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U.S. House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks during a weekly news conference at the U.S. Capitol April 15, 2021 in Washington, DC. Leader McCarthy held his weekly news conference to answer questions from members of the press. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

U.S. House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks during a weekly news conference at the U.S. Capitol April 15, 2021 in Washington, DC. Leader McCarthy held his weekly news conference to answer questions from members of the press. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

GOP: We Just May Be the Lunatics You’re Looking For

These days, you don't have to be delusional to be in the Republican leadership, but it helps.

Michael Winship

If you've chosen to read this, it's a fair bet you're been aware for quite some time that the Republican Party has gone completely insane—especially if you agree with that classic definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Time and again the GOP and their scarecrow leader Donald Trump have proven the wisdom of that definition. Although all 50 states officially confirmed the results, for more than half a year, Republicans have challenged ad nauseum last November's legitimate election of Joe Biden. Dozens of their frivolous lawsuits have been thrown out of courts. Currently, a ridiculous and baseless recount by QAnon aficionados in Maricopa County, Arizona, goes on and on—their latest ploy examining some 40,000 ballots for traces of bamboo, which would indicate these votes were fakes sent from China (!)

I'm not making this up.

And of course, throughout, there's the endless braying via social media and right-wing radio and TV of unfounded claims that the vote was manipulated. Trump is our one true president, they shout (and so does he), a deranged notion that makes me cold and clammy all over.

The prize for the wackiest quote of the past week or so goes to Debra Ell, a Michigan Republican organizer, who told Ashley Parker and Marianna Sotomayor of The Washington Post, "I think I speak for many people in that Trump has never actually been wrong, and so we've learned to trust when he says something, that he's not just going to spew something out there that's wrong and not verified."

Now then, she continued, please leave me be so I can await the weekly saucer that whisks me to my timeshare on the Planet Mongo.

Okay, that part I made up. Fake news.

This all would be funny (and yes, some of it is, for sure), but for the fact that belief in this fantasy is screwing up the rest of the country, a land already reeling from more than a year's worth of death and disease and the four plague years of the Trump White House. It has become the litmus test for membership in the GOP; you either buy this patently false canard or you get out of their party. Those few Republicans who have upheld the accuracy and legality of the election have been censured or fired—the aforementioned Ms. Ell, for example, is involved in an effort to remove the Michigan Republican Party's executive director just because he said "the election wasn't stolen" and that the loss was Trump's fault. Blasphemy! Unclean!

You see what's happening to Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney from Wyoming. Third in the GOP House leadership, daughter of the former vice president, this arch conservative had the temerity not only to suggest that the election was honest but also to condemn Trump's incitement of the January 6 deadly assault on the Capitol.

Last Monday, during an American Enterprise Institute conference at Sea Island, Georgia, she told attendees, "We can't embrace the notion the election is stolen. It's a poison in the bloodstream of our democracy. We can't whitewash what happened on January 6 or perpetuate Trump's big lie. It is a threat to democracy. What he did on January 6 is a line that cannot be crossed."

She followed up with an op-ed 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…

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.'

Cheney concluded, "History is watching. Our children are watching. We must be brave enough to defend the basic principles that underpin and protect our freedom and our democratic process. I am committed to doing that, no matter what the short-term political consequences might be."

As a result, she's losing her job as House Republican conference chair to the ambitious and opportunistic Rep. Elise Stefanik of upstate New York, who has attached herself to Donald Trump like a limpet on a big dumb ocean rock.

This, even though Cheney consistently voted for almost everything Trump wanted when he was president -- more so than Stefanik (92 percent vs. 77 percent) -- and still sides with the far right and votes no, no, never on almost anything significant from Democrats on the other side of the aisle.

Nonetheless, by calling out the danger and speaking truth about the election and Trump's perfidy, for her loyalty to country and Constitution, she must be expelled. The once-upon-a-time party of Honest Abe has decided that reality is a worn-out concept that just gets in the way of their obeisance to the "say anything" madness of Trump.

They have been cowed into seeing him as the key to electoral success and political power, despite his and their losses. This is one reason they keep claiming victory in the presidential election in direct contradiction of the facts -- now including internal polling data Republican leadership have been sitting on that demonstrate Trump's toxicity in swing districts. As per The Post, "Nearly twice as many voters had a strongly unfavorable view of the former president as had a strongly favorable one."

"Right now, it's basically the Titanic," dissident Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger said of his party Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation". "We're in the middle of this slow sink. We have a band playing on the deck telling everybody it's fine. And meanwhile, Donald Trump's running around trying to find women's clothing and get on the first lifeboat."

Still, there's method to this madness. It's a distraction, yes, like the nonsensical culture wars of hamburgers and Mr. Potato Head, but more important, the claims of fraud and an illegitimate presidency are being used to barrage and undermine every single piece of policy Joe Biden and his team are attempting to implement. Last week, his "Grim Reaper" identity intact, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told a press conference back in his home state of Kentucky that, "One hundred percent of my focus is standing up to this administration." (He’d do himself and the GOP a favor by shifting a little of that focus to Biden’s 64% job approval rating and asking why.)

What's more, the steady din of Republican allegations, no matter how absurd, serves not only to reinforce the Big Lie about the elections, it also emboldens the forces of voter suppression that use these deceits to justify legislation that further denies the ballot to anyone who doesn't pass the GOP test for what it means to be an American. They would limit suffrage to those who are white, Christian, conservative, filled with anger, suspicion and fearful of change that's inevitable.

Increasingly, Republicans in Congress also are using their big lie to justify the fatal insurrection of January 6 that sought to overthrow the results of the Electoral College and attack elected officials. Many on the Hill actively are working to prevent a thorough investigation of what really happened—and who was involved.

Back in the 1950s, many in the Republican Party embraced the anti-Communist witch hunts of Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy, false allegations that destroyed the lives of many innocent men and women. It was not until other members of the party demonstrated the courage and integrity to stand up and speak out against him, ultimately bringing him and his deranged cruelty to an end.

That version of the Republican Party is long gone. Instead, we see an assemblage of mad grievance hollowed out at the core, lacking morality or grace. Yet another man named McCarthy chooses to be a leader of it, to use the currents of hate to become Speaker of the House and reverse-engineer us back to our recent Trump years of malfeasance, corruption, and governmental inertia. And all of it without a trace of decency or genuine concern for the needs of the American people. (This despite the fact that in the immediate aftermath of the January 6 riot, Kevin McCarthy loudly attacked Trump for his involvement. Now, he has flipped in spectacular fashion, executing a neat jacknife with somersault into the Mar-a-Lago swimming pool. Trump's my guy, he says.)

While expressing perplexity at these goings on, Biden presses ahead, seeking support for his proposals, attempting to enlist a modicum of Republican participation while knowing it may be useless. Slowly, history will reveal the full extent of the egregious acts the GOP has committed and lead us to what we must believe will be their ultimate defeat and humiliation. For now, we must continue to hammer back against their lies, support good and sincere governance as we now see it occurring once again, and not allow the Trumpistas to seize power as they did before, either at the election box or through an underhanded conspiracy to overthrow democracy. To stop resisting their falsehoods and schemes really would be, what's the word? Oh yeah,  insane.

 

Update: On Wednesday morning, May 12, House Republicans ousted Liz Cheney from her leadership post.  The night before. a defiant Rep. Cheney spoke from the House floor: “Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar,”she said. “I will not participate in that. I will not sit back and watch in silence, while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy.” Reports indicate that she plans to run for reelection next year and on becoming a leading national voice in opposition to Donald Trump who also will endorse and fundraise for other anti-Trump Republican candidates.


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Michael Winship

Michael Winship

Michael Winship is the Schumann Senior Writing Fellow for Common Dreams. Previously, he was the Emmy Award-winning senior writer for Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, a past senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos, and former president of the Writers Guild of America East. 

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