Biden's agenda may end up falling apart — but the GOP is eating itself alive

The Republican Party is making the Democrats look like rank amateurs when it comes to being in "disarray"

By Heather Digby Parton


Published October 18, 2021 9:55AM (EDT)

Donald Trump and Joe Biden (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump and Joe Biden (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

As anyone could have predicted, much of the media is once again obsessed with the "Democrats are in disarray" storyline, a perennial favorite that makes it easy to preserve the preferred conventional wisdom that says the right may be authoritarian bigots but at least they aren't the dizzy dingbats of the left. Republicans don't even have to make the trains run on time anymore.

Right now, the Democrats are doing the most tedious of all political tasks: trying to pass complicated legislation with a coalition that includes a handful of officials who look in the mirror every morning and see a superstar looking back at them. There is no politician on Earth who does not have a healthy ego, but these are people who live for headlines like this one: Manchin Lays Down Demands for Child Tax Credit.

This is hardly a unique characteristic of the Democratic Party. We only have to look back at the famous moment back in 2017 when GOP Senator John McCain of Arizona, dying of cancer and filled with loathing for President Donald Trump, dramatically gestured thumbs down and defeated the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Still, it is true that Democrats are particularly prone to exceedingly tiresome haggling over legislation, but that's because they actually want to do things. The Republican agenda is pretty much confined to confirming judges and cutting taxes so they tend to get those things done quite efficiently, no negotiating required.

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So the Biden Agenda may end up falling apart. It was always going to be a heavy lift to do big things with such a narrow majority. But they still might pull it off and if the process is messy and exhausting it's just how progress happens. If one wants an example of a political party that's in a state of full-blown internal chaos, just look to the right and check out what's going on in the GOP. Sure, Republicans are in lock-step obstruction mode in Congress, fighting anything and everything the Democrats are trying to do. But the party is actually eating itself alive, so energetically in fact that the media is beginning to take notice. What seems to have precipitated this new interest was this startling statement by Donald Trump last week:

There was no way to interpret that as anything but a threat. Trump was just making it clear that anyone who isn't in line with the Big Lie will be put on his "don't vote" list. And, not that he cares, but the statement also has the effect of telling GOP voters that unless the election fraud is "solved" (whatever he means by that) that they might as well not bother to vote.

There are plenty of people, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who believe that his caterwauling about voter fraud cost the Republicans two Senate seats last year. He wasn't the only one. Right wing personality Erick Erickson said at the time:

"Telling everyone that the race was stolen when it wasn't cost the Republicans two Senate seats. The going all-in on the cult of personality around President Trump hurt them as a result. They had to play up this, 'There's no way Donald Trump could have lost. It had to be stolen from him.' "

This is not just an assumption. In this Sunday New York Times piece, Jeremy Peters notes that even a vociferous supporter like Marjorie Taylor Greene was surprised to find in an internal survey that 10% of Republican voters in her Georgia district would not vote in 2022 if there was no "forensic audit" of the 2020 vote. Marjorie Taylor Greene's district will no doubt return her to Congress, unfortunately, even if 10% of her voters did lay out. But in districts and states with more competitive races, that rate of GOP apathy could be a serious problem.

There are a few rare dissenters left in the party and not just the usual suspects., Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Il, or Wyoming GOP congresswoman Liz Cheney. Senator Bill Cassidy, R-La, has shown some independence in the past and this week told Axios that he wouldn't vote for Trump in 2024 and hoped he wouldn't run because he lost the House, the Senate and the Presidency in four years and politics is about winning. I don't know if Cassidy had attended the National Republican Senatorial Committee retreat in Palm Beach, Fla. last week, but according to the Washington Post, if he did he heard Trump say that he had actually saved the party, telling the gathered GOP senators that "it was a dying party, I'll be honest. Now we have a very lively party." That's one way of putting it.

Trump went on to insult various "RINOS" in the party whom he felt betrayed him, naming Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse among others. It's a good bet Cassidy will also be name-checked soon, as will Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson who told Meet the Press on Sunday that "re-litigating" the 2020 election would be a "recipe for disaster."

Cassidy and Hutchinson are outliers in the party for openly embracing reality. Most elected Republican officials are falling all over themselves trying to prove their loyalty and the ensuing primary battles are already head spinning. Everyone is no doubt aware by now of Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley's humiliating descent into Trump cultism. Fred Hiatt in the Washington Post tells the tale of first term Tennessee Republican Senator Bill Hagerty, former Ambassador to Japan, a man once considered to be a man of integrity and independence who has instead become an energetic Trump sycophant for no real apparent reason other than a desire to please the man.

Nowhere is the tension more marked than the Virginia gubernatorial race, where the the Big Lie is the last thing GOP candidate Glenn Youngkin wants to talk about but it's the only thing his voters seem to care about. He is a man desperate to escape the clutches of Donald Trump but cannot risk offending his followers and it's tying him up in knots.

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Still, the GOP primary races are where the real action is.

Amy Davidson Sorkin in the New Yorker reports on an astonishing Republican race in Alabama to fill retiring Richard Shelby's seat between an establishment candidate Katie Britt and Insurrectionist Congressman Mo Brooks. Brooks attacked Britt for saying that she feels it's important to stand with women and her reply was that Brooks was insufficiently loyal to Donald Trump because he had once supported Ted Cruz in the 2016 primaries while she was a Trump supporter from the get-go. It's getting very ugly, very quickly.

Democratic wrangling over their agenda is difficult and frustrating but at least they are trying to get something done for the people. The Republican Party is making the Democrats look like rank amateurs when it comes to being in "disarray" and it's all in service of keeping Donald Trump happy. It's not hard to see which process is actually serving the public interest and which one isn't. 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Big Lie Bill Cassidy Commentary Democrats Donald Trump Elections 2022 Gop Joe Biden Republicans