With 100 days to go, Republicans are flatlining — yet somehow still poised to win

There's literally no excuse for this vapid, soulless party to win anything. But they may, and we'll all pay for it

By Brian Karem


Published July 28, 2022 6:30AM (EDT)

Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz and the US Electoral Map by County (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz and the US Electoral Map by County (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Longtime White House correspondent Brian Karem writes a weekly column for Salon.

Breaking news! (No, not really.)

It's just a little more than 100 days before the midterm elections, and the Republicans are outwardly giddy and chittering like rabid field mice.

Conventional wisdom — a questionable term — has the Republicans taking back the House in the midterm elections this fall. The idea has risen like cheap champagne in the putrescent bowels of the Republicans. Hell, they're so light-headed with their possible success they'll even tolerate Matt Gaetz publicly and historically embarrassing himself — yet again. 

That is, unless you're Marc Short, the former staffer to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison who became Mike Pence's chief of staff. On CNN this week, Short flayed Gaetz into small morsels with an honest and sardonic description of the Florida congressman as Donald Trump's latest favorite fool. CNN aired a soundbite of Gaetz speaking to a youthful crowd,  where he dismissed Pence as a nice guy who will never be president because he's no leader. Then Short got his shot — live.

He quickly slowed the congressman's roll, reminding everyone that Gaetz has more serious problems to worry about. "I don't think Matt Gaetz will have an impact" on the 2024 election," Short said. "In fact, I'd be surprised if he was still voting. It's more likely he'll be in prison for child sex trafficking by 2024, and frankly I'm surprised law enforcement lets him speak to teenage conferences like that."  

For those who are unsure: Yes, that was a mic drop.

Those who are even casually acquainted with Short know him to be something sorely lacking in the rest of the Republican Party. He's an adult. A professional. He makes sense, and he's immune to Trump as well as the groans and mutterings of Trump's latest flailing acolytes. In fact, he made it quite clear that, at least in Gaetz's case, he just doesn't give a shit what the future federal prisoner has to say.

If the GOP had more men like Short, there'd be far fewer like Trump. And such a revelation would frighten the Democrats — that is, if the Democrats were seen by a larger number of Americans as being in serious contention to hang on to the House.

Those who think the Democrats will win are a little busy right now eating their own, once again. Let's move along. 

*  *  *

I went to one great Christmas party on the South Lawn during the last days of the Clinton administration. That's the highlight of my time covering presidents, presidential campaigns, traveling with candidates and listening to endless recitations of mostly horrible stump speeches while eating fast food of questionable quality and origin. I swallowed my fair share of insects, I'm sure, on some of the campaign stops on pig farms in Iowa. Saw some strange things too. I remember Jesse Jackson sitting in a stall with an Iowa pig farmer. It was a cold winter's day, but the pungent smell of the farm was thick and on everybody's mind as dozens of us in the press watched Jesse sit and talk with the farmer. I believe both men were wearing overalls. But the farmer, who sat talking for several long minutes about political issues (remember those?) was wearing a Confederate flag baseball hat. Jackson, a veteran of the civil rights movement and good friend of Martin Luther King Jr., got along with him just fine. That sticks in my mind.

So does watching Gary Hart stumble badly at his first public appearance after he turned himself into a political pariah. He showed up at a pig farm, wrestled with a few swine, fell into the muck and grabbed a piglet, which gave off some piercing squeals. It was embarrassing, and he knew it. There were maybe half a dozen reporters and photographers in attendance. A month previously, Hart had been the 1988 Democratic frontrunner, followed around by dozens if not hundreds of reporters. Now he was an also-ran. Why? Here it is, boys and girls: Don't issue the "Gary Hart" challenge to the press corps — no matter how incompetent you think we are — especially if you're a liar.

Hart fell from grace after being photographed with a paramour. Today Trump would call him an amateur, but the deliciously salacious irony of finding the 1988 Democratic presidential frontrunner with a woman who wasn't his wife on his arm was too much to pass up. That happened because of what Hart told the press. Rumors had circulated for weeks that he had ongoing affairs outside of his marriage. His response to the press when asked about them? He challenged reporters to follow him. "They'll be very bored," he said publicly.

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A few days later, NBC anchor John Chancellor answered that on the air, "We did. We weren't."

Thus ended Gary Hart's political ambitions.

Democrats eating their own is an old and repetitious story. A frontrunner taking himself down with one sentence? Priceless.   

The Democrats claim to have moved on, but former Sen. Al Franken was forced to resign over a sexual accusation that seems like a preschool watery nose compared to the warped shit people like Gaetz and his demented mentor, Donald Trump have been accused of. 

Today, at every conceivable turn, from Steve Bannon being found guilty of ignoring a congressional subpoena to the revelations of the Jan. 6 committee hearings, the Republicans are taking it on the chin. The pain is real. So with all the bad press the Republicans have received, you'd think the Democrats could run a flatlining squid for office and still retain control of the House. 

But as it turns out, only the Republicans have that bizarre ability. That is the only way to explain the likes of Lindsey Graham, Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert. Five squid — spineless, thoughtless, ignorant and brain-dead. Some question whether they were ever sentient. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt: the critics, I mean. It's true: Republicans can run dead squid for office and still win. 

Democrats are protesting against themselves — and then yelling at themselves for protesting themselves. They can't stay focused, but are pissed at the media for not staying focused.

The Democrats, meanwhile, remain true to form. They are protesting against themselves, and then yelling at themselves for protesting themselves. They're unable to remain focused, yet remain pissed at the media for not staying focused. They have a point there. We have trouble these days recognizing facts in some quarters, let alone distributing them. Lately, a day in the White House press briefing room is as intellectually stimulating as a day in high school study hall. 

Should the Republicans prevail in the fall, many voters (and not just Democrats) won't necessarily like the people they've just elected. That sentiment is common, and a lot of people rationalize it by hoping newly elected members of Congress will "grow into the role." But that's a fool's paradise. The stunted emotional growth of the Republican Party leaves anyone who's still in it not only incapable of growing into anything other than a pair of pants with a much wider waistband, but incapable of seeing how bloated, distended, cancerous and distasteful their party has become. Did Donald Trump "grow into his role"? There's your reality. He only grew more effective at abusing the system. Gaetz and the rest are merely appendages of the Trump hydra. 

There is no GOP any more. Just Trump and those modeled after him, many of whom are ready to fight for control of the party once Trump leaves. To them the party is everything. Yet it stands for nothing. 

You can thank Ronald Reagan for that — a former B-movie actor cast in the role of a lifetime. Reagan was the first reality-show president. Donald Trump and the current GOP are merely his bastard offspring. I mean politically, of course. I have no proof of anything else.

Reagan embraced the free market and trickle-down economics. The result of 40 years of those policies? Well, it isn't a good look for the United States. It's becoming too Third World. But Reagan and those who followed him were never about helping people — unless you mean rich, powerful people. In a move labeled by historian Joseph McCartin "The Strike That Busted Unions," Reagan destroyed the air traffic controllers' union in 1981, undermining the whole labor movement. Reagan's actions while in office enabled the re-emergence of robber barons, drooling with a lustful and narcissistic longing for every dollar they could make at the expense of everyone else.

It turns out Marc Short recently testified before a grand jury investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection. So maybe Merrick Garland is methodically and quietly gunning for Trump after all.

Most former Republicans view the Reagan years as the good old days. Before the dark times. Those left today in the Republican Party certainly don't care about Reagan, whom they view as too liberal. Most of the oafs left in the Republican Party think they're the real-life version of Billy Batts, the mobster played by Frank Vincent in "Goodfellas." They are faux bullies with no heart, only a head for the fight and no care for anything but the shallowest of victories. They love "owning the libs" and telling them, "Now go get your shine box." That's a great line, but the Republicans never see past that line — and neither do most Americans. Billy Batts ended up in the trunk of Henry Hill's car after being beaten, shot and stabbed. It wasn't a good look. Neither is the Republican Party.

But never fear. The Donner Party had a better chance of survival than the current Republicans. Why? Because Marc Short did a lot more than just call out Matt Gaetz on CNN this week. 

Short became one of the highest-ranking former members of the Trump administration to testify before a grand jury investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection. Other revelations this week suggest that Attorney General Merrick Garland is methodically and quietly gunning for Donald Trump.  

The noose is tightening. This isn't going down easy. 

As it turns out, Donald Trump may have accomplished something Gary Hart couldn't. Trump did to the Republican Party what Hart only did to himself. 

This would be the part of the story, if you were writing a Hollywood ending, where truth, justice and Captain America (played by Merrick Garland) would prevail. But we are talking about Donald Trump and the Republicans. They're hoping this is a dark comedy or a horror story, and that Soldier Boy and Homelander will prevail.

We have a little more than 100 days left to find out. There's just that much time before the most important election of our lifetime.

Don't look at the miserable miscreants in the Republican Party. Ignore the Democrats eating their own, as usual. Give Garland a chance to do his job.

Right now the question is: What are you going to do about it?

By Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy. He has covered every presidential administration since Ronald Reagan, sued Donald Trump three times successfully to keep his press pass, spent time in jail to protect a confidential source, covered wars in the Middle East and is the author of seven books. His latest is "Free the Press."

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2022 Midterms Commentary Donald Trump Elections Marc Short Marjorie Taylor Greene Matt Gaetz Republicans