What are Republican members of Congress so scared about that they’re still clinging to crazy conspiracy theories about election fraud, even after the Supreme Court has acted and the electoral college has voted? Is there a path back to sanity and civility after the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden?
Trump has helped create and stoke this rage, but it’s now broader and deeper than him — and it won’t disappear on Jan. 20. Sadly, the only prescription I’ve heard is that “time heals all wounds,” as former congressman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) reminded me. In other words, we have to wait this craziness out.
Restoring good governance won’t be impossible, just hard. One overlooked sign of sanity was a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act sponsored by Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.) and backed by Republicans. It will require that if the Insurrection Act is ever invoked, military and law enforcement units must wear their names and insignia. No more “little green men” like those who appeared on the streets briefly during the George Floyd protests last summer.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has begun prodding GOP senators toward accepting Biden’s victory and a normal transfer of power. It’s a matter of self-interest for McConnell; a Republican Party stuck in conspiracy-land could lose control of the Senate, if not next month in Georgia, then in 2022.
But Republican leadership in the House under Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) is weak and in thrall to the extreme wing known as the Freedom Caucus. Its membership has grown slightly, from 36 members in 2016 to 43 this year, but its influence far outweighs its size. Where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has managed, at least so far, to control the noisy liberal wing of her caucus, the Republicans have failed.
The GOP’s inability to maintain internal discipline leaves it vulnerable to extreme ideas. The worst example of this chaos on the right was the stampede this month to endorse a lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. That lawsuit was a legal abomination, arguing that Texas could challenge the election results of four swing states won by Biden, and the Supreme Court promptly rejected it on Dec. 11.
What’s chilling is how 126 House Republicans signed on to an amicus brief supporting the case. The pitch was led by Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.). In early December, he contacted fellow Republicans, warning, as one recipient summarized, “The president wants us to sign this amicus brief. He’ll be paying attention to who signs.” When Republicans protested that the suit was a loser — that it trampled on states’ rights and the Constitution — Johnson told them the president wanted it, period.
The herd complied: By Dec. 10, 106 House Republicans had joined the brief.
The truly scary part is what happened next: Republicans who hadn’t signed on were barraged by the pro-Trump base back home. “Members who didn’t sign it got crap,” including political and physical threats, a GOP member told me. By Dec. 11, 20 more frightened Republicans had clambered aboard — boosting the total of signers to 126.
Johnson said the latecomers hadn’t been recorded earlier because of a “clerical error.” Ha! It was raw intimidation. The sorriest late endorser for this wild legal document was McCarthy, the minority leader. A few hours later, the case was dead.
The next step in House Republican craziness may be a hapless attempt to decertify the electoral college results when they’re presented to a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6. To Trump’s applause, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) has said he plans to challenge electors, rather than “join the surrender caucus.” But to make his challenge, Brooks needs support from one senator.
McConnell wants to avoid this circus, and he advised Republican senators Tuesday not to join Brooks, arguing that the battle would produce a “terrible vote” in which GOP dissenters would be seen as anti-Trump. Trump turned the screw another notch. “Mitch,” he tweeted, “Too soon to give up. Republican Party must finally learn to fight. People are angry!”
Republicans should stop this death spiral for their own good. House Republicans gained seats in 2020, even as Trump lost. Argues Rogers: “People said no to Trump and yes to Republicans all around the country.”
The message is to move on, but it’s hard for Republicans to hear when they’re hunkered down — still intimidated by Trump and frightened by an angry base that seems to have lost the ability to separate election fact from fiction.
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