Let’s consider three recent developments that encapsulate what has happened of late to the GOP.
First, three moderate Republican members of the House, all well-respected and seasoned legislators, have announced their retirements. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), Dave Reichert (Wash.) and Charlie Dent (Pa.) won’t be running for reelection in 2018. Dent says:
I have done my best to make a meaningful, positive impact. As a member of the governing wing of the Republican Party, I’ve worked to instill stability, certainty and predictability in Washington. I’ve fought to fulfill the basic functions of Government, like keeping the lights on and preventing default. Regrettably, that has not been easy given the disruptive outside influences that profit from increased polarization and ideological rigidity that leads to dysfunction, disorder and chaos.
In other words, there is no place for a reasonable legislative craftsman.
Second, Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s ex-chief strategist and leader of the so-called alt-right, attacks the Catholic Church for defending “dreamers” who have been protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. (You know, “You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt …” Exodus 23:9.) He accuses the Catholic Church of defending innocent children brought here by their parents because “they need illegal aliens, they need illegal aliens to fill the churches.” He declares, “It’s obvious on the face of it.” Actually, what’s obvious is that this crowd’s claim to be defenders of the Judeo-Christian tradition is as phony as Trump’s foundation. With corrupt motives and disdain for those people who act according to a moral and/or religious tradition, they declare “winning” and wealth to be the means by which we judge our fellow man. This is now the spirit that animates the so-called values voters — the right-wing evangelical crowd that dominates the GOP. Instead of self-reliance, work ethic and concern for the most vulnerable, they preach the gospel of white grievance.
And finally, Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich goes on TV this week to explain how bizarre it is that it should take Congress six months to fix the DACA problem. “Congress has six months, it should take six hours to get this done, and the way I think they need to do it, they need reasonable Republicans and Democrats from the middle and build out a solution to this,” Kasich said on CBS. He added, “We’re putting kids, young people in jeopardy, this is not the America that we all love, this is a melting pot. If the dreamers want to go somewhere and live, come to Ohio, we want all the immigrants to come to Ohio, we know how much immigrants contribute.” Kasich is now considered an outlier (while Bannon reigns over the Trump base!), but of course he is right. If the Dream Act were placed on the floor of each house, it would pass overwhelmingly, but that cannot happen because the xenophobic contingent in the GOP wants either to extract onerous concessions or bury DACA in endless negotiations that never achieve immigration reform.
In short, the sane grown-ups are leaving (or have already left) Congress. Republican governors such as Kasich, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Larry Hogan of Maryland, who push for sensible health-care fixes and a DACA solution, are treated as heretics. The inmates are running the prison (apologies to inmates), so even with GOP majorities in both houses and a GOP president, they cannot set the agenda. Republicans wind up acting as though they are back in the minority and allow Democrats to wield power. Meanwhile, the “constitutional conservatives” try to run interference for Trump on everything from emoluments violations to the Russia investigation.
Trump’s party is convinced that climate change isn’t real but that massive, unproven voter fraud is. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) wants to talk about evidence-based policymaking. No, really. The party that makes up a crime wave, denies environmental science, lies about immigrants stealing jobs and murdering our children, and thinks trillions in tax cuts will pay for themselves wants evidence-based policymaking? The gall takes one’s breath away.
The GOP is a party gone off the rails morally, intellectually and politically. Not conservative or even coherent, it relies on state TV (Fox News) and Russia bots to echo its nonsense. The question is not why people like Dent, Ros-Lehtinen and Reichert are leaving but why any reasonable adult would remain in the GOP.