Column: Far-right fringe furthers Republican crackup


For the Valley News

Published: 01-09-2023 11:03 AM

Few have ever wanted a job as much as Kevin McCarthy wants to be Speaker of the House. If he weren’t such a reprehensible hypocrite, I’d feel sorry him.

Imagine any other person seeking any other leadership position, sending a resume and being roundly rejected by the search committee. Trying again, the applicant appends a new letter of recommendation. No luck. Third time is not a charm either, despite an offer to take a reduced salary. Fourth, fifth and sixth tries include agreement to be fired at any time without notice, to allow several subordinates to reverse any decision, to buy everyone lunch and to clean the toilets on the weekend. “No thanks,” they say.

As of this writing, McCarthy is being nominated for the seventh time, with the outcome unclear. Frankly, it doesn’t matter. If McCarthy is elected, it will be a pyrrhic victory indeed. His concessions to the anti-democratic, election-denying, gun-toting’, anti-intellectual, anti-government minority will hamstring him and make any meaningful legislation impossible. Of course, the slim GOP majority has no interest in legislating anyway. Should the 118th Congress finally get underway, it will be an ongoing clown show of investigations of Hunter Biden’s laptop, impeachment proceedings against one of the most decent and effective presidents in recent history and, perhaps, allowing the country to go into default, damaging both the economy and our already tarnished international reputation.

The dysfunction and head-shaking buffoonery has been accentuated by watching fringe politicians like Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar, work the room with bravado. The ghosts of Congresses past must have fled the chamber in embarrassment. The buffoonery has a sideshow in occasional camera shots of George Santos, if that’s his name, standing alone at the back of the House. Another case of “it would be sad if ...”

Unlike most of the commentary I’ve heard and read in these days, I think this is probably a good thing.

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Beginning in 1981, when Ronald Reagan declared that government “is the problem,” the GOP has been controlled by a radical faction of ultra-conservatives who want, as Grover Norquist declared, “to shrink government to the size that it could be drowned in the bathtub.” Newt Gingrich took out a contract on America, the Tea Party wanted to drown government in Boston Harbor and now the Freedom Caucus apparently wants to shred the Constitution, support insurrection, and ordain Christianity as the official national religion.

The previous iterations of this fringe were, at least, cosmetically competent. Gingrich was, for example, an alleged historian, albeit with a slippery, highly partisan grasp on his area of supposed expertise. By contrast, the current inhabitants of the clown car include a gun-toting owner of a small diner, a beady-eyed man accused of sex with minors and a man so bereft of morals and ability that his own siblings have deemed him unfit for office.

While the remaining GOP House members may not be towering intellects or pillars of virtue, their number includes some decent women and men who are losing patience. Eventually they face a choice: Either be controlled by the Bozo contingent or find a way to work around them, lest the Republican Party itself is destroyed. Either way, the far right fringe has inadvertently done democracy and Democrats a service.

At this point, reasonable conservatives will finally have to publicly disavow Trump, Trumpism and the band of deplorable acolytes he has empowered. That disavowal has started and, I predict, will cascade rapidly in the coming months and into the next election cycle.

The GOP majority has the tools to do so. They can starve these renegades of campaign funds and vigorously campaign against them. This will have a temporary cost, as it is not only the elected wing nuts who will squeal, but so will their reprehensible supporters, who have gained disproportionate power through the MAGA phenomenon and the right wing social media. But these assorted white supremacists and bigots are also a minority and can eventually be returned to the dismal margins where they have always squatted.

This is the service to democracy to which I refer. It is as though the GOP has opportunistically ignored a cancerous growth in one arm of its body politic as it waved the MAGA flag and now that same arm is driving the bus off a cliff. They really have no choice but amputation. They may lose ground in the near-term, but a MAGAT-infected party has no future in national politics.

I believe the nation benefits from a functional two-party system, however strongly we may disagree with the loyal opposition. But that requires a “loyal” opposition — one that remains loyal to the Constitution, the rule of law and the political norms that a functional democracy requires.

This shameful and humiliating debacle may be the catalyst that forces a reckoning that is about seven years overdue.