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How the Republican Party is Destroying Itself

House roll call
The House clerk calls the roll for the 12th time in the GOP's unsuccessful effort to elect a new House Speaker.

As we turn the page to another new year, it’s important to reflect on what was accomplished in the past one. When it comes to our government, it has been a year of monumental changes, yet they have been happening for some time. What seemed like a rapid descent was actually a slow, almost glacial, progression down a long and treacherous rabbit hole of creeping chaos.

With a new year comes a new Congress. What was anticipated as a Red Wave during the midterms surprisingly became a split decision as Democrats retained control of the Senate while Republicans gained just enough seats to take back the House.

This lack of unity came as a shock to Congressional Republicans. When it came to legislative battles, there was one thing that separated Democrats from Republicans during the Trump administration. While Democrats bickered between moderates and Progressives, Republicans were able to present a largely unified front. It was this unity that protected Trump from being held accountable as he became the only president to be impeached twice.

Fast forward to today and you will see the ongoing battle within the Republican Party isn’t anything new. It’s something that has been festering for decades. From the Conservative movement that began with Barry Goldwater to the Tea Party on to the Freedom Caucus and finally today’s MAGA cult, the party is indistinguishable from what was once The Party of Lincoln.

So, while many can blame the demise at Donald Trump’s feet, it was the slow descent into authoritarianism that is largely responsible for their destruction.

Barry Goldwater and the Dawn of Conservatism

Barry Goldwater is considered the Father of Conservatism. His failed 1964 presidential campaign declared that Republicans were the party of family values, law and order and nationalism based upon “God given rights”. He was a fervent anti-communist and compared the Great Society programs of Lyndon Johnson to the socialist policies of Communist China and the USSR. His refusal to negotiate a nuclear arms treaty led to the infamous “Daisy” ad that depicted nuclear disaster if Goldwater were elected president.

Goldwater was soundly defeated by Johnson. Some credit the “Daisy” ad while others claim less savory means, such as questioning Goldwater’s mental health, led to his trouncing. This ultimately led to the unwritten Goldwater Rule, which prohibited medical professionals from commenting on a candidate’s mental status without direct examination. It’s something both sides have violated, but more about that later.

Despite this defeat, law and order and family values became the cornerstone of many future Republican campaigns. From Nixon to Reagan and even, unbelievably, the thrice married Donald Trump, they all embraced family values while embracing the authoritarian principles of the Conservative movement.

And thus a movement was born.

The Moral Majority

Following the Watergate scandal, the Conservative movement went into political hibernation. It was resurrected by the Christian right in the form of the Moral Majority. Under the leadership of televangelist Jerry Falwell, this group sought to return America to the supposed Christian values that the Founding Fathers intended. They coalesced behind the conservative principle of family values as they vehemently opposed a woman’s right to an abortion. They were also highly militant in their opposition to homosexuality.

Members of this group regularly haunted Women’s Health Clinics, such as Planned Parenthood, while attempting to dissuade women from entering either by blocking the entrances or trying to thrust religious propaganda at them. Many also protested, holding signs that equated abortion with murder.

Sometimes these protests turned violent. Abortion clinics were bombed. Medical professionals who performed these procedures were threatened, and some even murdered by these so called “pro-lifers”. So, while they hypocritically claimed to be supporters of the Right to Life, that apparently ended once a child was born.

They saw adoption as a viable alternative to abortion, yet opposed allowing homosexuals to adopt. They claimed that such an arrangement would lead to the child becoming homosexual, or worse yet, the child would be sexually abused because they asserted that would be the primary reason a homosexual would want to pursue adoption.

The Moral Majority chose divorcé Ronald Reagan as their champion. They saw his views as being in alignment with their own Conservative principles including what they saw as a hawkish stance when it came to dealing with America’s arch adversary, the Soviet Union.

In a truly ironic twist, the Moral Majority was brought down by the very values it said it stood for. Sexual scandals enveloped the leaders of the movement, which eventually relegated it to the pages of history, not to mention the tabloids.

The Tea Party

With the demise of the Moral Majority, the Conservative movement was once again forced into a period of dormancy. While it had flickers of a resurgence during the impeachment of Bill Clinton and the presidency of George W. Bush, it remained relatively quiet for a number of years, making people wonder if it had died out as a political force.

With the election of Barack Obama, Conservatives evolved once more; this time as the anti-taxation Tea Party. Like their Bostonian namesakes, they called themselves Patriots. Also like their revolutionary counterparts, they opposed what they considered exorbitant spending by those in charge.

The Tea Party faded into oblivion when their members failed to stop the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) from becoming law. However, their influence can still be felt in the current Congress. Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ron Johnson and Ted Cruz are among the candidates backed by this Conservative coalition.

The Tea Party saw its last gasp when it’s members backed Ted Cruz over political upstart Donald Trump. This losing effort eliminated much of the movement's political influence.

The Freedom Caucus

If any group was less deserving of its name, it’s the poorly labeled Freedom Caucus. This group took up the mantle of the failed Tea Party movement and quickly became the party of obstruction, delay and deny.

Two of its founding members, Mick Mulvaney and Mark Meadows, became Chiefs of Staff during the Trump administration. Joined by former members of the Tea Party movement, along with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s refusal to allow any Democratic initiatives from reaching the Senate floor, this group sought to prevent President Obama from posting any meaningful legislative accomplishments during his final two years in office.

It was the Freedom Caucus that obstructed both impeachment trials in the Senate and refused to hold Donald Trump accountable. Now that they have control of the House, they have promised a revenge agenda with the aim of grinding government to a halt.

The Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack has referred four members of the Freedom Caucus to the House Ethics Committee for their refusal to comply with Congressional subpoenas to explain their roles in the January 6th insurrection. Yet, with Republicans taking over the House, it’s unlikely anything will come of this.

Led by Jim Jordan and Kevin McCarthy, two of the four House members who were referred, they are promising endless hearings to continue their cover-up of the Trump administration’s multiple scandals. They will also prevent President Biden from furthering any of the accomplishments from his first two years, the same as they did with President Obama.

They have already been attacking Dr. Anthony Fauci, attempting to blame him for the pandemic. This is yet another distraction as they were the ones who needlessly caused the deaths of thousands by mocking mask mandates, vaccines and lockdowns.

The poorly named “Freedom Caucus” doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. They are at the forefront of Trump defenders and election denialists. And they will continue to waste taxpayer dollars on pointless investigations in order to maintain some semblance of relevance.

The MAGA Cult

Take the Freedom Caucus, add White supremacists, homophobes, xenophobes, conspiracy theorists and religious bigots and what do you get? Most would say a recipe for disaster, but these are the people who comprise the base of Trump supporters. While there is undoubtedly some overlap, this toxic conglomeration of twisted beliefs was what put Trump in the Oval Office.

Their devotion to Donald Trump, despite multiple scandals, is what makes up a cult of followers who continue to believe the 2020 election was stolen, that the country is being ruled by a Deep State cabal that worships Satan by drinking the blood of children (see Blood Libel) while engaging in pedophilia, that the pandemic that killed thousands of Americans is a hoax and declares that America is a Christian nation as they clutch a Bible in one hand and a gun in the other.

This same group solidly stood behind Trump’s 2020 bid, leaving the mystified (and math impaired) Trump to ask how he could have lost if he received more votes in 2020 than he did in 2016. The obvious answer is that more people voted in 2020, but the cult’s twisted, paranoid logic claimed it was obvious evidence of a rigged system.

It was this belief that led thousands of them to march on Washington on January 6, 2021 and, egged on by Trump, to attack the Capitol as votes were being verified that would officially name Joe Biden as the president. They joined in an effort to halt the process, declaring that Trump was the rightful winner.

As convictions for their participation in the insurrection pile up, there are claims of remorse and regret. There are also those who, despite being convicted, refuse to admit they were wrong in trying to overthrow the government. This has resulted in a shrinking base of supporters who Trump is looking to in order to regain the White House in 2024.

Fractured Unity

Much has been made about the in-fighting between factions of the Democratic Party, with Progressives and Moderates bickering over their party’s direction. Meanwhile, Republicans appeared to present a unified front. Those who expressed any opposition were quickly silenced, either by being forced into retirement or primaried out of office in favor of more MAGA oriented candidates.

Republicans coalesced around the single philosophy of whatever Donald Trump wanted. It was the only platform they used in their losing effort to maintain control of the White House in 2020, yet they refused to abandon this approach because of Trump’s immense popularity within the Republican Party.

Nothing was more obvious than the behavior of Kevin McCarthy. Immediately following the events of January 6th, McCarthy was quick to blame Trump for his role in inciting the violence on that ensued. Once Trump left office, McCarthy was quickly on a plane to Florida to beg forgiveness. He realized that he needed Trump’s support if he hoped to gain the coveted House Speaker’s role following the then upcoming midterm elections, which historically favored the opposition party.

Fast forward two years: The vaunted Red Wave never materialized as voters soundly rejected MAGA candidates who were supported not only by Trump, but in a risky move, Democrats, who viewed these candidates as more easily defeatable due to their lack of qualifications. Despite losing a seat in the Senate and only barely regaining control of the House of Representatives, rank and file Republicans refused to blame Trump by name for his backing of unwinnable candidates.

As midterm results were still rolling in, Trump saw it as a good time to announce his candidacy for the 2024 presidential election. He received no pushback and remained the Republican front runner for his party’s nomination. This was even after what many viewed as a disastrous midterm showing and the discovery of multiple classified documents at his Mar a Lago home.

Having dinner with a White supremacist and cries to ignore the Constitution still failed to elicit condemnation from his party. They denounced the actions, but stubbornly refused to associate Trump’s name with them. Instead, they continued to offer tepid support while at the same time distancing themselves from his actions.

The consequences would come in the form of a party starting to show cracks in their once unassailable unity. It was exposed when Kevin McCarthy announced his bid to become House speaker. What was once seen as a sure thing became a point of contention when those who saw McCarthy as not showing enough loyalty to Donald Trump. There became a small, but growing, faction within the Republican Party that opposed McCarthy as Speaker. Because of their razor thin majority, it only takes a small number to torpedo McCarthy’s chances at the position he has been coveting for years.

Politics makes strange bedfellows, according to the old saying. So, the factions both supporting and opposing McCarthy’s path to the speakership certainly fits. A group of at least five Republican House members has declared themselves to be the Never Kevin group.

This has created a split between one time allies Matt Gaetz, Loren Boebert and Majorie Taylor Greene. Gaetz has aligned himself with the Never Kevin group, while Boebert has declared she will only support McCarthy if she is granted certain concessions. Meanwhile, Greene, who was stripped of her committee assignments by the Democratic majority due to her constant flaunting of House rules, is supporting McCarthy, presumably because she has been promised a prominent role should McCarthy become Speaker.

McCarthy’s position as future speaker is so tenuous that he has refused to comment on the brewing scandal of incoming Congressman George Santos out of fear of losing even a single vote. Santos has been caught making multiple lies to his constituents prior to his election and is currently under investigation for finance irregularities associated with his campaign. Despite this, Greene came to Santos’ defense when he was confronted on the once Trump-friendly Fox “news’.

These incidents have resulted in a very public spat between Greene and Boebert where Greene is accusing the Colorado Congresswoman of not being loyal enough to the Republican Party. What Greene is actually saying is that Boebert isn’t being loyal enough to Donald Trump who, after McCarthy made his groveling visit to Mar a Lago, earned Trump’s endorsement for the speakership.

This has raised Greene’s profile, which has many calling her the de facto face of the new Republican Party. Strange bedfellows indeed!

What’s Next?

The chaos that is represented by the vote for House Speaker epitomizes the fractious nature of the Republican Party. Even though it is less than ten percent of House Republicans, it foreshadows what will likely happen when they eventually take control. The “Never Kevin” faction has vowed to oppose any legislation that does not have complete Republican support, thus dooming any meaningful action by this Congress.

There are those who want to move on from the events of January 6th and look to the future. They either want to ignore the insurrection and let those, especially Donald Trump, escape the consequences of their actions, or they want to gloss over the attack on the Capitol in favor of pushing a far right agenda.

When Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon following the Watergate scandal, he was widely criticized and eventually voted out of office. Ford’s rationale was that pardoning Nixon would allow the nation to to heal and move on from the calamitous events of Watergate.

Some are suggesting a similar approach to Trump, except that Nixon acknowledged his guilt while Trump is still making the same baseless accusations that led to the insurrection. In the ultimate example of chutzpah, he is even using these claims in an effort to be re-elected in 2024.

Under the current Republican leadership there will be no progress. Instead, there will be an agenda of obstruction and revenge-minded, and pointless, hearings aimed at attempting to distract from the wrongdoings of the previous administration. Nothing will be accomplished and America will continue to fall into the abyss opened by decades of lack of accountability.

This is why the current group that calls themselves the Party of Lincoln needs to disappear. They have strayed so far from this once noble path and become the party of extremism and anti-American ideology. They are the party of authoritarianism, conspiracy theories and chaos.

This is not America .

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