Old-Time Republicanism

Here in Indiana, Eric Holcomb is completing his second and last term as Governor. He recently delivered his final “State of the State” address, and it was brief, filled with (moderately boring) policy successes and remaining priorities–and touchingly reminiscent of what Republicanism used to sound like.

As John Krull wrote at The Statehouse File, Holcomb’s speech had a perfunctory feel to it.

One of the governor’s strengths—perhaps his greatest one as a leader—has been his ability to recognize and accept reality.

He first was elected to office in 2016, the same year that Donald Trump captured the White House.

During the intervening years, America has been a noisy, screaming place, filled with all the ceaseless screaming tumult Trump has produced as he has strutted upon the national stage.

Indiana, by contrast, has been an oasis of relative quiet.

Some of that is because Eric Holcomb is secure and comfortable enough with himself not to require everyone to pay attention to him every day and all the time. He’s willing to let whole weeks go by without asking people to watch him, listen to him or even think about him.

In other words, he’s a functioning adult, not an overgrown child—unlike many of our elected officials these days.

Holcomb has been an old-fashioned Republican, increasingly out of place in a party of rabid ideologues and immature posturers who haven’t the slightest interest in the process of actually governing.

We citizens tend to think of American politics as a contest between conservatives and liberals. That frame has always been inadequate and over-broad, but today it is simply inaccurate. MAGA Republicans are not just somewhat different versions of Eric Holcomb, and they are definitely not conservative.

 Persuasion recently considered  conservatism vs. GOP-ism, in an essay called “The Path Not Taken.”

The author traced what he called the two “strands” of conservatism, one of which he dubbed National Conservatism. It is the version “championed by former president Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis,” and it has very little in common with American conservatism. Rather than the small-government agenda of the former Republican Party, this version “seeks to use the power of the state to challenge cultural progressivism—as evidenced by Trump’s severe immigration policies and DeSantis’ top down remaking of Florida’s university system.”

In short, this MAGA version bears little or no resemblance to the Republican platforms that used to define conservatism.  

National Conservatives have shown themselves to be at best hopelessly naïve about the foundations of human flourishing, and at worst incapable of understanding that some people may wish to live a life different from their own. When not pressuring mothers into staying home from work with their kids, they are defending foreign despots for preserving their national identity at the cost of basic civil liberties. To allow National Conservatives free rein in the United States would be to permit the very worst elements of the right to control the levers of our government. In the process it would undercut genuine virtue and allow bureaucratic tyranny to grow unabated.

When I joined the Republican Party, “conservative” meant limiting the power of the state. It meant endorsing the right of individuals to forge their own life paths without government interference– at least, so long as they weren’t harming the person or property of others, or denying others the right to do likewise.

The “National Conservatism” described above has absolutely nothing in common with that bygone conservatism. It is overwhelmingly autocratic, and– as embraced by MAGA Republicans– increasingly fascist. Calling it “conservative” is both misleading and inaccurate.

A couple of weeks ago, Liz Cheney was on The View, and–as the saying goes–she “told it like it is.”

 “There are some conservatives who are trying to make this claim that somehow [President] Biden is a bigger risk than Trump,” she said. “My view is I disagree with a lot of Joe Biden’s policies. We can survive bad policies. We cannot survive torching the Constitution.”


I disagree with Cheney on almost all policy matters, but I admire her clarity and honesty about the existential challenge America is currently facing–and her recognition that it’s a challenge going well beyond policy differences.

Back in the day, the term “Conservative” wasn’t used to describe someone who wanted  government to dictate what citizens should believe and how they would be permitted to act. (It was interesting–and telling–that Eric Holcomb’s recitations of what he considered  to be GOP successes in his State of the State address omitted any mention of the draconian ban on abortion passed by the MAGA Republicans of the Indiana legislature.) 

Today’s MAGA Republicans are many things. “Conservative” is not one of them.


A Former Republican Tells It Like It REALLY Is

Peter Wehner has served in three Republican administrations. He has been a vocal, long-time critic of Donald Trump, and recently considered the meaning of Liz Cheney’s ejection from her party leadership position.

He didn’t mince words.

The takedown of Representative Cheney was not an “inflection point,” as some have called it. It was the opposite — the latest (but it won’t be the last) confirmation that the Republican Party is diseased and dangerous, increasingly subversive and illiberal, caught in the grip of what Ms. Cheney described in The Washington Post as the “anti-democratic Trump cult of personality.”

I personally thought it was telling that McCarthy and House leadership used a voice vote to oust Cheney, making it impossible to tell who did and did not vote for removal. Reportedly,  Cheney supporters asked for an official tally and were rejected.

It was further confirmation of Wehner’s statement that “declaring fealty to a lie” is now the  single most important test of loyalty in today’s Republican Party. As he points out, most Americans recognize this, we sometimes fail to register its true significance.

“It’s a real sickness that is infecting the party at every level,” Barbara Comstock, a Republican who represented Virginia’s 10th Congressional District before Mr. Trump’s unpopularity in the suburbs sank her chances in the 2018 election, told Lisa Lerer of The Times. “We’re just going to say that black is white now.”

This should come as a surprise to exactly no one. For more than five years, the Republican Party and its leading media propagandists embraced and championed Mr. Trump’s mendacities, conspiracy theories and sociopathic tendencies. As a result, their brains became rewired, at least metaphorically speaking; the constant accommodation Republicans made to Mr. Trump caused significant cognitive distortions

Wehner scorns any expectation that the Republican Party would revert to being a normal party once Trump was gone. As he warns, there has not been and will not be “a post-Trump fight for the soul” of the GOP.

Liz Cheney understands that only a decisive break with Mr. Trump will stop the continuing moral ruination of the Republican Party. But her break with the former president, while courageous, came too late to change anything. She is trying to rally an army that doesn’t exist.

Wehner points out that a large number of grass-roots Republicans are simply delusional, having fully bought into a decade or more of lies promulgated by the party, . He says they believe Trump’s conspiracy theories because they want to believe them. Now, he says, they are addicted,.” and addictions are hard to break.”

The latest CNN/SSRS survey found that 70 percent of Republicans believe the false allegation that Joe Biden did not defeat Mr. Trump; a mere 23 percent said Mr. Biden won, despite the Trump administration’s admission that “the November 3 election was the most secure in American history.”

Most Republican members of Congress know better. Support of the Big Lie is unethical and cynical, not stupid. They have simply calculated that refuting the Lie, standing with Cheney, would put targets on their backs.

Many of the most influential figures in Republican politics have decided that breaking with Mr. Trump would so alienate the base of the party that it would make election victories impossible, at least for the foreseeable future. That’s essentially what Senator Graham was saying when he recently went on Fox News and posed this question to his Republican colleagues: “Can we move forward without President Trump? The answer is no.”

Wehner stops short of predicting the future of the GOP at a juncture when Cheney, who he notes is a member of an important Republican family and a person with unquestioned conservative credentials, is less popular with the Republican base and more reviled by the House leadership than Marjorie Taylor Green, the QAnon supporter who applauded the January 6th insurrection.

Ms. Cheney was stripped of her leadership post because she committed the unpardonable sin in 2021’s Republican Party: She spoke the truth about the legitimacy of the 2020 election results and refused to back down. Whatever she was before, she is a voice of conscience now, reminding her colleagues of their Faustian bargain with their peculiar Mephistopheles, Donald Trump. It enrages them even as it haunts them.

Today the Republican Party is less a political party than a political freak show. It is being sustained by insidious lies. And people who love America, starting with conservatives, should say so. Otherwise, if the Republican Party’s downward spiral isn’t reversed, it will descend even further into a frightening world of illusion.

In a multi-party system, this very accurate description of our current moment would be far less ominous, but America has only two political parties, and desperately needs both to be responsible and sane.


Even A Stopped Clock…

On Wednesday morning, the GOP is very likely to strip Liz Cheney of her House leadership position.

I detested Dick Cheney, and I have no warmer feelings for his daughter. She has routinely staked out “conservative” positions that I oppose–as one pundit recently opined, she is one of the House members who have been most protective of the wealthy, most willing to sacrifice the environment, and most willing to ignore injustice. Just this last year, she’s voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, against the Paycheck Fairness Act, against an expansion of background checks, and against the American Dream Act.

Evidently, she also voted against removing Marjorie Taylor Greene from committees.

Judging by those votes, Cheney would seem to be a perfect representation of today’s Republican orthodoxy. So why are her equally regressive GOP colleagues seemingly out for her blood? Because–despite her track record of really extreme partisanship– she has refused to participate in “the Big Lie.”

As she wrote in The Washington Post,

Trump is seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that make democracy work — confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law. No other American president has ever done this….

The question before us now is whether we will join Trump’s crusade to delegitimize and undo the legal outcome of the 2020 election, with all the consequences that might have. I have worked overseas in nations where changes in leadership come only with violence, where democracy takes hold only until the next violent upheaval. America is exceptional because our constitutional system guards against that. At the heart of our republic is a commitment to the peaceful transfer of power among political rivals in accordance with law. President Ronald Reagan described this as our American “miracle.”

Many years ago, when I was still a Republican, I predicted a schism between what we then called the “country club” members of the GOP and the fundamentalist Christians who were increasingly becoming the party’s foot soldiers. I was wrong. In the intervening years, pro-business “country club” voters separated into two groups–those whose desire for favorable regulatory and tax treatment overcame any moral qualms continued to vote Republican, while those repelled by the party’s increasing focus on culture war simply left. They became independents or joined the Democrats.

The division that threatens to take the GOP the way of the Whigs ends up being between the few Republicans who still live in the real world, and those who live in Trumpland.

Liz Cheney and her rapidly diminishing ilk still believe that the GOP is a party espousing their version of conservative principles, and that fidelity to those principles should be the standard on which they are judged. They are living in the past. In the 2020 election, the GOP didn’t even bother to produce a platform. In place of policy debates, the party falls back on a racism that is hardly masked by the repetition of tired slogans about “socialism” and “cancel culture.” Rather than any measured response to Biden’s agenda, GOP figures engage in diatribes about Mr. Potato Head and Dr. Seuss.

Today’s GOP is the party of Marjorie Taylor Green, Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz and Lauren Boebert–a pathetic mix of venal and crazy. In that environment, even someone as ideologically unattractive as Liz Cheney looks good.

As the saying goes, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.


Whoring After Primary Votes

The New York Times tells us that Liz Cheney has publicly opposed her sister Mary on the latter’s very non-abstract support for same-sex marriage.  By making this declaration, Liz has officially defined herself as more despicable than her father–no mean feat.

Whatever the twisted views of the elder Cheney–or “Darth Vader” as he is un-affectionately known– it is pretty clear that those views were genuinely his. He was and is a chickenhawk, ready to send other people’s children to die in wars that fattened the pocketbooks of his cronies and his old firm Halliburton; he was and is an advocate of the blatantly a-historical  “unitary” theory of Presidential Powers; he was and is a sneering, heartless, self-righteous extremist. But give him credit–repulsive as it all was, it was also authentic.

And he loved his child enough to influence his stance on marriage–enough to recognize the inhumanity of his own party’s retrograde position.

Cheney’s daughter Liz has been a longtime harridan on the talk show circuit. She clearly inherited all of her father’s warmth, which is to say that none has been visible, along with his smug self-certainty. Recently, she decided to return to Wyoming–a state she hasn’t lived in for years, a state she returned to so recently that she can’t even qualify for a hunting permit–to mount a primary challenge to that state’s popular Republican Senator. (Can we spell “sense of entitlement”?)

Of course, opposition to same-sex marriage is part  of the litmus test applied to candidates by today’s rabid Republican primary voters. And Liz Cheney, who has previously expressed no interest in nor opinion on the issue, has chosen to pander to those voters, signaling where her priorities lie. Self-interest trumps both authenticity and any loyalty to her only sister: big surprise.

Science continues to confirm that sexual orientation is heritable and inborn. So, evidently, is being utterly without humanity.