Sunday, January 8, 2023

BTRTN: Speaker Crisis Ends with a Bang and a Wimp… and Republicans Voters See the Mess They’ve Made Up Close

Like a victim of Stockholm Syndrome, Kevin McCarthy beamed when his party’s right wing ended their four-day hostage crisis and allowed him to become Speaker. Yes, the entire spectacle portends legislative dysfunction, danger, and disgrace… but  Republican voters needed to see just how dangerous their internecine war has become.

It was C-SPAN’s Superbowl, Grammys, and White Lotus rolled into one, a ratings bonanza for the network previously known only for the single, locked-down camera. The programming itself? A single episode repeated for four days until it was mercifully ended when the arsonists capitulated because they’d already milked it for all it was worth. 

When Kevin McCarthy failed to secure the nomination on the very first ballot, the news networks’ hype machines went into overdrive. We could be here for days! Weeks! Months!!! We were primed for a circus of deceit, hypocrisy, and character assassination, an endless cliffhanger -- Who Shot J.R. McCarthy?  A freak show of naked ambition  untethered to character, principle, or integrity… it’s Succession without the HBO subscription fee!

Or maybe it really was just an ordinary week in today’s Republican Party… finally broadcast so Republican voters could see up close the moral bankruptcy, weakness, and ferocious division in their party.

The cast – led by Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert, Kevin McCarthy, and including cameos by George Santos, and one off-camera former President -- had us believing the hype.  We watched the ever-cocky Gaetz, entranced by his own staggering capacity for self-aggrandizement. In quick cuts to Santos, we finally saw the pudgy, unprepossessing nerd who successfully hoodwinked portions of Queens and Long Island. Frequenting the podium, the forty-watt Boebert preened before C-SPAN’s unwavering eye as she undermined a proud institution for sport and spite. Offstage, a former President -- who has suddenly hit his iceberg and is sinking fast under the weight of his company’s conviction of tax fraud and looming accusations of his own criminality and seditious conspiracy -- seized the moment to stay relevant by making frequent calls into the chamber. That’s all we need: Donald Trump collecting still more “IOUs” from Kevin McCarthy as we barrel toward the 2024 election.

And now, the star of our mini-series... Kevin McCarthy. The man who sold his soul to too many people in pursuit of the glory of a title spent the week holding on for dear life, at risk of slipping at any moment from power player to punching bag to punchline. In the early hours of Saturday morning, McCarthy was elected… after having had to prostrate himself, grovel, endure humiliation, and make every concession possible while begging for a job that, as far as we could tell, no other Republican even wanted.

Perhaps it was the delicious swirl of schadenfreude that explains why so many were transfixed by the sight of paint drying culminating with McCarthy being rejected 14 times before prevailing. But don’t try to make us feel bad for watching by scolding us that the four-day hostage crisis was “bad for America.” Sure, I can understand why Joe Biden doesn’t want the United States to appear to be a confederacy of dunces, and we all knew that at some point, the House of Representatives must convene for the important business of debt ceilings, appropriations, and ignoring immigration reform.

But the truth is that what is happened this past week is good for America. Well, good for Republicans.

It is good for everyday Republican voters to stare at the monster they have created.

It is good for Republicans to witness their supposed party leader on his knees groveling before a rat pack of genuine rats.

It is good for Republicans to think about the fact that the two most dominant faces on camera for the week were a man who has been linked with sex-trafficking and an election-denying woman who tweets racially incendiary filth while sending out a Christmas card of her family toting assault rifles.

It is very good for Republicans to watch their own party turn the position of Speaker of the House into a toothless, empty, ceremonial throne -- all because no one had the guts to cut a real deal with Democrats and form a functioning coalition that would render Matt Gaetz once again only threatening to underage women.

It is good for Republicans to realize that it took 200 largely white male complicit wimps in cozy leather seats to turn Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert into media superstars.

It is a good time for all the Republicans in the United States to honestly ask themselves if they are proud to be associated with a party whose primary faces are weaklings, criminals, power addicts, bold-faced liars, and soulless enablers. 

As they say down at the corner store, if you broke it, you own it.

Over the past twenty years, the Republican Party has voted its way to its current incarnation – an unholy alliance forged among an extreme authoritarian right wing that wants to end democracy in America; a confederation of single-issue voters who like guns, hate abortion, fear immigrants, repress women, don’t want minorities to vote; and a sliver of immensely wealthy people who care only about enhancing their own fortunes. The last is a most peculiar group who somehow fail to understand – even when confronted with 100 years of stock market data -- that Republicans are actually very bad at that.

It is a party whose mixed bag of single-issue voters is supposedly unified by a desire to minimize the role and power of government. But it is being taken over by anarchists who have already moved on to the next step: destroying democracy and the institutions that enable it. It is a party that venerates a man who said “government is not the solution, government is the problem,” and has somehow managed to incorrectly conclude that the Gipper wanted government eliminated entirely.

It has become a party of electile dysfunction, riven asunder when the essential incompatibility of those many self-interests are revealed in the cold light of choosing a leader.

When wealthy, educated, “fiscally conservative” Republicans made their deal with the devil – embracing the Tea Party to secure enough votes to take the White House – these elite patricians did not anticipate that they would end up sharing Thanksgiving dinner with Big Lie/Little Brain racist Lauren Boebert. Right-wing Christians hell bent on repealing Roe v. Wade and then outlawing abortion altogether find themselves embracing Hershel Walker, a man who lost track of how many children he had fathered and urged (and paid for) abortions for his girlfriends. Angry, alienated middle-aged Southern white men who feel their livelihoods have been stolen by immigrants vote for a man who employed illegal immigrants, doesn’t pay taxes, and cozies up to foreign dictators. Establishment Republican politicians endorse a preposterously broad interpretation of the Second Amendment to secure the votes of gun extremists, only to witness the fruit of their compromise in horrendous scenes of mass slaughter of toddlers, young children, and teenagers in schools across America. The party of “law and order” orchestrates and executes a murderous attack the United States Capitol, threatening to hang the Vice President of United States… one of their own.

Ordinary Republican voters really ought to pause to consider that the hunger to hang Mike Pence – that is, to destroy an establishment Republican leader – is exactly what Boebert and Gaetz had in mind in Washington this week. Kevin McCarthy was being drawn, quartered, extruded, and humiliated by members of his own party. The only item missing was the actual noose.

There are no tears to be shed for Kevin McCarthy: he has been complicit – indeed, the primary enabler -- of his own misery. A weak and soulless man, vacant any moral compass or driving vision, McCarthy has made it transparent for years that the only organizing force in his life is the possession of a title and an office. In that quest, he surrendered most of the powers that make the Speaker’s effective, and shed every shred of personal dignity along the way.  The Gaetz and Boebert gang could smell it, and they toyed with it for as long as they possibly could, all there on national television. It was a personal branding and fundraising tour de force for Gaetz and Boebert, and McCarthy just let it happen.  

McCarthy has only himself to blame. He gave himself away for good after he initially lambasted Trump for his role in the January 6 Insurrection. But then he realized that Trump’s hold on the party was still strong, and he worried that his chances of becoming Speaker would be diminished unless he apologized.  Trump then proceeded to push his platform of election denial as the centerpiece of the mid-terms in 2022, resulting in weak candidates, weak messaging, and the failure to capture an expected “red wave” of House seats. With a wafer-thin Republican majority in the House, Kevin McCarthy had to kneel before the Freedom Caucus to get his dream job. By choosing to support Trump to preserve his chances at the Speaker’s role, he undermined his chances at attaining it… and then he secured the job by diminishing it. Nice work, Kevin.

Republican voters across America need to stare at this spectacle and understand exactly what they have done. They created this mess. They enabled the people who want to rip down our government, our structures, and our democracy.

It bears mentioning, in a final but nonetheless appalling side note, that Kevin McCarthy has not said a word about the newest member of his caucus, the epic liar from Queens, George Santos. Here’s a bet: if George Santos had opposed him for Speaker, McCarthy would have done everything in his power to prevent Santos from taking his seat in Congress. But because McCarthy needed every vote he could get, he chose to say nothing and do nothing about Santos.

How can we be the least bit surprised that McCarthy and the Republicans embraced George Santos? The Washington Post claims that Donald Trump made 30,573 false or misleading statements during his Presidency. Do you wonder where George Santos got the idea about how to succeed in the modern Republican Party?

George Santos, mind you, is not simply some amateur exaggerator, someone who, in his own words, merely did what everyone else does. “I’m not going to make excuses for this, but a lot of people overstate in their resumes, or twist a little bit. … I’m not saying I’m not guilty of that.” A little bit? Telling people that your mother died in the 9/11 attacks is not the same as claiming that you made varsity when you languished on the J.V. squad.  It is a faux invocation of excruciating human pain, a tragedy that – if true – would warrant deep sympathy and perhaps some consideration and added kindness for your suffering and for overcoming a searing emotional life experience. George Santos claiming that his mother died on 9/11 is a ham-fisted manipulation of an emotional hand-grenade to get a few extra votes.

Is anybody – anyone at all -- in the Republican Party feeling the least bit good about the putrid stew of blind ambition, insult, and mind-numbing repetition that went on in our nation’s capital this week?

You bet someone is! Lauren Boebert is rocking it! Just a few short weeks ago, Boebert was thanking her lucky stars, having squeaked out re-election by a mere 546 votes out of 326,000 cast. But now she gets to stand up on the floor of the United States House of Representatives and speak passionately about how government is broken, somehow missing the irony that she is the one swinging the wrecking ball. But she is compelling on one point: if you think Washington, D.C. is dysfunctional, do you really think that a vision-less empty suit like Kevin McCarthy is the guy to fix it?

So Lauren Boebert wanted this drama to go on as long as possible… and it did indeed end up with roughly the same number of episodes as “The White Lotus.” Hey, who doesn’t want to see Aubrey Plaza play Boebert in an Apple TV docudrama of McCarthy’s humiliation? Lauren Boebert would have been thrilled if the C-SPAN cameras rolled until, well, groundhog day.

Meanwhile, while sifting through classified documents in Mar-a-Lago, the architect of the modern Republican Party is now feeling the water begin to boil around him. The convictions of his company for tax crimes emboldened the Manhattan D.A. to press on and investigate a potentially more serious crime directly involving Donald Trump. The charges leveled by the Attorney General of New York could decimate Trump’s company. The criminal case involving election interference in Georgia seems very far along. And the two monster cases being handled at the Federal level by the Department of Justice – the Mar-a-Lago documents case, and the January 6 Insurrection – now have the full focus of a special prosecutor whose resting face looks like a hungry pit bull.

And yet Donald Trump runs for President. Heck, why not?

Hey, all you Republican voters out there, listen up! If you think Democrats were delighting in schadenfreude now, wait until Donald Trump begins to lose primary elections, and then starts to announce that they are rigged. Wait until Donald Trump starts saying that Ron DeSantis is not the legitimate nominee of the Party. Wait until Donald Trump’s zealots start chanting “stop the steal,” but the target of their accusation is not the Electoral College, but the Republican Party establishment.

No, the internecine bloodbath that we are witnessing in Washington today is just the warm-up act for when Donald Trump decides to turn a flamethrower to the party that will reject his attempt to win a third nomination. Just watch as he takes the 35% of the Republican Party that he owns and uses his hold over those voters to cripple the Republican candidates in the 2024 general election.

Order some more popcorn, Democrats. The producers who brought you this week’s White Republican Lotus mini-series have some even more amazing tales of self-destruction in the pipeline.

To those few sane, smart Republicans out there who are not able to accept that their party is no longer the same lovable mate they married decades ago, it is time to take off the blinders.

If you stick with it, you are enabling it. If you think you are not sending your money to Matt Gaetz, you might just want to tune into C-SPAN to see who is cashing the check.

Republican Party, heal thyself. That means the ordinary voters. The rank and file. You have two years to figure out how stop the madness in your party.

Heal thyself before Matt Gaetz decides that we shouldn’t raise the debt ceiling. Watch what happens to your precious stock market then.

Heal thyself before Lauren Boebert decides that it’s fine if Vladimir Putin wins in Ukraine. Watch what happens in a world where Putin is further emboldened... and our allies no longer trust the United States of America.

Heal thyself before Kevin McCarthy gets blown up as Speaker in his third week. Who’s going to be your speaker then? How about George Santos? I hear he’s already got that on his resume.

C-SPAN spent the last week showing us up close the faces of today’s Republican Party: Gaetz, McCarthy, Santos, and Boebert.

Hope you took a real close look, Republican voters. It is still your party.  You broke it. You own it.

 

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