Compulsive Lying & the Republican Party

A Republican operative wrote a recent book about the party titled It Was All a Lie. I haven’t read the book, but that’s certainly an exemplary instance of “getting the headline right.”

Dishonesty almost seems like it’s an out-of-control compulsion for the Republican Party at this point, and this seems worth noting even if it may only be a footnote to the larger picture.

In the larger sense, the Republican Party committed itself to dishonesty decades ago, when a critical mass of influential figures decided that winning over majority support to their priorities was no longer a realistic prospect. David Frum has written that “If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy.” As democracy existed and was rather broadly popular, however, Republicans’ agenda first obliged them to reject honesty about said agenda.

They did that, and have reached a point where they have rigged so many systems of power in their favor that they have done little except abuse power for a dozen years, without any evident corrective which could force them to stop. Yet they continue attempting to sustain frauds which are almost like trying to conceal something behind a plate-glass wall.

All of Republicans’ long war against the Affordable Care Act has been a fraud the entire time. They didn’t really have a reason to oppose it in the first place, at least not in the total war fashion they did; it was the market-based conservative healthcare proposal. Once it began being implemented, it wasn’t long before they gave up on defending the status quo ante as an alternative, and by 2012 had embraced the vague promise of “repeal and replace [with something to be worked out later].”

They kept holding votes on outright repeal anyway, but many members of Congress who had done so were only doing so with the assurance that Barack Obama would veto those attempts. When 2017 brought in a lazy ogre willing to scribble on just about anything placed before him, Republicans were at a loss. The House only passed a repeal bill after promises that it would die in the Senate. It did so, but even if it hadn’t, multiple Senators who voted for “skinny repeal” did so while claiming that they were just voting to “continue the process” and send the matter to a conference committee.

Republicans have now essentially passed the buck to a Supreme Court which, logically, they must expect will do what the rest of the party wouldn’t because federal judges don’t have to face voters. I doubt that’s going to work, exactly; the judges may well dynamite the ACA but I don’t think the voting public will be any less angry at Congressional Republicans than if Republicans had repealed the law themselves.

Yet they seem addicted to such ultimately mad attempts to hide from responsibility. Their manipulation of the judiciary is itself another example. They controlled the Senate in 2016, so they could have simply voted on Merrick Garland and rejected him. Or filibustered his nomination, which would have allowed about a dozen Senators to claim innocence. Instead they made up this outrageous story about how it’s absolutely wrong to appoint Supreme Court justices in a presidential election year. That they are just openly exposing their bad faith, now, is in one sense entirely unsurprising given that they are waging a war, and in that context deception of “the enemy” is a matter of course. But it’s still bizarre how desperate they are to believe they can hide their partisan abuse of power forever.

This isn’t rare. The Ohio legislature is another case in point: Republican leadership has rhetorically conceded to demands that they repeal House Bill 6, in most cases with yet another “and replace” qualifier attached. Yet they have no proposals to replace, and are firmly thwarting any vote on repealing it.

I understand the logic by which a legislative leader’s job includes shielding his or her caucus members from “tough votes,” but Ohio Republicans drew themselves districts in which they are almost guaranteed supermajorities.

Meanwhile, the intensity of the attachment to passing the buck in this way seems like it is less method than madness at this point.

I’m reminded a bit of “Spygate,” and someone’s suggestion that Belichick’s talent-loaded Patriots didn’t break the rules to spy on other teams because they needed an edge, they did it because they were just complete dicks and this was a way of dicking over other teams. I don’t think this situation is quite the same, even though Republicans are complete dicks. But dishonesty and attempts to “get away with something” seem in both cases to have become desires in themselves, rather than means of achieving desires. Or perhaps have become habits bordering on addictions.

The contemporary Republican Party is fundamentally a fraud, and a lot of the party has now been taken in by its own fraud. Yet even the exceptions seem to have resorted so consistently to lying and evasion, for so long, that they have in some sense trapped themselves also, if only within too-long embedded habits.

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