Is the Republican Party Cooking Its Own Goose?

by John Ellis

The litany of heavy-handed (to put it nicely) tactics by Republican lawmakers around the country continues to pile up. In a chilling act of disenfranchisement, one of the more egregious examples was the expulsion of two Black state representatives from the Tennessee House this past week. There’s also Ron DeSantis’ ongoing and ridiculous feud with Walt Disney World. Florida’s part-time governor and “is he, is he not?” presidential hopeful seeks to punish the House of Mouse because its CEO dared to publicly disagree with him (and, probably more importantly, ceased making campaign donations to him). Free speech, y’all?

Almost a year ago, I warned that the GOP is left with fascism as their only real option if they want to retain power. I not only stand by that claim but looking around at the compounding actions of the GOP, I feel (sadly) justified in my claim. However, I can’t help but think that Republicans may have crossed into the land of diminishing returns with their tactics to the point where they are now cooking their own goose. This phenomenon didn’t appear out of the blue, though.

Almost ten years ago, my family and I moved to the Washington, D.C., area. Within the first week or so of our arrival, we visited Arlington National Cemetery. Standing at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, waiting for the changing of the guard, I studied the cemetery map I had picked up at the visitor’s center. To my delight, after realization set in, I turned to my wife. “At this moment, we are physically closer to our apartment than we are to our car in the cemetery’s parking garage,” I laughed to her. From that moment until we moved to Orlando some six years later, I never lost the thrill of living in close proximity to the great monuments that dot the DC area landscape. I also never lost the thrill of being near movers and shakers within the US government. Having friends who not only walked the halls of power but played roles to varying degrees in shaping policy was not only exciting but made for fascinating conversations.

During one of those conversations – in fact, during several of those conversations – I stated that I should be a Republican voter but that the messaging around even those issues I agree with is so bad that I can’t bring myself to vote for the GOP. “For example,” I pointed out, “y’all keep talking about how a rising tide helps float all boats but the language around economics seems to be solely about protecting the rights of the wealthy. I don’t care about the so-called rights of the wealthy; I care about an economy that enables all to live comfortably. Your candidates should be telling me why voting for them helps enable that.”[1] My new friends sadly admitted I had a point. The Republican Party is often its own worst enemy.   

Backing up a bit in my personal history, I spent the two years prior to our move to the DC area devouring books on classical liberalism (what many know as conservatism). Starting with Russell Kirk’s seminal book The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot, I bought and read many of the “conservative minds” Kirk highlighted. From Edmund Burke to Fisher Ames to Orestes Brownson, and many others, I attempted to wash myself clean of the progressive activism that had dominated my pre-Christian existence. I slogged through books by Carl Menger and Ludwig von Mises. Having been recently immersed in conservative evangelicalism, I desired to conform to the status quo of my faith community’s political theology. I did my darndest to transform myself into a good Republican by reading the best thinkers counted among the classical liberal tradition. By 2012, I had even decided to vote for Mitt Romney, the first time I would have ever voted for a Republican for president. My plan was derailed, however, after Romney selected Paul Ryan, a Randian objectivist, as his running mate.[2] That was a bridge too far for me, and so I sat the election out. And it was also the first red flag that caused me to begin to look again, and look deeper, at the political party I wanted to call home.  

In DC, I told a new highly connected friend about why I had decided not to vote for Romney. He sadly shook his head in reply. “I’m friends with Paul,” he sighed. “But I understand your reasoning and don’t necessarily disagree with you.” This same friend also acknowledged that his party has a branding problem and has a hard time reaching younger voters. My initial conversation with him was in 2013, ten years ago. Now, in 2023, the GOP has embraced a rhetorical style and courses of action that make the Republican Party of 2013 look downright moderate.[3]

What’s happening in Tennessee should be the canary in the coal mine for Republican operatives, but I doubt it will be. They should notice that Gen Z and millennials are fed up, but they probably won’t. In fact, they will likely continue to sneer at and condescendingly dismiss the rage growing in this nation’s youth.

Backing up a bit, in case you don’t know, the GOP controlled Tennessee House of Representatives voted to remove Rep. Justin Jones and Rep. Justin Pearson from office. The pairs’ crime? They violated protocol and decorum. Based on TN’s own state constitution (article ii, section 27), an argument can be made that they didn’t. But I don’t really care about that argument because even without that clause, the two men’s actions were ethically justified and admirably bold. To be crystal clear, I stand with Rep. Jones and Rep. Pearson, both in their actions and their position regarding gun control.[4]

Here’s the thing: even if you don’t stand with them, even if you disagree 100% with their position on gun violence and their (my) desired solutions, the actions by the TN Republican Party should greatly trouble you. The disenfranchisement of the people in Rep. Justin Jones’ and Rep. Justin Pearson’s districts is racist and bigoted. There are now substantial reports that the Tennessee GOP is threatening to withhold educational funding from their districts if those districts send the two men back to the Statehouse. Kicking their elected representatives out of office is terrible and undemocratic. Threatening recrimination if those districts vote in a way that displease the TN GOP is undeniably fascist.

I’m old enough to remember when South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson interrupted then President Obama’s speech to a joint session by yelling out that the President was a liar. I also remember many in the GOP defending him. The House did formally scold him, but he kept his seat. For the record, I would’ve been opposed to Wilson losing his seat over it. There are many instances throughout history when elected representatives, at the federal and state level, have violated rules of decorum as well as violating procedural rules. And if you want to argue that elected officials should be held accountable for those actions, fine, I’ll have that argument with you. But we should all agree that disenfranchising the voters of Representatives Jones’ and Pearsons’ districts over their political protest, representing the voices of their constituints, is a bridge too far into fascism. Any bridge into fascism is too far, to be clear, but the actions in Tennessee scream loudly of a fascist silencing tactic.  

But all that’s really the appetizer to my thesis: I’m beginning to believe that Republicans have sealed their own doom. Even if you agree with the Tennessee GOP, is winning that particular battle worth the onslaught at the polls y’all are risking by pissing off a growing, activist voter bloc? Has the Republican Party advanced too far too fast? And are they now at great risk of losing the war because they didn’t know how to choose their battles? Take the governor of my state, for example.

DeSantis’ recent pantsing and spanking by Disney have embarrassed him nationally, prompting a scarily fascist temper tantrum from him during a speech at the Christian nationalist stronghold of Hillsdale College. One of the great ironies in this is that Walt Disney is all about making money. Their Reedy River District is a libertarian’s wet dream, not a Democrat’s. The fact that a Republican governor has made a greedy, oppressive corporation sympathetic to Democrats is a unintentional joke that will be chortled over in political science classes for generations to come. But DeSantis’ childish feud with Disney is only the icing on the cake.

His so-called Anti-woke bill along with his trumpeting (and legislating) this parental rights nonsense (click here to read more) is ironically antithetical to the supposed image of DeSantis as a champion of liberty. The governor isn’t interested in liberty; he simply wants to make sure that people believe as he does and that they do as he says. My word, bill was recently introduced into the Florida legislature that would require bloggers like me to register with the state! The bill would also require me to submit any criticisms of the governor to the state before publishing those criticisms. Fascism, anyone?

But again, I’ve steered back into the appetizer.

The last time a Republican presidential nominee won the popular vote was in 2004 when the country was at war and largely unified around that war (to be sure, that unity didn’t survive long after that election). Four years earlier, President Bush had lost the popular vote to Al Gore. Survey after survey reveals that the majority of Americans align with Democrats on hot button issues like abortion and lgbtq rights. The United States is no longer a nation that conforms to so-called Republican values. This is a large part of my argument in my article I wrote almost a year ago about how fascism is the only viable option for the GOP to retain power in this country. The Republican Party has lost the hearts and minds of the American people. Strangely, they seem to be doggedly adamant on making sure that non-Republican voters have good reasons to turn out at the polls and vote them out.

The growing pushback by students in Tennessee isn’t just a harbinger of things to come; it’s the reality. Millennials and Gen Z make up over half of the US population. Their share of the population pie is only going to grow as the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers die off. Add to the mix that Gen X is more progressive than the previous generation, and it’s hard to see where Republicans are going to draw their voters from. The population statistics make the GOP’s decision to poke the bear unnecessarily seem even odder. Kicking charismatic Black representatives out of office because they yelled when the house was in session and picking needless fights with a large, capitalist corporation because they disagreed with you may prove to be self-defeating tactics.

Over the last year or so, I’ve contended that either Trump or DeSantis is going to win the White House in 2024. Looking at the numbers, it was hard to see how the Democrats could put forward a candidate that would again generate a record number of votes, overcoming MAGA world’s fanatical support of their candidate. But I wasn’t considering the swiftly increasing number of Gen Zer’s who will turn 18 by the election. Nor was I factoring in how the GOP’s collective overreach would galvanize already politically active generations.[5]

In late 2015, I asked my Republican operative friends if I should be worried about Donald Trump. I was assured that there was no way he could win the nomination. While skeptical, because they appeared to be discounting a growing rage among a certain segment of the population, I trusted them because, what do I know? In 2016, as Trump gained ground during the primary, I asked the same friends the same question. Same answer. By then, I knew for certain their sequestered position in DC made it hard for them to see what was happening. I held out hope, though, because it was beyond the pale for me to accept that Republicans would vote for such a vile, evil man as Donald Trump. My friends were wrong, and I was naïve, became the hope.

In 2023, as I watch the growing groundswell around the country in opposition to the GOP’s rhetoric and tactics, and as I listen to my own Gen Z daughter and her friends, I strongly suspect that the Republican Party has overplayed their hand. They apparently don’t realize it now, but they are cooking their own goose. The GOP has angered generations who are not politically apathetic. By doing so, the GOP is ensuring that the youth of this country is going to turn out in droves to make their voices heard. The demise of the Republican Party may be nigh. If so, they’ll have only themselves to blame.  

(An important caveat to this is that the GOP may continue to ram through gerrymandering alongside other tactics that render the actual popular vote irrelevant. Besides controlling many state legislatures, they also control the Supreme Court. The 2024 Presidential Election may very well be the demise of American democracy. In other words, there are two sides to this coin: 1. The fascism of my earlier article. 2. A lack of self-awareness that makes it difficult for the GOP to see the forest for the trees. The thing is, both can be true, and I believe both are. The question remains, as this current coin flips through the air, which side is going to come up once it lands in 2024?)

[1] I didn’t understand then how protecting the property of the rich was the raison d’etre of “conservatism” in this country, going back to most of the Founders. Regular readers of this blog know my feelings about classical liberalism.

[2] During the campaign, Ryan attempted to walk back his “past” Randianism. But that was only after the media began to make hay about it. I suspect that Romney’s people instructed him to. Regardless of the reasons, I didn’t believe him.

[3] The Republican Party of 2013 was not moderate. Going back to the Civil Rights Movement and the Southern Strategy cooked up by Republicans, the GOP has not been moderate and has been on this trajectory. I’ve long argued that heretical syncretism of Christian nationalism is the inevitable end of white evangelicalism. Likewise, Donald Trump is in the inevitable end of the GOP.

[4] And do not compare them to the traitorous insurrectionists of Jan. 6. The student protesters in the Tennessee capital entered legally, destroyed zero property, and didn’t injure anyone. You may not like nor agree with what they had to say, but they did so within the confines of the First Amendment and while following all applicable laws. The traitors of Jan. 6 did not.

[5] To be fair to me, I assumed that DeSantis’ feud with Disney was pure political theatre. It never crossed my mind that he would actually attempt to follow through with his threats. I mean, why would he? That’s political suicide. Turns out, DeSantis is a true believer, and is willing to force his beliefs on the populace, no matter what.

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