The GOP talks a good game, but let’s review those conservative principles

Old Republican slogans of ‘law and order’ and ‘personal responsibility’ no longer work

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said “everybody across this country” bore some responsibility for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. So much for the party of personal responsibility, Curtis writes. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said “everybody across this country” bore some responsibility for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. So much for the party of personal responsibility, Curtis writes. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted February 4, 2021 at 6:00am

What is the Republican Party in 2021? It’s easier to say what it’s not.

With a majority of the party’s House members voting to invalidate the results of a free and fair election, and a good chunk of its voters going along with the fantasy that Donald Trump was robbed, it’s clear the GOP is not a stickler for democracy or the Constitution. And with most Republican senators not interested in holding an impeachment trial for a former president accused of “inciting an insurrection,” Americans can be pretty sure the party is not too keen on accountability.

It’s not a new contradiction. But while it’s true that the GOP has long instructed voters not to “look behind the curtain,” the mess that is spilling out has become impossible to ignore. The sight of thousands of violent rioters storming the center of legislative government will do that.

So what are just a few of the slogans that have crumbled?

Law and order

How about starting with “law and order,” one of the losing 2020 presidential candidate’s favorite mantras, usually followed with a chaser of “back the blue”? While Trump condemned and cursed football players who peacefully knelt to protest a too often unjust justice system, the real “thugs” turned out to be violent rioters armed with hockey sticks, guns and pretty much anything they could get their hands on, who stormed the U.S. Capitol and caused several deaths, among them a member of “the blue.”

An overwhelming number of police unions backed the man whose speech set the stage for the Capitol assault. “You’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong,” Trump said.

But what those sickening video and audio clips displayed — outnumbered law enforcement officers beaten unmercifully — was brutality, not strength. The weapon reportedly used on Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, honored in the Capitol Rotunda this week, who died from injuries sustained during the pro-Trump riot? A fire extinguisher. The Capitol Police union has said that about 140 officers suffered injuries, including cracked ribs and smashed spinal discs.

Do blue lives matter only in opposition to Black lives? Does a crowd dominated by white criminals get a pass when it comes to breaking laws and sowing disorder? From Florida, Trump is silent on that question as he reportedly continues to proclaim the election lie that sustained his supporters and while the Biden Justice Department plays catch-up on the threat of white supremacists downplayed under Trump.

The patriot party

No more the party of “patriots,” not when a retired Army lieutenant general and Trump confidant floated the idea of martial law, making a mockery of every oath he swore allegiance to. You’d think disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn would have stayed out of sight for a while after admitting to lying to the FBI and winning a “get out of jail free” card from his buddy Trump. Instead, he continued doubling down on false claims of a stolen election.

Add to that a president who threw in with the law-breakers who toted the flag of traitors, the Confederate battle flag, inside the Capitol and used the Stars and Stripes as a blunt instrument. “We love you,” Trump tweeted.

The Patriot Party, reportedly considered as a possible label for Trump’s maybe third-party offshoot for the disaffected and delusional, seems fitting and comically ironic.

Besides the campaigning from current Republican leadership to move on from impeachment, a future face of the party, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley — after criticizing Trump’s postelection attempts to hold on to power and his actions on Jan. 6 — said impeachment would be too divisive: “I mean, give the man a break. I mean, move on.”

Personal responsibility

The party of personal responsibility? I guess that too has to be banished from the GOP mission statement.

There were pardons for Trump allies, a rogue’s gallery of accused and convicted criminals, and excuses from those arrested during the Capitol riot that make “the dog ate my homework” sound reasonable.

Derrick Evans, a Republican state lawmaker from West Virginia, confronted with video of him breaching the Capitol and chanting Trump’s name, tried to explain it away with a statement that he “was simply there as an independent member of the media to film history.” The now “former” official faces federal charges.

It seems that when things go terribly wrong, it’s nobody’s fault.

Or everybody’s fault.

When a minority of Black Lives Matter-inspired protests devolved into incidents of night-time looting, every Democrat, especially Joe Biden, was blamed by Republicans, despite Biden’s repeated and emphatic condemnations of violence of any kind.

When the rioters on Jan. 6 used “Trump 2020” flags to maim and destroy, well, according to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who recently made a Florida pilgrimage to symbolically kiss Trump’s ring, “everybody across this country” bore some responsibility.

… Not as I do

All I know from growing up in a working-class Black Baltimore neighborhood vilified by many who never lived there is that those kinds of excuses would land someone like me under the jail.

For Republicans, it can mean a ticket to the House of Representatives.

The hateful words of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene did not hinder her easy election in her deep-red Georgia district. But instead of either apologizing for or proudly owning the racist and anti-Semitic rants, the conspiracy theories and the beliefs that school shootings were staged and more that filled her social media feed, she, of course, first palmed her most incendiary claims off on others, writing that she has had “teams of people manage my pages.”

Nothing could erase the video of a grown woman stalking a teenage survivor of a school shooting and harassing him with yelled threats while bragging about being armed. And she called him a “coward.”

The Republican Party may be a bit discomfited by Greene’s behavior, but the party groomed her, accepted her and now owns her. Trump is her champion and she is his acolyte.

I’ve written about how my mother identified as a Republican with her generally moderate, socially liberal views, a holdout for the “party of Lincoln.” But she became disillusioned when the Southern strategy that picked off voters angered by Democratic President Lyndon Johnson’s signature on civil rights legislation presented a ripe, though rancid, opportunity.

That bargain yielded results, but it has come back to haunt the Republican Party. What is the party now, if not Donald Trump, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, white domestic terrorists and a Senate whose GOP members most probably will deny — with a “not guilty” judgment — their party’s connection to an insurrection that put their own lives in danger?

As Republicans ponder who truly represents their values — Greene or Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, who committed the sin of voting for Trump’s impeachment for his conduct before, after and on that historically dark day of Jan. 6 — the party has made one thing clear. Its future, and a chance at retaking the House in 2022, depends not on “inclusion,” another word it has no claim to, but on tougher voting restrictions and redistricting hardball, choosing its voters rather than letting voters in fairly drawn, nonpartisan districts choose them.

The Grand Old Party is going to have to come up with some new slogans and principles.

It won’t be pretty.

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

CQ Roll Call’s newest podcast, “Equal Time with Mary C Curtis,” examines policy and politics through the lens of social justice. Please subscribe on AppleSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.