A Reminder of the Gutless and Feckless

A number of GOP politicians criticized Trump over 1/6 and some resigned.

“#USAxAUS” by White House is in the Public Domain

Politico has a piece, They resigned in protest over Jan. 6 — then never went after Trump again, that reminds us all that a number of GOP politicians, including members of the Trump administration, publically decried 1/6 and directly linked Trump to the actions of that day. Many, in fact, resigned over those events in an attempt to separate themselves from Trump. While it was obvious at the time that many of those resignations (a mere two weeks before they would be out of jobs anyway) were just rats leaving a sinking ship, there was some hope that the shock of the day had awakened some in the GOP to what they had wrought. Of course, as soon as it was clear that the political winds were still pro-Trump, all of that stopped (and in many cases, the rhetoric reversed).

Here, for example, is the fearless leader of the GOP in the House, Kevin McCarthy in the immediate aftermath:

On the House floor that day, Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Trump “bears responsibility” for the “attack on Congress by mob rioters” and advised Congress to censure the president.

Of course, it didn’t take long for McCarthy to be a supplicant at Mar-a-Lago.

And here’s Senator Backbone himself, Lindsey Graham:

“Count me out,” said Trump’s closest confidante in the Senate and favorite golf partner, Sen. Lindsey Graham. “Enough is enough.”

By May, WaPo was reporting: Lindsey Graham says Republican Party can’t move forward without Trump: ‘We can’t grow without him’.

Other examples of the immediately critical, and yet ultimately silent are as follows (with fuller discussions in the linked piece). This is a true roster of the feckless, who knew in the moment what the right thing to do and say was, but time has revealed their true characters:

Former attorney general William Barr called Trump’s behavior “a betrayal of his office and supporters.”

[…]

In the aftermath of the riots, then-Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao was the first cabinet official to resign. 

[…]

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos submitted her letter of resignation the day after the Jan. 6 riots and wrote to Trump, “There is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation, and it is the inflection point for me.”

[…]

After serving as Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney accepted the role of U.S. special envoy to Northern Ireland. But following the Jan. 6 riots he announced during a live interview on CNBC he was stepping down. “I called [Secretary of State] Mike Pompeo last night to let him know I was resigning from that. I can’t do it. I can’t stay,” Mulvaney told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” Mulvaney said Trump was “not the same as he was eight months ago.”

[…]

Deputy national security adviser to Trump, Matt Pottinger, resigned on the afternoon of Jan. 6 as the riots unfolded on Capitol Hill.

Stephanie Grisham, the First Lady’s Chief of Staff, resigned wrote a book, and has continued to criticize. She has not re-entered politics at this point. She is the only example of someone resigning and continuing to criticize.

Again I would stress that they knew immediately that the right thing to do was to distance themselves and to denounce Trump. But once it was clear that large numbers of their co-partisans either didn’t really care or, worse, saw the 1/6 insurrection as just part of the lies about the election, the right thing to do was tossed out the window.

The piece concludes with this list as less well known members of the administration:

Other officials who resigned over Trump’s behavior on Jan. 6 included one of Trump’s top economic advisers, Tyler Goodspeed; deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews; White House social secretary Rickie Niceta; and John Costello, a deputy assistant secretary of Commerce who now serves in the Biden administration. Goodspeed and Matthews did not respond to a request to comment. Niceta and Costello declined to comment.

Elinore McCance-Katz, who was assistant secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services for mental health and substance use; Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general in charge of the civil rights division; Ryan Tully, senior director for European and Russian affairs at the National Security Council; and FAA officials Arjun Garg, Brianna Manzelli, Kirk Shaffer, Bailey Edwards and Andrew Giacini also all resigned in the aftermath of Jan. 6. Garg, Manzelli and Giacini declined to comment, while McCance-Katz, Dreiband, Tully, Shaffer and Edwards didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Look, the notion that a number of people have chosen to get on with their lives is not the real story here. The real story is that after the dust of 1/6 settled, the narrative in broader GOP circles is that it didn’t matter and, worse, that it wasn’t something that should be criticized or even seriously investigated. This created the climate that meant the lower-level types who resigned ended up choosing being able to work and earn a living over continuing to speak out. That may well be a critique of their characters, but the real problem is that people like McCarthy, Graham, Barr, and others decided to either be utter opportunists (or, in Barr’s case to quietly go into retirement) and wash their hands of the whole thing that they helped build.

It is hardly shocking to learn that people in politics are self-centered and amoral. What is disappointing and concerning, however, is that the prevailing reaction to 1/6 by far too many GOP primary voters, in particular, has been shrugged shoulders or the belief that it was all a false flag operation ginned up by Antifa. What should have been enough to shock most people into deep concern about the direction of the GOP (as the initial reaction of this parade of people shows) has become, along with the lies about the election itself, part of a false narrative that combines denial and acceptance of what should be unacceptable. Those voters have created the context in which McCarthy and his ilk see their ticket to re-election and, in his case, the Speakership.

I fear we will see more of this this week as we hit the anniversary of those events.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Donald Trump, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Scott F. says:

    Why not be gutless and feckless? There is no negative consequence to being so – no loss of power, no loss of standing, no loss of profit, no loss of opportunity. And, of course, there’s no legal price to pay.

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  2. mattbernius says:

    For as much as we concentrate on the riot, its easy to forget that 147 Republicans voted to overrule the election results. That is scary and staggering.

    Also, while I don’t agree with his characterization of what Biden has tried to accomplish in his first term (and his falling back on “bipartisan solutions) as an excuse, Rep Peter Meijer has basically made the same “this is all because of a two-party system” argument that you have in the past Steven: https://thehill.com/homenews/sunday-talk-shows/587908-gop-rep-says-republicans-have-no-other-option-than-to-back-trump

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  3. reid says:

    The majority of Republican voters and vast majority of Republican office-holders had been okay with all of the blatant incompetence, corruption, lies, and idiocy of Trump and his administration for four years. The radicalization has apparently been baked in thanks to years of ongoing propaganda, and nothing is going to change it, not even 1/6. Where do we go from here? How do we reverse course with these people?

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  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    Fearful people tend to be cowards. Or reverse it: cowards tend to be fearful people. And Republicans are fearful people.

    “A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once.”

    The more guns they buy to ward off fear, the more fearful they become. I learned this when I bought a Colt .45 because some guy wanted to kill me. The more I kept it with me, the more I needed it with me. I realized I was in a self-perpetuating spiral of fear and cowardice, so I traded it for 35 mm Canon.

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  5. Scott F. says:

    @mattbernius:
    To be frank, Meijer‘s mischaracterization of Biden’s accomplishments to date is absolutely necessary to maintain his farce that the two-party system is to blame for the GOP’s capitulation to Trump. If the Democratic agenda is allowed to be seen as anything short of extreme, then it makes no sense for Meijer’s party to maintain their allegiance to such an extreme figure as Trump. To a moral person, policy differences should be insufficient excuse to accept large scale cruelty and corruption. If the alternative is even remotely reasonable and open to negotiation, then the “power at all costs” argument is a contemptible position.

    I understand and accept the drivers in our two party system that Steven has so clearly articulated. But, our democracy is at stake. We can’t so easily excuse the ignorance, cowardice, or malice that allows the stench of Trumpist Republicanism to persist regardless of the current institutional configuration of which we are prisoners.

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  6. MarkedMan says:

    This matches the MarkedMan Theory of the World, Subsection 372-4: Any large institution, including political parties, are comprised of a mushy middle in the 70-80% range, who will mostly just go-along-to-get-along. Some may talk an amazing game but in the end they follow the herd. The remaining 20-30% are further divided between the good’uns and the bad’uns. The entire tone of the institution is determined by the percentage of good’uns versus the percentage of bad’uns. In this way a relatively small shift can exalt an institution or pull it into a spiral of increasing degradation and depravity. And depravity follows entropy. It requires constant vigilance and action among those with high ideals in order to keep an institution decent and effective but degradation can happen solely through neglect. Once an institution passes a certain point, it has driven aways so many of the good’uns and become so attractive to the baddies that it cannot pull itself out of the spiral. The Republicans have reached that point. The horse is dead, it just hasn’t hit the floor of the barn yet.

    (Note that “dead” in this case, means “dead as a force for good”. I am most definitely not predicting the death of the party itself.)

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  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Scott F.: You said it far better than I would have.

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  8. matt bernius says:

    @Scott F.:
    First, totally agree on the point about the mischaracterization.

    And I also think the quote illustrates two points that Steven has been driving home for years now. First is that the binary nature of the two-party system in part encourages… check that… incentivizes that sort of mischaracterization. And equally important is that this demonstrates what happens when power within a party is too decentralized.

    Republican leadership (and Democratic for that matter) is, and continues to be, by coalition. There isn’t a concentration of power in one or two individuals. For as much power as McConnell might wield within the Senate, much of that disappears beyond that chamber.

    I understand and accept the drivers in our two party system that Steven has so clearly articulated. But, our democracy is at stake. We can’t so easily excuse the ignorance, cowardice, or malice that allows the stench of Trumpist Republicanism to persist regardless of the current institutional configuration of which we are prisoners.

    The above shouldn’t be read as an excuse. More an acknowledgment of a scary reality–namely that the literal construction of our institutions is failing us–not only because they are not set up to protect us from this, but that they literally incentivize this behavior. And I’m not sure the “green latern” approach is enough to actually make any sort of difference.

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  9. Gustopher says:

    @mattbernius:

    For as much as we concentrate on the riot, its easy to forget that 147 Republicans voted to overrule the election results. That is scary and staggering.

    I really don’t care about a bunch of petty vandals — and the vast majority of those arrested fall into that camp. The dude who took the lectern and the guy with the face paint really aren’t a major threat to our democracy.

    Even if the rioters had gotten in before the Capitol was evacuated and slaughtered the entire Congress, there would be would be a bunch of appointments and special elections, and we would all be shocked and our form of government would move on although we would commemorate the day solemnly and make comments like “well, at least they got Ted Cruz.”

    The threat to our democracy is the people acting in the open, under the color of office, actively trying to destroy the institutions of our democracy.

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  10. Michael Reynolds says:

    @MarkedMan:

    It requires constant vigilance and action among those with high ideals in order to keep an institution decent and effective but degradation can happen solely through neglect.

    “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” as Edmund Burke apparently did not say, but John Stuart Mill might have said, kind of.

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  11. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Michael Reynolds: As long as the filibuster exists to prevent Congress from being responsive to American’s needs, it is a huge enabler in the Republican narrative that they are the only plug holding back the Dam of Communism.

    As Scott F noted, not only do they need the Democratic Party as an evil, degenerate foil… but they ALSO need little or nothing to happen. That is their biggest promise to Red America…a stalemate with a sprinkling of tax cuts and defunding entitlements.

    Democrats play right along with this…supporting this narrative. If Congress actually did things and no Communism resulted, it would cause Republican sponsors to do a major strategy refactor. They really do need almost nothing to occur legislatively…which is why not one of these assholes can be found to support BBB (even if it costs $10) despite the fact it would help their constituencies.

    Do you find it odd, that 7 Republicans voted to impeach Trump at the second trial….but 0 think BBB is a good deal or are open to negotiating for their State? One thing is of consequence to the R narrative…the other isn’t.

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  12. Scott F. says:

    @matt bernius:
    I recognize the seeming impotence of a strongly worded comment on a political blog, but I don’t believe I’m advocating for “green lantern” as much as for sunlight. I have the means to create pressure (albeit just a little) for greater transparency and accuracy in reporting and social media. Political financing transparency groups deserve my support. Targeted GOTV efforts deserve my support.

    And while Marjorie Taylor Green can’t be shamed, but I believe Peter Meijer can be. Meet the Press booked him as their bothsiderism voice of the “reasonable Republican.” All Chuck Todd needed ask is for Meijer to name some specific policies in BBB that justify his party supporting a man Meijer voted to impeach. He’s going to defend Trumpism over hearing aid coverage in Medicare?

    Charlie Sykes writes this morning on The Bulwark that “The success of anti-democratic authoritarianism depends on our exhaustion.” I think that’s about right. It will likely be fruitless, but we have to remain vigilant in our push for transparency and relentless in our focus on the threat that the Republican Party represents.

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  13. matt bernius says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    Democrats play right along with this…supporting this narrative. If Congress actually did things and no Communism resulted, it would cause Republican sponsors to do a major strategy refactor. They really do need almost nothing to occur legislatively…which is why not one of these assholes can be found to support BBB (even if it costs $10) despite the fact it would help their constituencies.

    100% this. And this remains the greatest tool of the Republicans. Congress has evolved into an institution whose structure favors preventing action and progress. It’s also an institution where the minority party has outsized power to block legislation. This means when the party that doesn’t want forward progress is out of power, they essentially can control the agenda.

    The reality is, with their current numbers and the coalition that makes them up, I don’t see the Democrats being able to do anything about this. Could their messaging be tighter? Sure. But they have been railing on the filibuster for a year.

    Without changing the makeup of the Senate, no change is going to happen.

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  14. matt bernius says:

    @Scott F.:

    All Chuck Todd needed ask is for Meijer to name some specific policies in BBB that justify his party supporting a man Meijer voted to impeach.

    First, waiting for Chuck Todd to save our democracy will be even more frustrating for Mueller to do so. Those shows are based on having guests from “both sides.” I don’t see that changing any time soon.

    Secondly, I expect that even if Todd had done that, Meijer could easily point to things that would more than give him cover — i.e. anything in the bill that centrist Democrats like Joe Manchin cannot support. Yes, this theoretical Todd (because the real one has never shown any capability of doing this) could keep pushing Meijer on this, but imagining it getting to any sort of statement that would satisfy any of us is just wish casting.

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