The Grand Old Party No Longer Exists — It’s Something Else Now

The future of the Republican Party is a hot topic, now that its Congressional cohort has finally and formally announced its support for insurrection. In reaction, the relatively sensible members of the party could gain more support, but it seems much more likely that the party will become more extreme as its anti-insurrection minority drifts away. America will have an even more extreme right-wing party, even though that’s hard to believe. As the number of Republicans goes down, the number of Democrats should go up. That in turn would lead to the Democratic Party winning more elections, but simultaneously shifting somewhat to the right (the conservative wing of the Democratic Party would grow).

Will Bunch of The Philadelphia Inquirer isn’t looking that far ahead. For now, he thinks “bipartisanship is dead — and so is the immoral Republican Party”. This is most of his latest column, with my italicized modifications [note: a certain person’s name doesn’t appear below and if I’m careful, will never again appear on this blog]:

The Republican Party was born on March 20, 1854, the green shoots of a political spring. Unlike America’s other parties that were often shotgun weddings of convenience, the Republicans burst forth around moral ideas that were so powerful — ending slavery and making America a world industrial power — that the tail of this supernova lasted for more than 166 years and inspired its eventual nickname, the Grand Old Party.

That GOP died — morally, if not officially — in the late afternoon gloaming of a grey and bitterly cold winter’s day, Feb. 13, 2021. After 43 Republican senators who’d been given a green light to “vote their conscience” on impeachment still managed to come up empty — thus enshrining the notion that an end-of-term president can foment a deadly insurrection to thwart a peaceful transition of power and not face any consequences — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell strolled to the well of the Senate. He was presumably holding the bloody knife with which he’d repeatedly stabbed American democracy for a dozen years hidden behind his back.

It turns out that McConnell’s past moments of political shamelessness — the years of hurting America’s recovery just to electorally thwart our first Black president, the theft of a Supreme Court pick from Barack Obama so it could be made by a dangerous demagogue whom the Kentuckian then helped pack the judiciary — were just an audition for Saturday’s GOP eulogy.

“There’s no question — none — that President [so and so] is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day,” said McConnell, referring to the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol that had endangered McConnell’s colleagues, his staffers and himself. “No question about it.” But his faux moment of moral clarity was all a sham, as shown by leading the Feckless 43 in acquitting [Dear Leader] as well as his pretzel logic to justify his vote, a lie-based misreading of the U.S. Constitution that he’d already shredded into 10,000 pieces as he turned the Party of Lincoln into an authoritarian cult with no moral standing and no ideology beyond realpolitick to protect white identity politics.

But McConnell’s effort to obfuscate was in fact one of the most revelatory moments in the long, muddled history of American politics. The unbearable nothingness of his failure — and that of most of his party — to hold [their boss] to account for a full-frontal assault on America’s core ideals was the final flatlining in the long slow death of a political party that is no longer grand, just old. On paper, the Republican Party may live on — but the GOP as an idea and a moral force is deader than a parrot in a Monty Python sketch, nailed to its perch in a gross caricature of what it once was.

And it’s time for the rest of us — the 57%, the rough number who support the launch of the President Biden era, equal to the percentage of senators who voted to convict — to act accordingly. There is no place for bipartisanship when half of that proposed arrangement is no longer a functioning political party within a working democracy.

“I think our country needs a strong Republican party — it’s very important,” a visibly shaken House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Saturday, crashing a news conference of House impeachment managers to rebut McConnell and his intentionally misleading account of how the process went down. But Pelosi was only partially right. America will indeed need a vigorous two-party (if not multiparty) system to have real, honest debates about how to defend democracy and advance the interests of a forgotten working class. But today’s Republican Party jumped the guardrails of that highway a long time ago.

In many ways, the buffoonery, corruption, and incitements to mob violence that was [the ex-president and unindicted co-conspirator] was just a gross symptom, a massive tumor that resulted from the disease that has been coursing through the Republican Party for decades. In the Nixon and Reagan eras, the GOP abandoned any and all former principles for a self-preservation ethos of tax breaks for a wealthy donor class and stirring up the social resentments of the white working class . . . “the Southern strategy” that barely hid its white-supremacist roots.

The energy that was needed to keep [the strategy going] — including a lie-based media infrastructure of talk radio and Fox News that eroded trust in fact-based journalism and eventually even the science needed to fight pandemics or climate change — was a road map to first demagoguery and, when unchecked, dictatorship. . . .

Is it any wonder, then, to see the mainstream of such a Republican Party come up morally bankrupt, as in the acquittal votes by the likes of McConnell or Ohio Sen. Rob Portman? Portman is the epitome of the last era of “serious Republicans” as a former acolyte of George W. Bush (who, as Bush’s budget chief, presumably at least believes in math) and yet the kind of politician who ultimately can’t see past himself — famously supporting gay marriage only after his own son came out. Today, Portman is walking away from the Senate but is still too fearful of the angry mob that he helped create to vote his own conscience on Txxxx. His cowardice is typical of the Feckless 43.

. . . The 17 Republicans (10 in the House, and seven Saturday in the Senate) who voted to impeach or convict [the orange creep] for the most heinous high crime ever committed by a president. But in today’s climate they are islands in the stream, not the makings of a new or revived Republican Party, whose implosion matches the slavery-tied collapse of the Whig Party in the 1850s. There is, arguably, a large opening for a completely new second political party — one that actually promotes the economic interests of a multiracial working class and some of its social conservatism, but embraces ethics and eschews racism — but the stench of the GOP’s corpse may have to get worse before that can happen.

In 2021, the only hope for American salvation is not bipartisanship with a dead body but instead a Democratic Party that is every bit as bold as the Republicans are cowardly. That is easier said than done . . .

But let’s look at this glass as half-full rather than half-empty. Since Biden took office, the push to use the controversial 51-Senate-votes reconciliation process to move full steam ahead on coronavirus relief for everyday Americans, and Democrats’ bold move to strip GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee assignments over her dangerous pro-QAnon statements, are signs that the Democrats know they must govern for the 57%.

Now, in the wake of the Republicans’ blocking of accountability for [their party’s cult leader], Democrats must see the light and go even deeper. The failure to get 60 votes, let alone 67, in the open-and-shut case of the ex-president’s insurrection incitement, should not only be the death knell for the GOP but also for the filibuster. Without the ability to represent the 57% of Americans who believe in a morally good and progressive nation on a straight up-or-down vote, Republicans will block voting rights reforms — which is their best hope for gaming the elections of 2022 and 2024.

What’s more, a failure to enact laws backed by a majority of the public — most notably, the $15 minimum wage — [could] open the door to [another Republican president]. Saturday’s vote — and McConnell’s acknowledgement of likely criminal conduct by the ex-president — should be a green light for incoming Attorney General Merrick Garland to finally bring [this world-class scoundrel] to justice in our criminal courts.

That truth may be a hard pill for the likes of President Biden, who was raised on the quasi-sacred altar of bipartisanship. But the only way to save the country from the American carnage of 2021 is for the Democrats to use their narrow majority to push for what is right — politically, economically, morally — and invite any principled Republicans like Sen. Mitt Romney or Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler to join them. Real aid for struggling, regular folks, and the bloody shirt of Jan. 6, could help Democrats defy the political wisdom and gain more seats in 2022. And that would speed the inevitable — to declare the Republican Party legally dead, and move on with our lives.

They Should Try Voting with the Democrats

The first two things I read this morning were fun to read and made sense — with one big caveat. Both were columns by Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post:

PART 1: “None of These [Repugnant] Excuses Work”

After a day of horrifying, searing evidence from the House managers, [Repugnant] senators are increasingly desperate to figure out how to avoid rubber-stamping the ex-president’s incitement to riot, which injured scores, resulted in five deaths, defiled the Capitol and traumatized staff and lawmakers. (Hint: Vote guilty.) Their excuses are flimsy, even laughable.

“Not constitutional.” Sorry, the Senate voted otherwise on Tuesday after a devastating presentation of law, precedent and common sense showed that they most certainly can impeach an official while in office and convict afterward. Reportedly even Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) admits the Senate could exercise jurisdiction. (He’d rather not, however.) [Note: He doesn’t want to run against you know who in 2024 and hopes other Repugnants will vote to convict and disqualify] . . . 

“First Amendment.” Nope. A president has every right to, say, march in a neo-Nazi parade and invite a foreign country to invade. But such conduct is still impeachable. It is not a question of his right to say what he wants, but whether he committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” (in this case, incitement to sedition). Moreover, as dozens of constitutional scholars have explained, incitement to riot is not protected speech.

“No evidence he incited the mob.” That one went out the window on Wednesday, when House managers masterfully took the Senate through weeks of the ex-president’s Big Lie, his “stop the steal” campaign and his call to “fight.” He sent supporters a “save the date” for protests in the capital, whipped them into a frenzy for weeks and timed his harangue just as the Congress was beginning to count the electoral college votes. They even played a video of a rioter reading aloud the disgraced president’s tweet vilifying Vice President Mike Pence as the crowd amassed outside the Capitol. The managers presented a mound of evidence showing the insurrectionists believed they were following the then-president’s orders.

“He made that video.” The one where he said “We love you” to the mob that terrorized the Capitol, came within feet of lawmakers, bludgeoned and killed police, and sought out the speaker and vice president to kill them? Well, that only came after hours of lawmakers, some in the Senate, pleading with him to call off the mob. And he never called in the National Guard to restore order.

“What a precedent!” Yes. If another president spends months trying to undermine an election, incites a riot and, as Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.) put it, “left everyone in the Capitol for dead,” he too should be impeached.

“Let him be criminally prosecuted.” This was actually suggested by one of his own attorneys. (You get what you pay for.) The senators took an oath of office. They have an obligation to decide if he should be barred from serving future office. He is being investigated by a Georgia prosecutor for his attempt to strong-arm Secretary of State Brian Raffensperger, but that does not absolve them of the obligation to do their job. (How pathetic is it, by the way, to argue, “Other people can uphold their oaths, so we don’t have to”?) . . .

The unpleasant reality is that many [Repugnant] senators stoked the MAGA mob for weeks with the Big Lie. Some made spurious attempts to upend the election. It is therefore uncomfortable for them to convict the ex-president because his followers actually listened to him and lay siege to the Capitol. This discomfort compounds their constant aversion to standing up to the disgraced ex-president.

Senate [Repugnants] are desperate to avoid the impression they are spineless careerists lacking a modicum of the courage the police showed in saving their necks on Jan. 6. Instead of resorting to obviously silly arguments, they might actually uphold their oaths and vote to convict. Nah, anything but that.

PART 2: “Stop Trying to Save the [Grotesque Old Party]. It’s Hopeless”

The first three days of the impeachment trial have reminded us just how low the [Repugnant] Party has fallen. What should be open and shut — an airtight case of inciting an insurrection — has become yet another exercise in disingenuous denial. Most [Repugnant] senators have plainly decided to acquit the ex-president no matter what. No matter how dangerous and frivolous it would be to create a “January exception” for impeachable conduct, and despite overwhelming the evidence that he stoked the MAGA mob, they will let him walk.

This is a party that is immune to facts and bereft of decency. It has proved that it cannot function within the ground rules of our system — that candidates concede when they lose, that they respect a free press, that they stick to facts and embrace majority rule. Such a party cannot exist in our democracy.

The [Repugnants] who rally around a pathological demagogue are not a “fringe” in the party. The 10 House and six Senate [Repugnants] who have expressed the view that impeachment is not only constitutional but essential are the fringe. That is a mere 12 percent of Senate [Repugnants] and less than 5 percent of House [Repugnants]. Those people are the outliers.

We are not talking about a trivial difference over policy — or even a major one. It is a fundamental division over whether the party should become a right-wing populist cult willing to subvert democracy to keep power. That is too much for some to swallow, thank goodness. The two sides cannot coexist.

Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein writes:

The truth is that a lot of [Repugnants] seem willing to let the party become more and more Trumpy. That means being comfortable playing footsie with white supremacist and other violent groups; eager to make voting more difficult and even to overturn election results when necessary; and generally less and less supportive of the rule of law and democracy. A party like that, with little aspiration to appeal to anyone beyond its strongest supporters, might still be competitive electorally thanks to the way two-party politics tends to work. And if it wins, it could put most of its efforts into tilting the rules more in its favor.

Pro-democratic (little-d) people cannot live with a party so enamored with authoritarianism and devoted to one Big Lie after another. That [Repugnant] Party is antithetical to our Constitution, to fidelity to truth and to a multiracial democracy.

Could the 5 to 12 percent “take back their party”? It would be lovely. But I see no indication that is possible. Nor does the base seem ready to accept the 2020 election was legitimate. It has no apparent interest in moving on from the former president or living outside the right-wing media bubble. The minority of [Repugnants] who think otherwise might survive the next round of primaries, but they show no ability to move the 88 to 95 percent of the party out.

Bernstein asks what would happen if “a handful of [Repugnant] members of Congress — say, those who voted to impeach Trump and those who appear ready to vote to convict him — [broke] away from the party.” Well, even if they could, they would likely face a massive hurdle in getting on the ballot and winning as third-party or independent candidates. (There have been a handful of exceptions, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who won elections as an independent and a write-in candidate.)

Now, that would be a fine outcome for many Americans if it meant patriotic, honorable Democrats won more races. But if you think the country needs two parties that are both patriotic and committed to truth and democracy, you have not gotten where you need to go. The current, anti-democratic and intellectually dishonest [Repugnant] Party is an insurmountable barrier to the development of a viable alternative to the existing Democratic Party.

So by all means, decent politicians and patriotic voters should leave the [Grotesque Old Party]. Then they can work with the one remaining party [note: the one that prefers democracy] to demolish the cultish, right-wing populist party that is closer to fascistic European parties than to American political parties that traditionally have competed for votes. When the existing [Repugnant] Party has been reduced to political rubble, those who do not have a home in the Democratic Party can clear away the rubble, find a governing philosophy and develop a constituency. None of that happens so long as the party willing to harbor and defend a demagogue who threatens the republic stands in the way.

Unquote.

The big problem for any current Repugnants who want to work with the Democrats is that actually putting “Democrat” next to their names would cause most of them — maybe all of them — to lose their next elections. The folks back home consider Democrats to be their enemies, no matter what Democrats do. By all means, these relatively sensible Repugnants should vote much more often with the Democrats. Just ten of them in the Senate would give the Democratic Party a filibuster-proof majority. But doing so will labor them as traitors and almost certainly mean they’ll have to retire or find honest work in the private sector two, four or six years from now.

How One Insurrectionist Got There

#CapitolSiegeReligion is a Twitter hashtag that refers to the intersection between the attack on the Capitol and religious beliefs. Peter Manseau is a curator of religious history at the Smithsonian and has been writing about it. Yesterday, he shared the story behind one of the insurrectionist’s actions. Facebook had a major role:

One month later, there’s still a part of #CapitolSiegeReligion I think needs more attention. Some religious media & evangelical leaders no doubt share a measure of the blame. But we can’t lose sight of the fact that the attack was the result of thousands of individual choices… To understand those choices I’ve been reading FBI charges, looking for mention of religious motives. That’s how I found Mike Sparks [of Elizabethtown, Kentucky], accused of being the first to enter the Capitol through a broken window. After the attack he declared Trump would remain president “in Jesus name”.

The day charges against him were announced, I had a look at Sparks’ Facebook page, which has now gone dark. What I saw there was fascinating: a record of one man’s transformation into an unlikely insurgent. A single chronicle of radicalization that may shed light on others.

Sparks was of course taken in by all the election lies. But what we need to understand is that his transformation started long before that. Last summer he posted a long video testimonial wrestling with a new anger he feared was rising in him & clearly naming its source: Facebook.

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“I consider myself a devout Christian,” he said, but he knew he hadn’t been sharing “godly things” on Facebook. “I’ve even said I’d shoot that person in the head, I’d shoot this person in the head… I’m not showing the love of Christ.” Friends began to worry; many unfriended him.

As he saw it, the problem for him began with Black Lives Matter. Images of protests across the country had pushed him over the edge. Framed by conservative media on Facebook, those images convinced him the time for spiritual war was at hand. “It’s good versus evil now,” he said.

It wasn’t just the images, it was that they felt inescapable. The same platform his family used to share photos was now driving him mad. “Facebook is where they’re feeding this anger and hatred,” he said. “They’ll find out what you are for or against & they’re gonna feed anger.”

Social media in Sparks’ description is a tormentor: an active, personified force that may do some good, but mostly means you harm. Facebook became for him the site of a clash with himself, relentlessly giving him dire warnings of threats posed to his family and his country.

“I’ve noticed that my phone has been in my hand more than my Bible,” Sparks confessed. “I’ve been locked in on my Facebook watching all this stuff play out and I get angrier and angrier.” He apologized & promised to do better, wondering if he should quit social media altogether.

“I’m not going to let my anger overtake me anymore,” he said. “I’m going to get in the word of God like I should be doing anyway, and get back to the me that smiles more. Because I got wrapped up. I got wrapped up in Facebook.”

In the end, he did not quit Facebook. His posts about BLM soon gave way to posts about the election and his refusal to accept the results. When Trump himself posted “JANUARY SIXTH, SEE YOU IN DC!”, Sparks shared it to his page, adding “I’ll be there.”

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According to the FBI, not only was Sparks there, he took part in one of the day’s most notorious incidents: when rioters chased Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman.

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At Sparks’ arrest, he wore a t-shirt citing Ephesians 6:11: “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” It’s worth asking how much being “wrapped up in Facebook” led him see the Capitol attack in those terms.

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Elizabethtown man charged in connection with Capitol riot arrested. Michael Sparks is in federal custody at the Oldham County Detention.

Understanding January 6 on an individual level is not easy. Yet it’s an important part of making sense of the problem we face: Trump is gone, but how many angry men are still staring at their phones, wondering when the battle raging inside them will break out into the world?