Commentary

Disorder is all Republicans have to offer | Quentin Young

The GOP primed its base for extremism and lawlessness. Now the base demands it

January 6, 2023 6:30 am
Former U.S. President Donald Trump gestures during an event at his Mar-a-Lago home on Nov. 15, 2022 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

PALM BEACH, FLORIDA – NOVEMBER 15: Former U.S. President Donald Trump gestures during an event at his Mar-a-Lago home on November 15, 2022 in Palm Beach, Florida. Trump announced that he was seeking another term in office and officially launched his 2024 presidential campaign. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

At all levels of government, in every branch of government, Republicans increasingly stand only for disorder.

The Constitution establishes the U.S. as a nation of laws. Democracy demands that the public good is elevated over personal interests. American government functions only when elected leaders follow rules, respect norms and act in good faith.

Yet the GOP on balance has chosen the opposite approach, one of lawlessness and patent self-interest. This rot, since Republicans still manage to get themselves into legislatures, executive offices and judgeships, is hardly confined to red jurisdictions and conservative constituencies.

The dysfunction that the party purveys degrades us all.

The most immediate example of this was the vexed efforts this week to select a new speaker of the U.S. House. On the very first day that Republicans were back in control of the chamber, chaos reigned — mostly due to petty grievances, obstinacy and, above all, attention-seeking. For the first time in a century, the chamber failed to elect a new speaker on the first ballot (or the second or sixth) as the Republican frontrunner, Kevin McCarthy of California, faced hardened opposition from the MAGA faction of his conference.

“Very clearly they’re looking for notoriety over principle,” an exasperated Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas told CNN. “That’s what it is, and anyone who suggests differently is in some kind of make-believe fantasy reality.” He added that the GOP conference had debates about the speaker vote, and that should have allowed the members to coalesce around a candidate. “But if you’re a narcissist, if you’re a narcissist and you believe that your opinion is so much more important than everyone else’s then you keep going.”

He was referring to the likes of extremist Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Chip Roy of Texas and Lauren Boebert of Colorado. They opposed McCarthy — who, to be sure, is little more than a dishonest opportunist — apparently because he’s not lunatic-right enough, and he had rebuffed their hostage-taker demands.

Republican leaders have long encouraged an ethics-free, power-at-all-costs governing style, and it was only a matter of time before such misbehavior turned inward.

The speaker vote meltdown echos the sinister forces at work during the biggest recent manifestation of Republican disorder, the Jan. 6 insurrection. The violent attack on the U.S. Capitol occurred exactly two years ago, but its repercussions will be with us for a long time. As chronicled in the final report of the House committee that investigated Jan. 6, former President Donald Trump, while still in office, plotted to overturn an election he knew he lost and fomented violence that threatened the lives of lawmakers and his own vice president.

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No other elected official in the country’s history is guilty of such a dastardly betrayal of public trust, yet Republicans refuse to hold him accountable. In fact Trump is the leading GOP candidate for president in 2024. The country might not be able to overcome such a massive breakdown of constitutional order.

Failure to punish Trump and other seditionist leaders has resulted in damage on a scale that’s hard to fathom. A large majority of Republicans still falsely believe President Joe Biden did not win the election legitimately. Election denial is now a permanent posture among an alarmingly large portion of the national electorate. As the retired conservative Judge Michael Luttig warned in June, Trump and his supporters are a “clear and present danger to American democracy.”

Pervasive disorder now extends to the top of the judicial branch. The far-right majority on the Supreme Court put the lie to assertions by those justices that they respect legal precedents when last year they issued decisions that showed what they really care about is partisan trophies. The most consequential of these decisions overturned the longstanding abortion-rights precedent of Roe v. Wade.

More judicial turmoil is expected this year.

“The Court is set to issue rulings in a series of cases that will do more to catapult this country into a theocratic morass than any previous term in modern history,” wrote Imani Gandy of Rewire News Group.

One of those rulings could come in Moore v. Harper, which, if justices side with the plaintiffs, could topple precedents governing federal elections that go back to the nation’s founding. It would permit the very kind of election-overturning scheme that Trump attempted to perpetrate.

Republican leaders have long encouraged an ethics-free, power-at-all-costs governing style, and it was only a matter of time before such misbehavior turned inward. This week’s speaker vote humiliation reflects this internal instability. So does the race to chair the Colorado GOP.

After one of the most disastrous performances in the history of the position, current chair Kristi Burton Brown is stepping down after a single term. In normal times, in a normal party, this would spur a rush of worthy candidates to succeed her. That has not occurred.

Colorado Republican strategist Sage Naumann told The Denver Post “only the insane, incapacitated or incompetent” would consider taking the position. Indeed, one of the most recognizable names in the candidate pool is Tina Peters, the election-denying Mesa County clerk who’s under felony indictment.

Don’t feel sorry for Republicans. They primed their base for extremism and lawlessness, and now the base demands it. But the result is dishonesty and incompetence wherever Republicans go, and that hurts every American who yearns for effective leadership and institutional integrity.

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