Those Soft Authoritarians

Things are easier in sports. Lose enough games and dump the guy who just couldn’t get the job done. Forget he ever existed. Send him somewhere else:

The Detroit Lions agreed to send Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams for fellow quarterback Jared Goff and a king’s ransom of draft picks that includes two first-round choices and a third-round selection…

That sounds lopsided but it wasn’t:

Stafford could fit seamlessly into Coach Sean McVay’s offense, and his presence could help the Rams return to Super Bowl contender status after they were eliminated from the NFC playoffs this year with a divisional-round loss at the Green Bay Packers…

Stafford has been productive and reliable. He started all 16 games in a season nine times in the past 10 years, even while playing through significant injuries. In 12 seasons, he has thrown for 45,109 yards and 282 touchdowns. He topped 5,000 yards in 2011 and surpassed 4,000 in seven other seasons. He threw for 4,084 yards and 26 touchdowns this past season.

Goff, 26, seemed on his way to stardom when he helped the Rams to the Super Bowl in the 2018 season. He was chosen to his second straight Pro Bowl that season and threw for 4,688 yards and 32 touchdowns. But he totaled 29 interceptions over the past two seasons, and McVay’s patience with him seemed to wear increasingly thin.

He screwed up too often. He cost them dearly. Get someone productive and reliable, not someone exciting, and of course it’s the same in politics. Trump screwed up far to often. Make him disappear. But trading him away is not an option in this care. There are many productive and reliable Republicans, but the party is stuck with this guy.

But it’s more complicated than that. It always is. Jonathan Chait assesses the situation:

For a few days, the Republican party appeared to be undergoing a crisis of confidence, if not an outright crack-up. First, Donald Trump lost an election, then tried to negate the outcome throughout a series of threats and increasingly absurd lawsuits, then his party lost control of the Senate in a previously red state, and then Trump whipped up an insurrectionary mob that sacked the capitol. Trump failed to check in on Pence even as his vice-president was hiding from a mob out to literally execute him, placing an understandable strain on their once-solid relationship.

Perhaps, finally, things had gone so far that the party would undertake the soul-searching it had avoided for four years. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell let it be known he wished to be rid of Trump. The party “likely will face a raging internal war over policies and political leaders,” asserts longtime Washington hand Jim VandeHei. “Do not underestimate how divided and confused their party is right now,” posits David Brooks, “Do not underestimate how much Republicans trust Biden personally.”

No, underestimate all you want:

Instead of a Glasnost for the Republican party, the days after January 6 seem instead to be a Prague Spring – a brief flowering of dissent and questioning of dogma quickly suppressed by a remorseless crackdown.

Those of us whose families are Czech remember that – in January, 1968, the reformist Alexander Dubček was elected First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and everything opened up – the press, the arts, all of it – and on August 21, 1968, the Soviet tanks rolled in and put and end to that. The next week the Chicago police moved in and cracked heads at the Democratic National Convention there, putting an end to the protests in the streets, another remorseless crackdown. The same thing had happened in Paris in June, their protests changed nothing. That same month Bobby Kennedy was shot dead here in Los Angeles. That was a bad year.

Chait argues that this year is kind of like that, with our current Republicans:

The heady predictions that the party would break free of the Trumpist grip already seem fanciful. If anybody is suffering repercussions for their response to Trump’s autogolpe [self-coup] it is the Republicans who criticized it. Conservative Republicans are threatening to strip Liz Cheney of her leadership post after she voted to impeach Trump. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, an adept reader of the prevailing winds within his party, offered a non-defense of his third in command: “I support her, but I have concerns.” Adam Kinzinger, another pro-impeachment Republican, is facing censure. The Michigan Republican member of the state board of canvassers, who broke with his party to certify the state’s election results, is losing his job as a result of his refusal to go along with Trump’s lie. Fox News is firing journalists associated with its election call that Biden won Arizona.

That’s not the Soviet tanks rolling in, but it’ll do:

The clearest sign of the counter-revolutionary momentum is the flagging prospects for impeaching Trump. Senate Republicans are coalescing around a technical claim that Trump cannot be impeached because he has already left office, an argument at odds with the conclusion of most scholars, but which allows them to avoid casting firm judgment on Trump’s incitement. McCarthy, who last week said Trump “bears responsibility” for the mob attack, now says, ““I don’t believe he provoked it if you listen to what he said at the rally.”

That’s absurd, but Chait sees how all of this has split the Republican Party:

The end of the Trump era has left the party divided, broadly speaking, into three wings. On the left is a small wing of Never Trumpers who opposed Trump, believing him to be unfit for office and a threat to the republic. They are represented politically by figures like Jeff Flake, Mitt Romney, and John Kasich – and intellectually by the Bulwark and a variety of columnists at mainstream outlets. Many Never Trumpers connected their party’s embrace of Trump with a more longstanding anti-democratic turn. They represent the pro-democracy wing of the Republican Party.

On the right flank is a violent authoritarian wing of roughly equal size. These conservatives fervently support Trump, and either endorsed his insurrection, or else justified it as a false-flag operation. The violent authoritarians supported keeping Trump in office by any means necessary, and oppose any measures to hold him accountable or to punish any of his radical supporters. This wing is represented by members of Congress like QAnon supporters Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, groups like the Proud Boys, Three Percenters, Oath Keepers, and in the media by various commentators on the Fox News evening lineup, OAN, and Newsmax.

And then there’s the big sloppy middle:

In the middle is what you might call “soft authoritarians.” This faction’s political representation is figures like McConnell and Pence, and its views are expressed by organs like The Wall Street Journal editorial page and National Review. They have supported most of Trump’s abuses of power, firmly opposing impeachment, Congressional oversight, efforts to obtain Trump’s tax returns, or any other accountability mechanism. The soft authoritarians strongly believe in the principle of minority rule, as long as it is enforced through peaceful and legal channels like gerrymandering and vote suppression.

This is the faction that has determined the party’s response to Trump. The soft authoritarians were appalled at Trump’s use of a barbarous mob to beat up police officers and smash down the Capitol’s doors and windows. They sicken at the prospect Trump might capture the party’s nomination again in 2024, which is why they remain open to convicting Trump and barring him from holding federal office again.

But the soft authoritarians are party men, not principled democrats. And they have surely noticed that Trump’s hold over their voters remains strong.

They’re not dumb and they’d rather not be assassinated:

A terrifying seventy percent of Republican voters agree with Trump’s lie that he received more votes than Biden. Trump’s loyalists are threatening revenge if he is convicted. Trump adviser Jason Miller tells Ryan Lizza, “Republican senators need to think long and hard about what an impeachment vote would do to the party.” Reports that Trump is contemplating starting his own party, which would guarantee Democrats victory in 2024, are probably a bluff. But the chance that a figure as unpredictable as Trump just might follow through makes it an effective bluff.

The path of least resistance for the soft authoritarianism will be to oppose Trump’s conviction on technical grounds, and then hope he fades away quietly.

But they all want the same thing:

You can already see the internal Republican tension abating as they pull together in opposition. Did Trump make mistakes? Perhaps so, they will concede, but they are behind us, and now they face new dangers and outrages from Biden. No rethinking of the Republican platform – indeed, no thinking of any kind – will be needed. Republicans can simply repurpose Trump’s attacks on Biden as a corrupt, doddering crypto-socialist tool of AOC.

The Republican civil war is over before it even began.

That may not be true. Summer Concepcion reports this:

Although several prominent Republicans on Sunday decried Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-GA) incendiary remarks – which include heckling Parkland shooting survivors and musing about the execution of Democratic politicians – they shied away from joining in on calls for the QAnon-promoting House member to resign.

On Saturday, Greene bragged about having a “GREAT call” with former President Trump, adding to growing concerns about the former president’s continued ideological influence in the GOP. Greene’s call with Trump happened just days after Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) announced his plan to introduce a resolution to expel Greene from Congress as early as Tuesday amid backlash over her recent appointment to the House Education and Labor Committee.

In short, don’t mess with her, she’s got Trump on her side, and he called her in this case, and timed it for this guy:

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has shown his reluctance to anger the MAGA contingent thus far by refusing to commit to any punishment for Greene. Greene’s reported call with Trump happened days before the GOP freshman is expected to have a chat with McCarthy about her recent troubling behavior.

Now what does he say to her? But others have the same problem:

Appearing on MSNBC’s “Meet the Press,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) reiterated his suggestion last week that Greene should not “have the privilege of any committees” over her track record of amplifying dangerous conspiracy theories.

Kinzinger – who was one of the 10 House Republicans that voted to impeach Trump for “incitement of insurrection” earlier this month and has faced intraparty backlash for breaking from his party’s fierce loyalty to the former president – decried his party for having “lost its moral authority in a lot of areas.”

But he too is careful:

When asked whether he would vote to evict Greene from Congress if he had the opportunity to do so, Kinzinger replied that he would “certainly vote her off” of House Education and Labor Committee, but is unsure about giving her the boot.

“In terms of eviction, I’m not sure because I’m kind of in the middle. I think a district has every right to put who they want there,” Kinzinger said. “But we have every right to take a stand and say, ‘You don’t get a committee.’ And we definitely need to do that.”

Let him stay in the middle, with this guy:

Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who announced last week that he will not seek re-election next year, called for Republican leaders to issue a “strong response” to Greene’s inflammatory remarks, but stopped short of demanding that her committee assignment be revoked.

During an interview on CNN, Portman said Greene’s remarks are “totally unacceptable” as he argued that “people ought to speak out clearly.”

Pressed on whether Greene should be stripped of her committee assignment, Portman refused to directly weigh in on the matter and said that the voters who elected her should be “respected.”

“I’m not one of the House leaders, but I assume that is something they’re looking at. And I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens. And, you know, I think that is the way to send a message,” Portman said.

“The voters who elected her in her district in Georgia ought to be respected. On the other hand, when that kind of behavior occurs, there has to be a strong response.”

Which will it be? He can’t say. There’s a lot of that going around:

Appearing on ABC News, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) was grilled on whether Greene is fit to serve and should be on the education committee in light of her incendiary remarks.

“The people of her district elected her, that should mean a lot,” Hutchinson said, dodging the question. “They elected her and she’s going to run for re-election and she’ll be accountable for what she said and her actions.”

No, that won’t do:

Pressed again on whether Greene is fit to serve, Hutchinson refused to answer the question…

“I’m not going to answer that question as to whether she’s fit to serve because she believes in something that everybody else does not accept. I reject that,” Hutchinson said. “She’s going to stand for re-election, I don’t think we ought to punish people from a disciplinary standpoint, a party standpoint, because they think something a little bit different.”

That won’t do either:

After ABC News anchor Martha Raddatz pointed out that the QAnon-sympathizer’s conspiracy theories are not just “a little bit different,” Hutchinson quipped that he “would not vote for her” before once again saying that he is “not going to get in the middle of” the House’s debate over how to address Greene’s inflammatory remarks.

It may be too late for that. People are angry:

Rep. Adam Kinzinger on Sunday offered a glimpse of what it’s like being one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump: Friends and family turned against him, and he was told he’s “possessed by the devil.”

“Look it’s really difficult. I mean, all of a sudden imagine everybody that supported you, or so it seems that way, your friends, your family, has turned against you. They think you’re selling out,” the Illinois congressman said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“I’ve gotten a letter, a certified letter, twice from the same people, disowning me and claiming I’m possessed by the devil.”

But that only made him stronger:

In the days after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, it appeared Republican leaders had decided to take a stand against Trump, with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy saying Trump bore “responsibility” and that he must accept blame for the riot.

But GOP members have begun heading back to the former president. On Thursday, McCarthy met with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, in a meeting that was later described as “very good and cordial.” The readout was released with a photo of the two men smiling.

“I was disappointed over the last few weeks to see what seemed like the Republican Party waking up and then kind of falling asleep again and saying, ‘Well, you know, what matters if we can win in two years and we don’t want to tick off the base,’” Kinzinger said.

“The photo,” he added, “shows that the former president is desperate to continue looking like he’s leading the party.”

And that may have been the final straw. The Washington Post reports this:

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), one of 10 Republicans to vote to impeach Donald Trump earlier this month, has launched a new political action committee that is designed to become a financial engine to challenge the former president’s wing of the GOP caucus and stand up against a leadership team still aligned with him.

Kinzinger, 42, a former star of the 2010 tea party class, said the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol served as a final breaking point for the direction of the Republican Party, providing a stark divide between those who want to continue a path toward autocracy and those who want to return to traditional conservative values.

In an interview Sunday on NBC News’s “Meet the Press,” Kinzinger formally unveiled his Country 1st PAC and a six-minute campaign-style video launching what he hopes will become a movement.

And here’s the pitch:

“The reality is this: This is a time to choose. And my goal in launching is just to say, ‘Look, let’s take a look at the last four years, how far we have come in a bad way, how backwards-looking we are, how much we peddle darkness and division,’” Kinzinger said on the program. “And that’s not the party I ever signed up for. And I think most Republicans didn’t sign up for that.”

He may be wrong. Chait offered his taxonomy of the party. Most of them are “soft authoritarians” in the mushy middle. But hope is always a good thing:

Kinzinger previewed the launch in a Saturday interview with a small group of reporters on a Zoom call, alternating between taking shots at freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), whose promotion of the QAnon extremist ideology has drawn great attention in recent days, and being dismissive toward what he views as the weak leadership of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

“Republicans must say enough is enough. It’s time to unplug the outrage machine, reject the politics of personality, and cast aside the conspiracy theories and the rage,” Kinzinger says in the launch video.

But he knows that won’t be easy:

Kinzinger said that in the days after the assault on the Capitol he felt some optimism as McCarthy said Trump “bears responsibility” for encouraging the rioting mob to attack Congress and target then-Vice President Mike Pence. McCarthy quickly backed away from that remark, and on Thursday he praised the ex-president after a meeting at his Palm Beach resort.

“That’s a heck of a move in about three weeks. It’s hard to square that circle,” Kinzinger told reporters Saturday.

Kinzinger also suggested that McCarthy is not even the most powerful member of the GOP caucus anymore, but that it was Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) “for sure” now.

Jordan was an outcast just a few years ago who banded together with about 30 other far-right Republicans and, after forging a strong alliance with Trump, has soared to vast power over McCarthy’s leadership team while making alliances with figures like Greene and trying to expel Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) from the leadership team because she voted to impeach Trump.

“They’re political terrorists,” Kinzinger said of Jordan and his allies.

But bring it on:

He called Wednesday’s formal meeting of the House Republican Conference – when Republicans will debate Cheney’s status and discuss whether to punish Greene for her controversial actions – “the opening salvo in the fight for the party.”

Then everyone gets to see who the terrorists are here:

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) announced she was moving her congressional offices away from Greene for the safety of her staff, after claiming Greene had accosted her in the hallway without a mask. In response, Greene called Bush a liar and the leader of a “terrorist mob” for supporting Black Lives Matter.

This will be fun, and at least one man has nothing to lose:

Kinzinger said he does not want to play any leading role in the GOP and has no ambition to run for higher office, but said too many Republicans were remaining quiet and just hoping Trumpism would fade away without being fully confronted.

He said that his push is not really about ideology so much as driving conspiracy theorists and racists out of the GOP.

“We don’t embrace conspiracy theories to win anymore,” he said. “Would we lose the Proud Boys? Maybe. I’m fine with that.”

No one else in the party seems to be fine with that. But they’re stuck with Trump. This is politics. They can’t trade Trump for a quarterback who is more productive and reliable, and not particularly exciting. No team would want him anyway. They’ll just have to work this out.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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