We keep hearing of divisions in the ranks of Republicans between those who sold their souls to the party’s extremist arm, who are loyal to Trumpism and embody white supremacist and anti-democratic values, and those more traditional Republicans who insist on ideology of conservatism to be sharply differentiated from Trumpism.
The founders of the Anti-Trump-Lincoln Project adhere to this distinction and write in their introductory statement: “We were and are largely conservative (or classically liberal) in our politics and our views. Our many political differences from national ones Democrats stay, but our mutual loyalty to the Constitution dictates a joint effort. “
The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has similarly held onto this fantasy that there are two distinct Republican animals, as he wrote last December:
If Trump continues to delegitimize Joe Biden’s presidency and demand loyalty for his extreme behavior, the GOP could fall apart completely – between principle Republicans and principle Republicans. Trump could then have done America the greatest possible favor: instigating the birth of a new Conservative party with principles.
The recent announcement by Senator Rob Portman not to seek re-election, however, explodes the effectiveness of such a distinction, exposing this fictional “Republican with Principles” as just that: an invention, a myth, a kind of big foot.
Let’s just look at the reasons Portman offered for his decision. He told us in a rather cauldron-like manner, “It has become increasingly difficult to break the partisan backlog and make progress on substantive policy, and that contributed to my decision.”
And he offered this skewed version of political history:
“We live in an increasingly polarized country where members of both parties are being pushed further to the right and further to the left. This means that too few people actively look for similarities. This is not a new phenomenon, of course, but a problem that has worsened over the past few decades. It is a difficult time to be in public service. “
As children say these days when they write: OMG!
Just as Lee Atwater’s infamous strategy of the South made an argument for Republican or Conservative ideology, they could no longer use the n-word and code their racism in dog whistles like “state rights” and “tax cuts,” Portman here speaks in one similar code.
What he’s saying here is no less disgusting and disgusting than when Donald Trump declared that there are “good people on both sides” after torch-bearing white supremacists marched on Charlottesville in the summer of 2017 and sang “Jews will not replace us”.
The statement that both sides are responsible for the deadlock underscores Portman’s own lack of accountability for the republican extremism we see today, which arguably isn’t all that new.
Do you remember how practically the moment Barack Obama was elected, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell were declaring an uncompromising strategy? Mitch McConnell openly stated, “The most important thing we want to achieve is that President Obama be a president with a term.”
In fact, Obama has been routinely and sharply criticized by those in the progressive camp for bending back to cultivate a culture of non-partisanship at the expense of enforcing important laws.
I don’t remember Senator Portman resolutely speaking out against Republicans’ pledges to obstruct the Obama presidency or to speak out or take action on behalf of Obama’s bipartisan culture.
Recent events have brought Portman’s ill will even more to the fore. He was not one of the five Republican senators who, along with the 50 Democratic senators, declared the impeachment proceedings against Trump to be constitutional. To the best of my knowledge, we also didn’t hear Portman loudly announce the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s election as president.
In short, this “Republican with principle” was no different from Trump in words or deeds.
And that’s because Republican or Conservative principles really aren’t that different from Trump’s.
Both Mitt Romney, usually named and counted among “Republicans with Principles,” and McConnell, a longtime traditional, if not principled Republican, have stated that they do not see Americans in need and therefore see no need for a substantial aid package . Your opposition to support for aid packages, particularly those that include state funding, is exactly what barriers are in vaccinating Americans so that we can fully open up the economy and return to normal.
In short, Republican principles are not going to help pass laws right now to help suffering Americans or to address our multiple crises.
Conservatives believe in small government, and that’s exactly what Trump gave us to core important government agencies, including the Center for Disease Control. This has affected the nation’s ability to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
And of course, Republicans on principle loved Trump’s tax cuts. The redistribution of wealth to the richest is a central republican principle.
Portman wants to accuse both sides of pushing to the limit.
It’s hard to see. In my life I have seen the spectrum of political discourse shift increasingly to the right, so that what is now called “left” was once seen as the center and the “right” is practically off the radar on the far right. Republicans with “principles” do not want to speak out against the Nazi and Confederate flag waving in the Capitol. They want to continue from the events of January 6th and not hold the National Socialist and white supremacist Seditionists accountable.
I don’t remember Rob Portman speaking out loud against this position.
The deadlock is a result of the extremist “principles” of republicanism. They just want power and control, not democracy.
There was a time when Republican presidents like Dwight Eisenhower advocated the existence of trade unions as a necessary element of any democracy. He warned of the rise of the military industrial complex.
Republicans are now strictly anti-union and working-class and worship the military industrial complex.
These Republicans, who are trying to distance themselves from Trump, are trying to save themselves and their party so they can find a new way to consolidate power, disarm democracy, and work against the American people.
Tim Libretti is a professor of American literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. As a longtime progressive voice, he has published numerous academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, and the National Federation of Press Women and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.