Dear GOP Establishment:
It’s You, Not Ourselves We Loathe

In what may be the most misleading narrative not originating with a leftist source about House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s recent trials National Review Editor-in-Chief Rich Lowry argues the Republicans’ “Fight Reveals the Party of Self-Loathing.” Although this diatribe may please some of Lowry’s sponsors, it bears no connection to what went on in the House last week. 

The fact that the GOP revealed disunity does not in any way prove that “it is a party that to some significant extent loathes itself.” There is no reason to assume this even if “the GOP lacks any coherent center of authority” and even if the “Democrats look like a well-oiled machine.” There is no basis for saying “self-loathing” led to the “Revolt of the 20.” Nor was this noisy disunity something that the obsessive NeverTrumper editor could plausibly pin on Donald Trump, who unequivocally supported McCarthy in his bid for the speakership. Lowry wishes us to believe that Trump’s “counter-establishment” and the “midterm debacle” that he supposedly caused, segued into this further sign of self-loathing disunity.

Despite the defiance of those conservatives who bolted from the party regulars, Lowry finds a bright spot in the GOP. There is after all the stalwart, principled figure of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), “who is the closest thing there is to the ballast of an establishment.” Unfortunately, this wise moderate can’t prevail. He is “hated by the MAGA base,” which may be Trump’s continued revenge on the GOP elders who reject his demagoguery. If I read Lowry properly, a saner Republican Party would turn thankfully to McConnell, not The Donald, and this fount of mature wisdom would warn them against their “act of defiance unburdened by a substantive agenda or a different candidate.”

Allow me to point out that I am not an unqualified defender of Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), Bob Good (R-Va.), and the other unyielding holdouts. Although I think their rejection of McCarthy had a moral justification and although the California congressman wouldn’t be on my short list for the speakership, the Republican Caucus had ample opportunity to contest his leadership qualifications before the events of last week. Since the GOP conservatives didn’t take that step, those initial rebels who finally went over to McCarthy after suitable concessions were made, like Representative Chip Roy (R-Texas), acted properly. A further display of disunity in public, which Gaetz provided on Friday night, created a dangerous appearance of weakness in a party that holds a very slim and precarious majority. Republicans should remember that they are confronting a Democratic Party whose representatives march in lockstep.

Delaying McCarthy’s acceptance as speaker any longer would have also raised the possibility of the House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) taking the job. This after all is the media “moderate,” who still denies Trump’s election in 2016 and who in fact led a boycott of Trump’s inauguration. Jeffrey’s elevation, if it did occur, would have had less to do with the actions of right-wing defectors than with the susceptibility of those Republicans who voted for the Democrats’ $1.7 trillion omnibus bill. Nine Republican congressmen (seven of whom are still in the House) might have been tempted to defect to a possible Democratic speaker, for the sake of what they deemed social respectability.

What may have been driving the holdouts, beside their perception that McCarthy is not particularly conservative, are recent unsettling events. Let’s start with the omnibus bill, passed in December, which provides very little for border protection and lots of inflated money for green energy and woke indoctrination. This bill contained 4,155 densely typed pages, and Congress was required to vote on the text, before any human being could possibly have read it through. Why did McConnell cosponsor this highly partisan Democratic bill? Why did he and nine congressional Republicans tie the hands of the incoming Republican majority in budgetary matters until next fall? And why was McConnell recently on a tour with Joe Biden talking up a bloated infrastructure bill that was passed with the votes of other Republican defectors? McConnell couldn’t stop telling Biden about his intention of “working together” throughout that one-sided lovefest.

If we wish to talk about “self-loathing,” it would be more appropriate to address the obvious contempt in which McConnell, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and other “moderate” Republican politicians hold their conservative base. Unlike our political elites, this base has no interest in being invited to fashionable cocktail parties and doesn’t give a rip about what the Washington Post says about their insensitivity. These populist voters think very differently from Rich and Mitch. 

Indeed, they may be far closer in their thinking to last week’s holdouts than they could possibly be to New York-Washington elites. Certainly, there is loathing in the GOP, but it is a loathing that the base feels for the supposedly more civilized Republican politicians who represent their party. These elites have no use for the base that provides them with their offices. These lines of demarcation divide those who mirror the attitudes of their constituents and those Republicans who are part of a supercilious establishment. That is the real division, and it has nothing to do with “self-loathing.”

About Paul Gottfried

Paul Edward Gottfried is the editor of Chronicles. An American paleoconservative philosopher, historian, and columnist, Gottfried is a former Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, as well as a Guggenheim recipient.

Photo: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images

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