The Republicans Who Charge Box Canyons

The Republican Party is riding hard into a box canyon chasing after donor rolls and privileges while its enemies take aim from the walls above at the base it drags along below.

Earlier this year, on the eve of Donald Trump’s second impeachment, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) denounced the former president’s conduct surrounding the Capitol building riot as “a disgraceful, disgraceful dereliction of duty,” adding that there was “no question . . . President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.” Trump shot back, calling McConnell a “dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack.” 

A week later, however, McConnell declared he would “absolutely” back Trump as the GOP presidential nominee in 2024, suggesting they had struck a compromise. 

Though roughly reconciled, their honeymoon didn’t last long. 

Speaking with Fox News host Maria Bartiromo on April 29, Trump said, “Mitch McConnell has not done a great job, I think they should change Mitch McConnell.” Later, on the same day, McConnell fired his rebuttal at Trump. 

“We’re looking to the future, not the past,” he said. “And if you want to see the future of the Republican Party, watch Tim Scott’s response to President Biden last night. He’s the future,” McConnell added. “That’s where we’re headed. We’re not preoccupied with the past, but looking forward.”

Scott’s response indeed reveals where the GOP is heading: the same place it has been all along, lurking in the shadow of the Democratic Party. Scott praised criminal justice reform, spoke of America’s past as “original sin,” regurgitated “big government” talking points, argued against raising taxes on corporations hostile to Republican voters, and had a single, short throwaway line about immigration. No surprise on the last because Republicans are quietly working on an amnesty deal with Democrats, and the last thing the GOP wants is to alienate people who hate them.

Trump, of course, endorsed Scott’s reelection bid on March 2 as part of his grand plan to influence the 2022 elections. He took House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as his wingman to that end in late January—just days before McCarthy saved Trump nemesis Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) from being ousted from the House Republican leadership. 

McCarthy “offered a full-throated defense of Cheney and made the case for her to stay in leadership,” Politico reported. He led a “family discussion” with Republicans in defense of Cheney, providing “a critical boost for the Wyoming Republican.”

Living up to the disgraceful Cheney name, she didn’t even have the courtesy to refrain from publicly humiliating McCarthy not once but twice. In late March, she broke with McCarthy by insisting that a 9/11-style commission to investigate the January 6 riot should not expand to include inquiries into left-wing political violence, such as Black Lives Matter riots. 

“What happened on January 6 is unprecedented in our history, and I think that it’s very important that the commission be able to focus on that,” Cheney said.

McCarthy deserved that, and GOP leadership has always seemed most titillated by shame and defeat anyway. 

But Cheney wasn’t alone in condemning Trump about the events of January 6. McCarthy reportedly engaged in a shouting match with Trump over the former president’s conduct that day. “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,” Trump said when pressed by McCarthy about not calling off protestors. Trump, however, never issued that kind of spirited defense while president. The day after the riot, he condemned his supporters for the “heinous attack” that left him “outraged by the violence, lawlessness, and mayhem.” 

“I unequivocally condemn the violence that we saw last week,” Trump said again a week later. “Violence and vandalism have absolutely no place in our country, and no place in our movement.”

Now, in yet another turn, McCarthy is saying Cheney’s days are numbered. Not because she voted on impeachment, he says, but due to doubts “about her ability to carry out the job as conference chair, to carry out the message.” Trump subsequently endorsed New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik, putting her next in line for Cheney’s job. The dim lights at CNN flashed that the endorsement further confirms Trump’s “takeover of the GOP.” But that doesn’t mean what they think it does.

It’s true that Stefanik’s aligning herself with Trump fueled her rapid ascent, but her New Right bona fides are largely a put on. As political journalist John Zmirak notes, Stefanik is a Paul Ryan protégé and devotee. NumbersUSA, an immigration restriction group, rated her “D-” on immigration in the most recent Congress. She was one of 14 Republicans who voted with Democrats to end Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the southern border, and has repeatedly voted against funding the construction of a border wall. 

Stefanik, adds Zmirak, also voted for the Equality Act in 2019, which would have codified President Obama’s 2014 executive order prohibiting federal contractors from what it describes as “discrimination” on the basis of “sexual orientation and gender identity” in their private employment policies. In other words, Trump’s pick to replace Cheney voted to further normalize gender dysphoria as the Right fights against the tide of transgender ideology, and breaks with the Right on virtually every fundamental issue.

The GOP is more concerned with debates over partitioning the party, over who gets what, and what is due to whom than it is about formulating a response to the country’s leftward lurch. But perhaps that is even too charitable because the truth is that members of the Republican establishment—in which Trump must now be included—really don’t mind losing very much since the end of a Republican’s political career merely marks the beginning of a new life as a consultant, a lobbyist, a board member, and perpetual fundraiser. Trump himself raised millions of dollars after losing the November election, and is actively undermining the move he helped spark—whether he is aware of the fact is irrelevant. 

There are good people within the Republican Party on the local and state level, but, as an institution, the party remains leaderless and deprived of a national vision. 

What do Republicans stand for that makes them fundamentally different from the Democratic Party? And how to connect the scattered few good pieces with real, new leadership to construct a head capable of breaking through the Left’s political phalanx? 

These are the most important questions for the Right; they’re also the ones no one cares to ask, and they won’t be raised until Republican voters reclaim the reins of their party and demand change, realizing the GOP is leading them into one ambush after another, or jump off the wagon before it’s too late.

About Pedro Gonzalez

Pedro Gonzalez is associate editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture and an Adjunct Fellow of the Center for American Greatness. He publishes the weekly Contra newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @emeriticus.

Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

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