May 16, 2021
Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY), whom the Republican House conference dumped as chair last week after she refused to kowtow to former president Trump, said some interesting things to Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday this morning. She reiterated that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has information about conversations with Trump surrounding the events of January 6 and should be subpoenaed if he will not talk about those things voluntarily (and, by implication, under oath).
Cheney is bringing back into the media cycle a number of things we heard between the election and January 6, but she has said that McCarthy should be subpoenaed enough times that it’s hard to believe she is talking generally.
On ABC’s This Week, Cheney also repeated the information she gave last week: that Republicans were afraid to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial because they were frightened for their lives. You may recall that the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff (D-CA) said something similar in his closing remarks in January 2020 at Trump’s first impeachment trial, and Republicans claimed to be outraged. Senator James Lankford (R-OK) told reporters: “That’s insulting and demeaning to everyone to say that we somehow live in fear and that the president has threatened all of us.”
And yet, sixteen months later, here we are.
Cheney is not the only Republican who is turning on the former president and his loyalists. Last night, Trump posted a statement claiming that “the entire Database of Maricopa County in Arizona”—where the bizarre “audit” is underway—“has been DELETED!” The statement goes on to make sweeping claims about “this unbelievable Election crime,” and so on.
But, in real time, the Republican recorder of Maricopa County wrote on Twitter in response to Trump’s statement: “Wow. this is unhinged,” Stephen Richer wrote. “I’m literally looking at our voter registration database on my other screen. Right now.” He went on: “We can’t indulge these insane lies any longer. As a party. As a state. As a country. This is as readily falsifiable as 2+2=5. If we don’t call this out….”
And Maricopa County did call it out. In a remarkable Twitter thread, the Maricopa County official account destroyed the effort by the private company Cyber Ninjas to recount the 2020 votes in that county. “The 2020 elections were run w/ integrity, the results certified by the county & state were accurate, & the 2 independent audits conducted by the County are the true final word on the subject,” the account said. “We know auditing. The Senate Cyber Ninja audit is not a real audit.” The account went on to list all the many ways in which this audit is simply a propaganda effort to shore up the Big Lie that the election was stolen.
This weekend we also learned that Joel Greenberg, the former tax collector for Seminole County, Florida, will plead guilty to six charges in federal court tomorrow. Greenberg is the man Florida Representative Matt Gaetz, a Trump loyalist, used to call his “wingman,” and Greenberg has worked his way down from the 33 original charges against him by promising to cooperate with prosecutors, presumably to offer information about people above him in the food chain, possibly including Gaetz. On Friday, media reported that witnesses could place Gaetz at a party with Greenberg, as well as lots of cocaine and sex workers, one of whom ended up with a “no-show” government job.
Gaetz has compared the accusations that he has been “falsely accused of exchanging money for naughty favors” with congressional earmarks.
I’m afraid I have no idea what point Gaetz is trying to make, but I’m flagging all three of these stories because they illustrate an important point: that a one-party state is bad even for the party that holds a monopoly and that, together, these stories reveal that the Republican Party is nearing the end of its dominant run in our democracy.
One of the key functions of a strong opposition party in a functioning democracy is oversight. Human nature being what it is, there are going to be bad eggs in every organization, including governments. It is in everyone’s best interest to expose the Joel Greenbergs of a party long before they hit 33 federal indictments and threaten to torpedo a highly visible lawmaker. But by marginalizing the Democrats through voter suppression, gerrymandering, and media attacks, the Republicans undermined that oversight and grew some terribly outsized scandals.
Manipulating the system to gain power without oversight, a party can close ranks even to the point that its members are afraid to speak out. The contrast between the fury unleashed when Schiff said lawmakers were afraid for their lives and Cheney’s acknowledgement of that fear illustrates what a closed circuit the Republican Party became under Trump. It could be, of course, that their fear is entirely new, but it seems more likely that they rejected the oversight that would have helped them throw off Trump before it got to the point that party members were afraid to speak out for fear of their own safety.
This sort of political domination might seem like a great victory, but it is actually suicidal in the long run. The party becomes so extreme that it finally alienates even its own members, like the Maricopa elections officials or Representative Cheney. They turn on the party leadership. And if they join with the party’s opposition, they can empower the regime’s opponents, enabling them to restore voting rights, end gerrymandering, and make the playing field level again. This restoration of fairness swings the pendulum away from the dominant party pretty dramatically.
The fear that the American people will end the Republican Party’s dominance, of course, explains why Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has declared that his primary goal in this Congress is to make sure the Democrats cannot pass the For the People Act to make voting easier, end partisan gerrymandering, and end the influence of big money in politics. McConnell and the Republicans want to protect Trump’s corporate tax cuts, and to do that, it is imperative that they regain control of Congress. And for that, they need the tools they have developed over the past generation, tools the For the People Act would take away.
It’s a Catch-22. To win, the Republicans need to hamstring the opposition. But as they did that over the last generation, they undercut the oversight that would have kept the party healthy. Now the Republican Party runs the risk of alienating voters it desperately needs as it faces a scandal of sex and drugs, a profoundly troubled election “audit,” accusations that party members are afraid to speak out because they fear for their lives, and suggestions from the former third-ranking official in the House Republican conference that the first official in the conference should be subpoenaed.