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Robbins: The rot that is the Republican Party reclaims center stage

By Jeff Robbins - | Mar 15, 2023

Former Vice President Mike Pence made news last Saturday by saying something that shouldn’t have been news at all, but rather self-evident pablum right out of the mouth of Captain Obvious. Twenty-six months after an insurrectionist mob attempting a putsch stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, beating the daylights out of police and seeking to overthrow an election so that Donald Trump could remain in power, Pence was ready to make a momentous announcement. “Make no mistake about it,” he told attendees at the Gridiron Club’s no-cameras-allowed dinner, where no video could be taken of the big declaration, “what happened that day was a disgrace, and it mocks decency to portray it any other way.”

To Pence’s credit, confirming what everyone playing with a full deck could see with their own eyes is political suicide for anyone harboring a modicum of hope of winning the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, and somehow or other Pence harbors half a modicum. His speech was a direct challenge to the MAGA base’s second favorite tool, Fox’s Tucker Carlson, who has amped up his Off-The-Deep-End Tour by stitching together snippets of Jan. 6 footage to make it look like nothing happened that day. This is an especially curious choice for Carlson, whose internal communications to colleagues at Fox expressing his contempt for The Donald while publicly praising him do bring the word “fraudster” to mind.

And while we are “making no mistake,” if it isn’t nice to fool Mother Nature, it isn’t smart to contradict Tucker Carlson if you happen to want to avoid enraging Trump World. A man could get hanged. Representative Jamie Raskin observed that the Republican Party is the party of “dangerous nihilism.” That it surely is. An Associated Press-Ipsos poll taken last year found that about two-thirds of Republicans still believe that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, even after lawsuit upon lawsuit, audit upon audit, recount upon recount determined that this is hogwash. And 55% of Republicans believe that whatever violence they are actually prepared to concede occurred on Jan. 6 was organized by left-wing activists trying to make Trump look bad. More hogwash.

So, give Mike Pence his due, and more. Not only were his actions on Jan. 6 patriotic, brave and democracy-saving, but he seems to be at peace with this: his bid to win the 2024 Republican presidential nomination isn’t merely a long shot. It is The Voyage of the Damned.

With Republicans in control of the House of Representatives and Speaker Kevin McCarthy owned lock, stock and barrel by the most thoroughly unhinged among the Party’s pro-Trump loyalists, finding evidence of moral rot within the Party does not exactly require Sherlock Holmes. Despite warnings from the Capitol Police that release of the full footage of events within the Capitol complex on Jan. 6 could expose security vulnerabilities there, McCarthy turned over 40,000 hours of security camera videos to Carlson. This was in order to facilitate Carlson’s excision of footage of violence and presentation of footage without violence so that he could claim that it was all a nothingburger.

GOP lawmakers have launched an investigation into the House Select Committee investigating Jan. 6 — because, after all, it wasn’t the attack that was the problem, but instead the investigation into the attack. Over in the House Judiciary Committee, Republicans were accusing the Biden administration of failing to comply with subpoenas. Of course, Rep. Jim Jordan, the Committee’s chairman, gave the middle finger to the subpoena he received from the Select Committee last year, refusing its request that he turn over the evidence of what he knew about the insurrection.

As for former president Trump, he was — what else? — at the Conservative Political Action Conference, vowing vengeance against those who, all things considered, prefer a democracy over a fascism-tinged autocracy. “For those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution,” said the leader of the Republican Party, sounding just like a certain failed Austrian-born painter mesmerizing Germans in the early 1930s. American democracy is in for another ride.

Jeff Robbins, a former assistant United States attorney and United States delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, was chief counsel for the minority of the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. An attorney specializing in the First Amendment, he is a longtime columnist for the Boston Herald, writing on politics, national security, human rights and the Mideast.


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