The death of patriotism and liberalism in the GOP
As Republicans succumb to extremism, Democrats remain politically rudderless and divided
The U.S. House committee investigating the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol first of eight planned primetime hearings last night, and few observers hold out much hope that these public hearings will do anything more than reinforce America’s political divisions.
Time and public opinion polls will ultimately tell us whether this investigation and its findings will move the needle with America’s voters, but there are already many signs of one trend inside of the Republican Party: the continuing rising tide of illiberal extremism and collapse of moderation.
Here at The Liberal Patriot, we dedicate much effort offering constructive criticisms and alternative ideas for America’s overall political trajectory. We tend to focus on the Democratic Party and what it could do differently to improve its performance in the face of growing extremism on both the right and the left. Democrats control the levers of government at the national level (just barely in the U.S. Senate), and it’s possible if not likely that 2021-2022 will represent the high-water mark of their political support for years to come. That’s why it’s important for President Biden and the Democrats not to squander this moment.
However, it’s equally important to keep in focus the trends inside of the GOP. For all of the dreams that some have of creating a third party, America’s two-party system isn’t going away anytime soon. That’s why it’s important to spotlight the dangerous trends inside of the Republican Party.
With many of the basic facts are already known, the January 6th committee is unlikely to shift public opinion in major ways. Facts rarely get in the way of a narrative, anyways - just look at how Fox News chose to mostly ignore last night’s hearing.
Four things to watch inside of the GOP in the next five months
With less than five months to go until the midterm elections, here are four things to watch inside of the Republican Party’s reactions to these hearings and the broader political dynamic in the country:
1. How the GOP leadership talks about January 6th hearings. The GOP leadership has sought to portray the committee’s work as flawed and illegitimate, the same way it discussed the two impeachments of President Donald Trump. With only a few notable exceptions, top Republicans have mostly sought to sweep the January 6 events under the rug and ignore the threat it represented to America’s democracy.
Republicans spent years investigating bogus claims about the U.S. response to an attack against U.S. diplomats in Benghazi, Libya, but now they want to provide cover to leaders who were responsible for stoking the flames of insurrection inside America – a clear win for extremist voices in the party. Don’t expect this posture to change anytime soon, not with former President Trump claiming that the effort to overturn his election defeat was “the greatest movement in the history of our country.”
2. How the Republican Party seeks to fill the ranks of key election administration positions with “stop the steal” advocates. While the focus of the January 6th committee is on a past attempt to overturn a democratic election, there are ongoing efforts by the GOP to fill the ranks of election administration institutions with individuals who have sought to undermine the legitimacy of America’s elections with conspiracy theories and baseless accusations about electoral fraud. This broad campaign by right-wing extremist circles to fill local and state election administration positions with people who supported Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 elections doesn’t bode well for America’s elections in 2022 and beyond.
3. Who wins in GOP primaries and what they say. The fight for the soul of the GOP is still very much up for grabs in some states that haven’t yet held their primaries. So far, Donald Trump’s endorsements in the GOP have produced a mixed bag of results, and as Blake Hounshell points out, twenty-one state legislators joined the January 6th riots to overturn the 2020 election, and some got a political boost from that, and others lost.
Despite these mixed results, the overall picture in the Republican Party isn’t looking good. Trump-endorsed celebrity Mehmet Oz’s victory over a more traditional Republican David McCormick in Pennsylvania’s GOP Senate primary is a worrisome indicator for traditional conservatives, as is J.D. Vance’s chameleon-like moves to show fealty to Trump after criticizing him for years.
Watch what happens in the GOP primary in Wyoming in August as well, where U.S. Representative Liz Cheney, one of the top Republicans serving on the January 6th committee and a fierce Trump critic, trails her Republican primary opponent by double digits. See what happens in the Republican primary race for governor in Michigan, also in August, where some analysts predict that the recent arrest of Republican Ryan Kelley for his involvement in the January 6th riots might actually give him a boost in his efforts to secure the GOP nomination.
Or take a look at the comments by Carl Paladino, a Republican running for Congress in western New York, who praised Adolf Hitler’s speaking style in 2021 and said he was the “kind of leader we need today.”
All of these are signs of a Republican Party that has lost its way and is sinking deeper into extremism.
4. What ideas the Republicans have to offer. A fourth thing to watch is whether the GOP can put forward actual ideas and proposals to fix problems and deal with issues that voters in the midst of this three-ring circus dominated by ugly clown shows. There are many smart policy analysts and political observers on the right, but it remains to be seen whether the conservative ideas industry has any ability to shape discourse within the GOP on problems voters are worried about, including the economy, inflation, and instability in the world.
All of these troubling signs place a higher premium on the Democrats sharpening up their game and putting some political points on the board with some tangible accomplishments in the narrow window they have left between now and the midterm elections.
But after coming up empty in two impeachments of Trump, the January 6th investigation may end up operating like a third impeachment when it comes to political impact – it may not arrest the GOP’s ongoing slide down the slippery slope to extremism. That’s why Democrats need to double down on efforts to produce some clear victories in the time they have left between now and the midterm elections.