The GOP’s moral postmodernism

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.)
Greg Nash

The GOP’s rigid party orthodoxy ratcheted a notch tighter on Monday, when House Republicans teased a plan to strip committee seats from the 13 Republicans who recently sided with Democrats to pass President Biden’s historic $1.2 trillion infrastructure package. The message was clear: Support for Democratic policies will not be tolerated, even if – especially if – those policies help Republican voters.

Calls to drive out insufficiently obedient Republican lawmakers are commonplace in the new Trumpified GOP. Just ask Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who lost her leadership role after committing the cardinal sin of acknowledging that Joe Biden won the 2020 election. Or take Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), whose revulsion at Trump’s amoral excesses turned him into a pariah before ultimately driving him into early retirement.

The GOP’s crackdown on critical thinking is a problem, but that loyal policy comes with an even darker side. Embracing Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) win-at-any-cost ethos, the Republicans will dutifully tolerate even the most appalling personal and professional conduct from “loyal” members. That’s bleak for the right, but it’s devastating for good government.

Our government is in dire need of decent and ethical public servants interested in doing the hard work of governing. As Kinzinger proves, it is increasingly impossible to fit those criteria when former President Trump, far and away the most influential Republican, takes special delight in endorsing candidates solely for their ability to rankle Democrats and parrot Trump’s outlandish lies. 

As a result, a Republican Party unwilling and potentially unable to express any values that cross Trump has been largely reduced to a rubber stamp for Trump-preferred candidates.

This week offers plenty of avoidable examples of the hazards ahead for a GOP that has lost its values. Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who leads the National Republican Senatorial Committee and thus the GOP’s Senate reelection efforts, refused on Monday to condemn Pennsylvania Republican and Senate hopeful Sean Parnell for allegedly strangling his wife and abusing his children

“We’ll see who comes out of the primary,” Scott told CNN, seemingly unaware that he was being asked a moral question and not a political one. “We’ll find out exactly what people think.”

It’s no coincidence that the Republican platform, which once explicitly mentioned defending “family values” as a core aspect of conservatism, has now stripped those words from its website. That’s fair enough — Scott’s distant, process-focused response to a question about child abuse and domestic violence makes clear just how much Republicans have abandoned even the artifice of believing in family values. The new GOP is a media machine, and whoever can draw the highest ratings and own the most libs is inherently the best at being Republican.

Unfortunately for this new Republican Party, most Americans have a tougher time trading in their deeply-held ethics for a few temporary political victories. And sometimes their conduct is brazen enough to shock a nation inured to political extremism.  

That’s the case for Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), who drew criticism – from everywhere but the House Republicans – for posting a doctored video on Twitter that showed Gosar attacking Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) with a sword. In a legislative body once known for its excessive professional courtesy, the image of one congressman murdering another should have drawn howls of scorn from House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). Instead, you’ll struggle to find a single Republican elected official willing to take the bold position that threatening to murder your coworkers is bad.

Maybe it is naive to expect Republicans to condemn threats of violence when they have also failed to condemn actual violence. In 2017, then-Montana congressional candidate Greg Gianforte was charged with assault for physically attacking journalist Ben Jacobs. Not only did Republicans – and Trump – rally around Gianforte’s assault, they elevated Gianforte to the governor’s office in 2020.  

The go-to Republican defense for this newfound moral postmodernism is that Americans are electing politicians, not priests, and Americans shouldn’t cast judgment on Gianforte’s violence or Gosar’s threats. That’s a tough pill to swallow coming from the party that supercharged the religious right by weaponizing their moralizing into a cudgel against Democrats and marginalized Americans. 

Republicans’ pitifully low expectations for their own membership hurt our country’s ability to effectively govern itself. By elevating individuals such as Gosar and Parnell, the GOP ties Congress’s hands. That may be the intention, but it is self-defeating in the long run and ruinously destructive to public trust in the short term. 

As Americans, we must demand more of our elected officials. It is not enough to promise victories — our elected officials must be role models because they are role models, for better or for worse. A GOP unwilling or unable to hold itself to any moral standard except unflinching obedience is not a party deserving of public respect or public office. If only Republican leaders cared.

Max Burns is a Democratic strategist and founder of Third Degree Strategies, a progressive communications firm. Follow him on Twitter @themaxburns.

Tags Adam Kinzinger Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Criticism of Donald Trump Donald Trump Far-right politics in the United States Greg Gianforte Joe Biden Kevin McCarthy Liz Cheney Mitch McConnell Paul Gosar political violence trumpism

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