COMMENTARY

Trump's puppets: McConnell and McCarthy have lost all control

Why should we assume that they were telling the truth at any point in that series of events, private or public?

By Heather Digby Parton

Published April 29, 2022 10:03AM (EDT)

Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

It's been a big couple of weeks in Republican Party inside gossip. Newly leaked audio tapes and text messages illustrate the utter hypocrisy of virtually everyone in the party. But it's not as if we didn't know that about them already, just as we already knew about their utter cowardice and cynicism. That, too, has been on full display ever since Donald Trump won the nomination for president six years ago. But considering the stakes now, the cravenness of their opportunism can still shock even after all of this time.

In their new book, "This Will Not Pass," New York Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns reveal both House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to be even more nihilistic than we knew. Most people seem to think that because they said to various parties in the aftermath of January 6th that they were appalled by the events of that day and that they were done with Trump that they were showing what they truly believed. Upon reflection, it seems more likely to me that they simply thought that the American people would be so upset by the insurrection and Trump's incitement that they would turn on him and so they assumed that was the smart place to be. But when it became evident that their voters were actually supportive of the assault and more devoted to Donald Trump than ever, they changed their minds. Why should we assume that they were telling the truth at any point in that series of events, private or public? They lie about everything, just like Trump.

And it's not as if that's the first time we've seen this dynamic.

Going all the way back to Trump's dissing of GOP Senator John McCain to the Access Hollywood tape to talking about the size of his manhood in a presidential debate, the 2016 campaign laid out the template for Donald Trump behaving in insanely inappropriate ways, Republicans deciding it was the smart move to distance themselves from him only to find out that their voters loved every minute of it. By the time he was done he had created a situation in which millions of people were taking snake oil cures in the middle of a deadly pandemic and storming the Capitol, threatening to hang the vice president. Republican leaders and elected officials thought that was the end and it wasn't. Trump famously said he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not lose any voters and he was right.

If GOP establishment figures like McCarthy and McConnell had truly felt that what Trump did was egregious, and deep in their hearts wanted him gone, they could have led instead of followed. After all, it would have only taken 10 more Senators to vote to impeach Trump to prevent him from running again. From what we're seeing in this latest reporting, they didn't even try.

There have been examples of principled Republicans, however, they just aren't in Washington.

As we saw during the post-election period, state and local officials around the country actually put up a fight. (It was lucky they did, too.) The battle is ongoing with state parties still facing tremendous pressure from Trump and his followers and while it's hard to determine their real motives there are some outside groups still invested in the party who are also pushing back.

The Times reported on Thursday that the Michigan GOP is involved in a serious battle between Trumper extremists and the old guard which is unwilling to go along with the anointment of 2020 election deniers to the ballot for the offices of Secretary of State and Attorney General. According to the Times:

This week, Tony Daunt, powerful figure in Michigan politics with close ties to the influential donor network of the DeVos family, resigned from the G.O.P.'s state committee in a blistering letter, calling Mr. Trump "a deranged narcissist." Major donors to the state party indicated that they would direct their money elsewhere. And one of Mr. Trump's most loyal defenders in the State Legislature was kicked out of the House Republican caucus...

"Rather than distancing themselves from this undisciplined loser," Mr. Daunt wrote in his resignation letter, "far too many Republican 'leaders' have decided that encouraging his delusional lies — and, even worse — cynically appeasing him despite knowing they are lies, is the easiest path to ensuring their continued hold on power, general election consequences be damned.

The whole state party is in turmoil and nobody knows how it's going to end in November. But at least they're trying.

In neighboring Wisconsin, the Trump faction continues to argue for "de-certification" of the 2020 election with a GOP "investigation" released in early March advancing the argument that the state legislature could do it even though there was no mechanism for overturning the election. Republican Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos rejected the idea saying that it's "legally impossible" and tried to disband the so-called investigation. Trump intervened, implicitly threatening to back Vos's primary challenger if he didn't keep the investigation funded because it's continuing to beat the Big Lie drum. So he took the path of least resistance and kept the office going, adding to the $680,000 of taxpayer money that's already been wasted.

According to Vice news, this whole issue has made the Wisconsin GOP melt down, with the state establishment and Trumpers going at it constantly. Nobody knows how this one will turn out either, but you can be sure that if Trump's people prevail, the 2024 election will be a three-ring circus.

In Ohio, you have the fierce fighting among all the primary candidates, all of whom spent months attempting to curry favor with Trump. J.D. Vance was the big winner there with the venerable right-wing group the Club for Growth backing his rival and spending a lot of money attacking Vance for not being Trumpy enough. It didn't work. Trump's endorsement vaulted him to the lead in the polls. Rolling Stone reported that Trump was persuaded to pick Vance largely on the basis of crude sexual gossip from Fox News celebrity Tucker Carlson about the head of Club for Growth David McIntosh. Perhaps the Club for Growth should have appealed to the voters on principle --- they used to have them --- instead of playing this game and they might at least have come out of this with some dignity intact. Nonetheless, they did try to go up against Trump, however ineffectively.

Other battleground states like Georgia and Pennsylvania also have their own internal fights between the establishment and the Big Liars. Unlike what we see in DC, there are at least some Republican attempts to stop the Trump train still happening around the country. Unfortunately, it doesn't look very promising. It appears that job is going to be left for the Democrats to do in the fall — and that's a terrifying subject for another day. 


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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Commentary Donald Trump Gop Kevin Mccarthy Mitch Mcconnell Republicans