The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion In today’s GOP, voting for infrastructure is heresy. Threatening violence is not.

Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) tweeted an animated video that depicted him striking Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) with a sword. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The House just voted to censure Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) and remove him from his committee assignments, after he tweeted an edited anime video portraying him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). With the exception of two GOP members — Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) and Liz Cheney (Wyo.) — virtually every other Republican voted no.

Gosar is one of the Trumpiest members of the House. He’s so toxic that his own siblings have begged voters not to return him to Washington. But when push came to shove, almost all his colleagues stood by him.

The same is not true of the 13 House Republicans who recently joined with Democrats to pass an infrastructure bill that will deliver benefits to every congressional district in the country, in roads, bridges, water and sewer systems, broadband, and much more.

The contrast between the two cases demonstrates how far policy has been driven from the minds and hearts of the Republican Party in Washington. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that they have no substantive concerns and no real policy agenda. There is only their side and their enemies; nothing else matters.

Infrastructure used to be the prototypical issue on which Democrats and Republicans could come together no matter how deep their disagreements. Liberals and conservatives all like to drink clean water and get to work on time, and representatives of both parties want to bring home the bacon to their constituents.

But no more. At the very least, you might have thought the Republican response to a few of their colleagues voting for infrastructure would have been grudging recognition of why they want to deliver for their districts, combined with disappointment that Biden garnered a win.

Instead, after the vote those 13 members were inundated with hatred and even death threats. Conservatives in the House argued that the 13 should be stripped of their committee assignments as retribution. Former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows agreed.

This is striking because you’re supposed to at least pretend that there are issues on which bipartisanship could be possible — like infrastructure. Yet Republicans have stopped pretending. As the New York Times reported, GOP leaders who lobbied members to vote against the infrastructure bill “have made few substantive policy arguments against the plan.”

Why would they bother? They know that nobody in their party cares about substantive policy anymore.

Now those 13 are in the crosshairs. The former president’s PAC put out a video demanding they be voted out. Donald Trump put out a statement attacking Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) over the bill that sounded like a 3 a.m. rant from your drunk uncle: “McConnell is a fool and he damn well better stop their ‘Dream of Communism Bill.’”

Better days for Bannon

Underscoring the degree to which the GOP has become mostly a substance-free trolling operation, it’s telling that the party is so angry about Biden’s infrastructure bill passing at the same time that Stephen K. Bannon faces indictment for defying a subpoena from the House select committee examining Jan. 6.

Nobody remembers this today, but the very same Bannon was once perhaps the leading spokesman for the idea that Trump would deliver in a major way on infrastructure repair, and that this would help define Trumpism in substantive terms as a durable force in American life.

Back in 2016, just after Trump won, Bannon gave a big interview in which he promised that Trump would preside over a trillion dollar infrastructure plan.

“We’re going to build an entirely new political movement,” Bannon crowed. “Shipyards, ironworks, get them all jacked up.” Bannon added: “It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution — conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement.”

Those were heady days for Bannon and Trump. The old GOP would be supplanted by a new GOP that offered substantive material gains to the working class, creating a coalition to rival the New Deal and Ronald Reagan realignments. Democrats had good reason to fear what would happen if Trump followed through on this promise.

None of it happened, of course. The infrastructure plan vanished and Bannon spent most of his time trying to ban Muslims and keep desperate migrants out in whatever way he could. The very wealthy got a huge tax cut and Trumpist economic nationalism withered away to a shell of demagoguery about the border and China.

Bannon was pushed out but maintained his loyalty, and now his contribution to Trumpism has devolved into little more than becoming a martyr to the cause of overturning U.S. democracy on Trump’s behalf.

Republicans still claim that Trump has recreated the party as the “working class GOP.” But now they’re punishing fellow GOP lawmakers who tried to act on a central promise of Trumpism as Bannon himself defined it — infrastructure — all because the person actually pursuing infrastructure is the guy who beat the mighty Trump from his basement.

You can tell a great deal about a party from what it advocates, but also what it finds unacceptable and where its zeal for punishment and retribution lies. And right now, what animates the GOP is very simple: Democrats are the enemy, and there is literally nothing more important than fighting them every minute of every day. Anyone in the party who forgets that will suffer the consequences.