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Another Episode in the Ongoing Saga of What Passes for GOP Leadership

Today brought a flurry of colorful reports on another episode in the ongoing saga of what passes for GOP leadership, otherwise known as profiles in expediency. The reports are based on a preview of This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden, and the Battle for America's Future, an upcoming book by New York Times reporters Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin scheduled for publication May 3. The preview at the Times is behind a paywall I am unable to breach because I have reached my limit of free articles, which appears to be about one in the designated interval, so I must rely on secondary sources I consider reputable (references below).

The reports zero in on the response of the party's congressional leadership in the immediate aftermath of the attempt to overthrow the government on January 6 and their quick pivot away from any semblance of principled stance in the days and weeks that followed as it became apparent that the base would take exception to any effort to hold Trump accountable. Craven is a description these reporters favor. It fits.

Not much here is new. The stories simply add flavor to what was already widely reported or reasonably suspected. House minority leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell are caught in the spotlight's unforgiving glare. McConnell reportedly said bluntly, "If this isn’t impeachable, I don’t know what is," and went so far as to ask a reporter whether the cabinet really might pursue the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. When that did not materialize, he told two longtime advisers over lunch, "The Democrats are going to take care of the son of a bitch for us," referring to the imminent impeachment vote in the House (Blake, New details, et al.). In the meantime, McCarthy allegedly said he had "had it with this guy" and he would advise Trump to resign: "What he did is unacceptable. Nobody can defend it and nobody should defend it" (Aratani, Top two Republicans blamed Trump).

Yet when the time came to take a public stand, McCarthy, McConnell, and other congressional Republicans wilted like a sensitive plant in harsh August sun.

It’s a scene that has played out over and over again with Trump. Many Republicans called for him to drop out of the 2016 campaign after the “Access Hollywood” tape came out, saying he was unfit. Then he stayed in and won, leaving his party to try to reconcile itself to the situation. Numerous controversies later, the GOP base repeatedly made clear that what leaders might have seen as Trump going too far was not too far for them.

McConnell and McCarthy are hardly the only ones who seemed to wishfully believe the end was nigh. So, too, did Nikki Haley. And Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.). And House lawmakers such as Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.). Many have since reverted to backing Trump as if nothing had happened. (Blake)

No one who was paying attention expected profiles in courage. Only the terminally naïve could be surprised by the sheer hypocrisy and nihilism on display. One is pushed to heretofore unplumbed depths of cynicism by these blockheads as no matter how low the bar is set they manage to slither under it.

We can only speculate as to the response of the base, heavily armed Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, and other self-styled militia groups among them, had McConnell and his Senate colleagues stood tall and voted for conviction. Conviction might well have set the stage for an orgy of violence. Republican expediency did not resolve the crisis. It only kicked the moment when it comes to a head on down the road. McConnell for his part has since said that he will support Trump if he is the party's nominee in 2024. So much for principle.

Memo from the Editorial Desk. Postscript April 22, 2022. In a statement from his office Kevin McCarthy called the Times reporting "totally false and wrong." Whereupon Martin and Burns produced a tape of a January 10 phone conversation between McCarthy and Liz Chaney in which she asks if Trump is going to resign. McCarthy's response:

I mean, you guys all know him, too — do you think he’d ever back away? But what I think I’m going to do is I’m going to call him … The only discussion I would have with him is that I think this [impeachment resolution] will pass and it would be my recommendation you should resign.

An unidentified senior House Republican aide said McCarthy has a trust issue with caucus: "He’s a bald-faced liar who literally just has no problem completely lying. And that doesn’t sit well with members." (Rachel Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizz, POLITICO Playbook: Is Kevin McCarthy toast?, April 22, 2022)


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