Can we really call it a “civil war” when there are like 12 people on one side and 74 million on the other?
For some reason I can’t find an embeddable version of the video Kinzinger posted yesterday to announce his new PAC, “Country First.” (A McCain reference, just to sharpen the contrast with Trump.) You can watch it on their website. I find it less interesting for the content of Kinzinger’s speech, which is verrrry heavy on bromides, than for the mere fact that it exists. There are only three Republicans left in Congress who are unafraid to speak their mind about Trump and Trumpism — Kinzinger, Mitt Romney, and Lisa Murkowski — and Romney and Murkowski have good reason to believe they can survive a primary because of their states’ somewhat unique political cultures.
Kinzinger has no such guarantee. Granted, he’s won his House primaries easily in the past, but he knows he’ll be a prime target for MAGAworld in 2022. Liz Cheney might have enough money and establishment connections by dint of her family pedigree that she can survive in Wyoming, but I’m skeptical that Kinzinger can. And yet here he is in full DGAF mode, doing TV interviews regularly about Trump’s pernicious influence on the party and further antagonizing the president’s voters. Now he even has a PAC devoted to the effort. While most other pro-impeachment Republicans are keeping their heads down, he’s waving the red cape in front of the bull.
What’s his deal? Is he that much of a boy scout that he feels called to challenge Trump knowing that the effort will almost certainly hurt him more than it hurts MAGA? Is there some “angle” here, in which Kinzinger thinks that the political courage he’s displayed in taking on Trump might actually earn the respect of voters in his district even if they tend to support the president?
I doubt there’s any angle. What’s happening lately, I think, is that anti-Trump and Trump-skeptic Republicans are watching the way that two prominent Republican women are being handled by the party and getting angrier by the moment. On the one hand, Liz Cheney has MAGA droogs like Matt Gaetz campaigning against her in her own home state for the sin of having found Trump’s “stop the steal” incitement impeachable, which of course it was. On the other hand, hardly anyone in Congress has said an unkind word about Trump-backed Marjorie Taylor Greene despite the recent evidence that her crankery is even more ominous than everyone thought. It’s possible that this week will end with Cheney sanctioned by her caucus for having done the right thing and Greene left unpunished for having done many wrong things. A pre-Trump Republican looks at that and reacts viscerally: Get me away from this den of sociopaths as quickly as possible.
So that’s what some are doing. They’re going away.
Dozens of Republicans in former President George W. Bush’s administration are leaving the party, dismayed by a failure of many elected Republicans to disown Donald Trump after his false claims of election fraud sparked a deadly storming of the U.S. Capitol last month.
“The Republican Party as I knew it no longer exists. I’d call it the cult of Trump,” said Jimmy Gurulé, who was Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence in the Bush administration.
Kristopher Purcell, who worked in the Bush White House’s communications office for six years, said roughly 60 to 70 former Bush officials have decided to leave the party or are cutting ties with it, from conversations he has been having. “The number is growing every day,” Purcell said.
It’s not just about the disparate treatment of Cheney and Greene. Another thing driving people away is how completely Republicans in Congress have capitulated to Trump — again — after the Capitol riot. If ever there was a moment when the party establishment might have given him a kick in the ass, it was after his fans went on a rampage in the halls of Congress looking to hang his VP and stop a U.S. presidential election from being certified. Trump’s job approval tanked afterwards; some of his own aides resigned; he ended up leaving the White House quietly, with hardly any deputies gathered on January 20 to see him off. Annnnnd fully 45 of 50 Senate Republicans are ready to acquit him anyway on the dubious constitutional theory that someone who was impeached while in office can’t be convicted once they’ve exited. If you’re a Trump-skeptic Republican who hung on through four years of chaos, a half-assed attempt to overturn an election, a Trump-instigated attack on the legislature, watching Senate Republicans roll over after all that so that Trump can rub their bellies should be the last straw.
If the party is now completely hopeless, as the impending acquittal in the Senate suggests it is, what’s left to do except walk away or wage civil war?
The Cheney conundrum encapsulates the dilemma facing these rebels. While they may want to go hard at Trump, if the Republican voters still demand the uncut orange crazy, their mission is a kamikaze one. On the other hand, if they do nothing, it’s not hard to figure out who the crocodile is going to chomp next.
Heads they risk getting eaten, tails they risk getting eaten…
But as someone who was in their shoes not too long ago, to me the choice is simple: After all the pain that Trump has caused them with his lies, after the party has lost the White House and both branches of Congress, after a mob of his creating literally charged their workplace looking for blood and screaming for hangings, isn’t the only answer to fight?
That’s where Kinzinger lands. “There’s gonna be a real massive battle,” he says. “I’m not going to shut up no matter what happens.”
Look at it this way: At this point, what does Kinzinger gain by keeping his mouth shut? He’ll get primaried anyway after voting to impeach. If he loses that primary, he’s done. If he wins it by keeping a low profile, he’s essentially acquiesced in the “new GOP” where criticizing Trump is a firing offense. Might as well fight for the party you want. The worst that can happen is that you end up being cast out of a party you didn’t want to be part of anyway.
Not everyone agrees, though. Watch this clip of his appearance yesterday on “Meet the Press.” According to Chuck Todd, a few other Republicans who joined him in voting to impeach were supposed to appear with him and backed out. They’re going to try to feed the crocodile until 2022, it seems.