

It also looks like they weren’t moved by Cheney’s May 11 speech on the House floor about “freedom and our constitutional duty to protect it” in the face of a former president who “has resumed his aggressive effort to convince Americans that the election was stolen from him.”

“He risks inciting further violence,” she said.

“Our freedom only survives if we protect it…” she added. “We must speak the truth. The election was not stolen. America has not failed.”
Inspired by Reagan, not Trump

In the speech, Cheney mentioned a Cuban exile as an example of the many brave people she has met around the world who defend democracy against great odds and despite threats to their lives. People inspired, she said, by the United States’ brand of democracy.

“Three men — an immigrant who escaped Castro’s totalitarian regime, a young man who grew up behind the Iron Curtain and became his country’s minister of defense, and a dissident who spent years in a Soviet gulag — have all told me it was the miracle of America, captured in the worlds of President Ronald Reagan, that inspired them,” she said.

There’s a name that conjures a different kind of Miami Republican: Reagan.

He, who gave amnesty to the undocumented, including thousands of Central Americans fleeing war and violence. He, who stood up to the Soviet Union, and would have never cuddled a thuggish leader like Vladimir Putin.

Those Republicans who revered Reagan should have Cheney’s back.

But don’t expect Gimenez, Salazar, Diaz-Balart to show that kind of backbone.

As pundit Ana Navarro put it on CNN, that kind of GOP spine is “in storage in Mar-a-Lago.”

Ironically, Cheney’s champions in Miami are mostly Democrats.

They disagree with her politics, but admire Cheney’s all-in commitment to standing up to a Republican Party too comfortable in its status of being hijacked by Trump and his posse.

It’s Not Cowardice; It’s Worse — Greg Sargent in the Washington Post.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois, deserves great credit for demanding that his party fully repudiate Donald Trump’s big lie about the 2020 election and acknowledge its role in inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection. But Kinzinger is getting one big thing wrong.

In a Sunday appearance on CBS, Kinzinger repeatedly said fellow Republicans are fundamentally driven by fear of Trump. They don’t want to “confront” Trump’s lies, Kinzinger lamented, adding that they’re “scared to death” of him.

As a broad description of our current moment, this is profoundly insufficient. It risks misleading people about the true nature of the threat posed by the GOP’s ongoing radicalization.

With House Republicans expected this week to oust Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming from leadership for vocally making the same case that Kinzinger is, the idea that Republicans are primarily driven by “cowardice” is everywhere.

“Liz is a living reproach to all these cowards,” one friend of Cheney told the New Yorker, a quote that drew tons of Twitter approval. Similarly, former GOP speechwriter Peggy Noonan ripped into Cheney’s fellow Republicans as a “House of Cowards” who are “jumpy and scared.”

Meanwhile, now that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has endorsed Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) to replace Cheney in the House GOP leadership, Democrats are pounding McCarthy for “cowardice.”

Obviously fear of attacks from Trump — or from right-wing media or primary challengers — is one motivator. But by itself, this simply won’t do: It implies that Republicans would prefer on principle to stand firm in defense of democracy but are not doing so simply out of fear of facing immediate political consequences.

It is impossible to square this reading with the concrete and affirmative steps that many Republicans are taking right now.
This isn’t ‘cowardice’

Take the shenanigans in Arizona, where GOP state legislators have commissioned a recount of ballots in Maricopa County. It is being conducted by a firm whose chief executive has promoted nonsense about fraud in the 2020 election.

What’s more, the GOP-controlled county board of election supervisors has blasted the recount while vouching for the election’s integrity. Even one Republican supporter of the recount has now denounced it as “ridiculous” and “embarrassing.”

Given all this, it’s impossible to chalk this effort up to “cowardice” or “fear of Trump.” It is a deliberate action plainly undertaken to manufacture fake evidence for the affirmative purpose of further undermining faith in our electoral system going forward.

Stefanik has endorsed this effort. Oozing with phony piety, she claims she merely wants “answers” for Americans concerned about “election security.” Of course, the opposite is true: Stefanik is trying to undermine, not reinforce, voter confidence in our electoral outcomes.

This is not the act of a “coward” who “fears Trump” and would vouch for the integrity of the election if only she could do so without consequences.

Rather, it’s the act of someone who calculates that a willingness to create fake pretexts for treating legitimate election outcomes (ones that Republicans hate) as invalid is a big selling point in today’s GOP. If she does win a leadership role, her calculation will be proven correct.
The goal is to undermine confidence in elections

Underscoring the point, Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), the chair of the Republican Study Committee, made an extraordinarily disingenuous appearance on “Fox News Sunday.” Banks had endorsed the Texas lawsuit, which would have invalidated millions of votes in four states based on fictions, and voted to overturn President Biden’s electors in Congress.

Pressed by Fox’s Chris Wallace to admit Biden won “fair and square,” Banks kinda sorta acknowledged it, but immediately pivoted to claiming those actions were entirely justified, by insisting that his “serious concerns” about the election were still valid.

This is not the act of a “coward” who “fears Trump,” and would vouch for the integrity of the election if only he could do so without consequences.

Rather, it is the act of someone who is fully devoted to the project of continuing to undermine confidence in our elections going forward.

This is for purely instrumental purposes. Republicans are employing their own invented doubts about 2020 to justify intensified voter suppression everywhere. Banks neatly crystallized the point on Fox, saying those doubts required more voting restrictions — after reinforcing them himself.

Indeed, with all this, Republicans may be in the process of creating a kind of permanent justification for maximal efforts to invalidate future election outcomes by whatever means are within reach.

I’ve already detailed the possibility that a GOP-controlled House could refuse to certify a contested state’s election results in 2024. Brian Beutler suggests other ways Republicans could use official power to undermine legitimate outcomes, such as institutionalizing “sham audits” like the Arizona one or punishing state officials who certify Democratic victories.
Time to reckon with GOP radicalization

The lies about 2020 and the increasing dedication to destroying democratic institutions in the quest for power are inextricable from one another. As Jay Rosen says, the press is comfortable calling out the former — it can be packaged as a “fact check.” But being forthright about the latter requires depicting one party as far and away the only primary threat to our democratic stability. That’s accurate, but it’s uncomfortably adversarial.

Relatedly, describing Republicans as “cowards” who “fear Trump” casts their machinations as mere reluctant efforts to cope with externally imposed circumstances they’d prefer not to be dealing with. This lets Republicans off the hook in a very fundamental way. It risks misleading the country about the true depths of GOP radicalization — and the real dangers it poses.

Doonesbury — Jab him, too.


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