Having covered politics and crime for most of my adult life, I’ve often been asked—sometimes with a bit of snark, often not—if there’s a difference.
Professional criminals and professional politicians who are criminals differ on one very important point: Criminals who aren’t politicians don’t pretend what they’re doing is for the benefit of everyone. They’re in it for themselves or their “family.” They may lie to you, they may cheat you, rob you, kill you, libel, slander, or destroy your reputation. But they’re doing it for their personal gain.
It is only the professional political criminal who pretends that his crimes benefit everyone else.
Enter Donald Trump, Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, and the other Trump-supporting Republicans who popularized the Big Lie that led to the January 6 insurrection. (I leave out batshit-nuts Marjorie Taylor Greene. Insanity is its own defense.)
The GOP is so dysfunctional and suffers from such a split personality that on Wednesday the House Republican Conference both cheered for Greene and voted 145-61 to keep Liz Cheney as its conference chairwoman.
So on the one hand, only eleven House Republican joined the House Democrats in voting to remove Greene from her committee assignments. Instead, most Republicans supported and even applauded the congresswoman who promoted the Big Lie, bought into Pizzagate, disparaged Parkland school shooting victims, and embraced a variety of QAnon theories so crazy that SNL couldn’t adequately satirize the lunacy.
And on the other, they decided to keep as their third-ranked official Liz Cheney, who before the House voted on Trump’s second impeachment said:
The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing. None of this would have happened without the President. The President could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not. There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.
How does the GOP reconcile this divergence? It cannot. All it can do is look for political opponents and hope that in vilifying someone else Republicans can find some unity for themselves.
Joe Biden’s actions just in his first two weeks, particularly regarding the pandemic, show what even a modicum of leadership can do in times of national strife.
Meanwhile, his White House has largely not weighed in on the lunacy at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Regarding the pending Trump impeachment trial, Press Secretary Jen Psaki has repeatedly said that whatever goes on in the Senate is up to the Senate—even though the Biden team knows that the legislation they want and confirmations they need will be slowed by the Senate’s necessary preoccupation with the trial of the president responsible for the events of January 6.
Democratic insiders are both aghast at and slightly giddy over the GOP’s split-personality death throes. They are queasy about it, stunned, and uneasy about what might come next. Whatever the GOP becomes, it will not be the Republican party of Abraham Lincoln or Teddy Roosevelt or Dwight Eisenhower, or even Ronald Reagan.
If the GOP could cull the crazies from the herd, there is a chance it could remain a viable and possibly important force in politics—and perhaps even once again a party of ideas instead of a cult of personality. But the failure to chastise Marjorie Taylor Greene and the choice to applaud her makes clear that the most House Republicans lack the courage needed to police their own.
Many, like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, are trying to have it both ways by supporting Cheney and supporting Greene, forgetting that when it comes to crazy or sane, you have to pick a lane.
Looming in the background is Donald Trump himself, whom McCarthy proudly posed with this week, just days before the former president’s Senate impeachment trial. Of course, Trump’s minions still cannot quite admit that he is a former president. Every email we receive from him merely tells us he’s the 45th president. In his mind, there is no 46th. This is the man whom these congressional Republicans have protected, the man they want endorsements from, the man many of them want to run again.
To McCarthy and the other congressional Republicans still truckling to Trump, I would ask: “Do you actually believe all this crap you’re spreading? Aren’t you smarter than that? Do you really not have an ounce of political courage in your bodies?”
I wouldn’t bother to ask those questions of the die-hard Trumpists, like fascist frat boy Matt Gaetz; he seems too stupid to grasp much of anything but his own ego. Gaetz, who led the failed effort to oust Cheney, told Steve Bannon this week that “I would leave my House seat, I would leave my home” to mount a defense of Donald Trump. Let him go. Hell, buy him a bus ticket and a travel snack and send the little boy to camp.
Correction (Feb. 9, 2021): Due to an error that arose during editing, this article originally misstated the number of Republicans who voted to remove Marjorie Taylor Greene from her committee assignments. Although no House Republicans supported the procedural votes to proceed with removing her committee assignments, ultimately eleven Republicans did vote to remove her.