Let’s start with exiled GOP Rep. Liz Cheney’s remarks on Monday at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI): “There was a moment right after [January] 6 when if [House Minority Leader] Kevin McCarthy had said, ‘This is completely unacceptable…We’re going to impeach. He should have been convicted,’ we would be living in a very different country right now,” Cheney said. “But instead,” Cheney continued, “Kevin McCarthy decided to go to Mar-a-Lago and welcome Donald Trump back into the party before January was even over.”
Did McCarthy’s quick surrender allow Trump to get back off the mat? It feels plausible. But it wasn’t just McCarthy. His counterpart in the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, also blinked at the very moment when he might have delivered the coup de grace.
“We’ve all known that Trump is crazy,” McConnell said immediately in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot (according to an excerpt of the forthcoming book Unchecked: The Untold Story Behind Congress’s Botched Impeachments of Donald Trump). “I’m done with him. I will never speak to him again.”
Soon, though, McConnell saw that members of his caucus were rationalizing Trump’s behavior—and their opposition to impeaching him.
After Cheney urged McConnell to publicly support impeachment, McConnell settled on a more passive strategy: “Let’s just ignore him,” he reportedly said.
This inert approach never works out. The idea that ignoring Trump will cause him to go away is reminiscent of the GOP official who, sometime around Nov. 10, famously asked: “What is the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time?”
As the authors of Unchecked write, McConnell “never actually encouraged his colleagues to convict. Instead, he told them the verdict would be a ‘vote of conscience.’”
It’s certainly reasonable to think that a strong and unwavering united front from McConnell and McCarthy might have made the difference. What is arguably even more dispiriting, however, is that so many members of so-called Team Normal (Republicans who correctly believe Joe Biden is the legitimately elected President of the United States) are continuing to enable not just Trump, but a very un-American idea that Trump normalized: election denial.
Take Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, for example. He was elected in 2021 by riding culture-war issues like opposition to critical race theory, but he’s basically an establishment Republican, in the mold (temperament-wise) of Mitt Romney. So why was it reported this week that he’s going to Arizona to campaign for election denier Kari Lake?
As Nick Catoggio notes at The Dispatch, Youngkin’s capitulation is especially demoralizing because “If even the party’s most Romney-esque newcomer can’t muster neutrality, at a minimum, when asked to choose between an autocrat and a Democrat in Arizona, then the distinction between normies and the rest of the party feels functionally meaningless.”
And Youngkin isn’t the only member of Team Normal backing Lake. During the primary campaign, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey called Lake a “fake” who was “misleading voters” by putting on an “act.” Then, after she won the Republican nomination, he endorsed her, prompting an Arizona Republic columnist to ask whether Ducey was lying about Lake then or now.
It is worth noting that Ducey primarily hit Lake from the right. He didn’t stress that she was an election denier (in fairness, he did say she was “misleading voters” about it), instead focusing on the fact that she wasn’t a true conservative.
In 2020, Ducey earned our respect by standing up to Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the Arizona election results. So why is he abdicating his responsibility in 2022?
We might also direct this question at Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who likewise bravely resisted Trump’s attempt to overthrow his state’s 2020 election results by pressuring state officials to “find the votes.”
These days, however, The Bulwark’s Amanda Carpenter writes that Kemp is standing “shoulder-to-shoulder with one of the state’s top election deniers. That man is his running mate, the GOP candidate for lieutenant governor, Burt Jones.”
At this point, I’d be surprised to find a prominent Republican who isn’t backing a proponent of The Big Lie.
To get a sense of the level of depravity infecting today’s GOP, look no further than Wednesday, when a mere nine House Republicans (including Cheney) voted for the Electoral Count Act. This commonsense reform was intended to make it less likely that any future attempts to overthrow an election would succeed. As far as I’m concerned, this reform should have passed unanimously. Yet 203 Republicans voted “no.”
And it gets worse. As Politico notes, most of the nine Republicans who voted for the bill “have either lost their primaries or announced their retirements.” It truly is a sad state of affairs. For those of us holding on to hope that someday normal Republican leaders will retake their party, I’m starting to wonder how many even exist.
In the book of Genesis, Abraham bargains with the Lord, getting Him to agree to save the city of Sodom if he could find as few as ten righteous people.
Today’s Republican Party couldn’t live up to that low standard, either.