You hear it everywhere right now: the Republican Party is united as never before.
Mitch McConnell was pretty witty about it: “I want to thank the mob because they’ve done the one thing we were having trouble doing, which was energizing the base.”
It’s not just the base, of course. The moderate right and the more conservative right and the more extreme right are all on the same page for the moment, thanks to the behavior of the Democrats.
But Democrats have behaved badly before, and it certainly didn’t unify the GOP. The Kavanaugh attacks and the GOP defense against those attacks had some very unusual characteristics that gave them that unifying potential and ensured that the potential was fulfilled:
(1) Kavanaugh is not especially conservative. He’s long been allied with the Bushes, and his judicial positions and decisions have for the most part not been extreme. In fact – although so much has happened since his initial nomination that it’s hard to remember the buzz at the beginning – quite a few people from the right wing of the party were unhappy about the nomination because they felt he’d be a squish as a justice and not conservative at all. And maybe he will be a lot squishier than we think. So initially it was actually the more conservative side of the GOP that wasn’t ecstatic about his nomination.
(2) Kavanaugh was seen by the GOP as a sort of Boy Scout. He was nominated in part because there was no hint of scandal around him.
(3) And yet the most vicious attack ever seen against a SCOTUS nominee was launched against this particular candidate. The Roy Moore attacks worked in large part because the moderate wing of the GOP hated him, and he was seen even on the right as a bit loopy. Brett Kavanaugh had none of those characteristics. So although the GOP was expecting Kavanaugh to be attacked during his hearings, they were not expecting a combination of Borking (in the Kavanaugh hearings’ first stage) and the Clarence Thomas hearings (in the second, Ford-accusation stage), with the offensiveness of the accusations in that latter stage exponentially more serious than those leveled against Clarence Thomas by Anita Hill.
(4) The outrage and anger from both wings of the Republican Party was tremendous. But the far right of the party is often outraged and angry at what Democrats do. What’s more, Trump standing firm (which he did in the case of Kavanaugh) does not necessarily convince the moderate wing to follow. And it’s the moderate wing that all-too-often shrugs its shoulders or gives in. This time, that was not felt to be an option. Kavanaugh was their man, and he was being trashed.
(5) He was also being trashed in an exceptionally underhanded and extreme manner: sexual charges from when he was a teenager, minus any detail that would enable him to defend himself properly or disprove them, and with no corroboration. Then came the piling-on of even more scurrilous and less believable charges, and it was clear that the Democrats were championing trial by ordeal and mob rule.
(6) That was frightening to both sides of the GOP. But not one Democrat – with the single uncertain, suspect, wavering, and self-serving exception of Joe Manchin – appeared the least bit frightened by it. The rest jumped on board the USS Defamation.
(7) At that point, it was the moderate wing of the GOP that was galvanized. They suddenly discovered that the rules they thought they’d been playing by all this time, the ones they thought at least some of their Democratic colleagues shared, meant nothing to the opposition. They either had never held them at all, or were more than willing to abandon them – and all sense of decency—in their lust for power.
(8) And that’s why it was the moderate side of the right that stepped up to the plate and delivered the goods in the Kavanaugh fight. Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins, Chuck Grassley, Mitch McConnell, all of them harshly vilified in the past by the more conservative wing of the party, found themselves uttering words that those who had previously reviled them were now cheering.
(9) Those words from the RINOs had more power to rally the base than if the same messages had been delivered by senators further to the right. The factor of surprise made for a much more attention-getting story. Lindsey Graham’s tirade was much more newsworthy because it came from Graham rather than, for example, Ted Cruz. But in addition, because one of the biggest beefs the far right had previously had with the RINOs was the latters’ lack of courage and fight, the experience of actually seeing and hearing those RINOs fight, and fight hard, did much to evaporate the base’s former reasons for despising them.
And that, folks, is why the GOP is united – for now. I make no predictions on how long this will last.
[Neo is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at the new neo.]DONATE
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