The Year of The McCain
In the Chinese Calendar, 2021 is said to be the year of the Ox, however, if one examines the current embarrassment of the election results for the GOP in Georgia, one is bound to find that 2021 is the year of the weak Republican.
At the time of the writing of this column, the exact results of the Georgia Senate run-off are not yet known. As it stands, it appears that Georgia might have a split Senate delegation, comprised of incumbent Republican David Perdue and Democrat senate candidate Raphael Warnock.
What should we expect from this race?
For the GOP, this race should be another cataclysmic embarrassment. The GOP has proven unable to prevent the very thing members of their own party believe cost President Trump the presidential election in November. Republicans have failed to intercept Georgian efforts to shut down-ballot counting in the middle of the night once Republican candidates appeared to be pulling ahead.
Dianne Sawyer once recalled, after interviewing Saddam Hussein (prior to the first Gulf War), that Hussein viewed the U.S. as as an “impotent, recalcitrant nation unable to act upon its own interests”. While Hussein’s view was certainly inaccurate as regards the U.S. in 1990, a GOP voter must wonder if Hussein’s words describe the Republican party today. The party has shown no ability to promote candidates crucial to implementing its platform, nor has it shown any capacity to successfully defend its candidates during an election dispute. In the more than two months since the most hotly contested election in United States history, a state-controlled entirely by the GOP has failed to implement any type of electoral reform that would give Republican constituents any modicum of trust in their party or election security. The GOP at both the national and state levels has proven to be every bit “impotent and recalcitrant”- and this could have long term repercussions for the party and the country.
What does this mean for the Republican party long term?
Whether Georgia sends a split delegation to Washington or a completely Democratic delegation, one thing will be perfectly clear: Republicans Senators will have every incentive to sell-out for media adulation.
For years, Republican Senators have seen the fawning media coverage Republicans get for bucking the GOP platform when the party needs them most.
Jeff Flake was showered with adoring write-ups in Politico and admiring interviews on CBS’s 60 Minutes when he bucked the party on (among other things) the Kavanaugh confirmation.
Senator John McCain’s most famous moments were all centred around selling out his party and his constituents for chirping compliments in the New York Time’s editorial pages. McCain won the affection of MSNBC when he condemned and shamed one of his own constituents for voicing legitimate concerns about (then candidate) Obama’s (suspected) Muslim faith (a feature Obama himself promoted). McCain then famously lied to Leader McConnell by leading the Senate Majority Leader to believe he would vote in favour of the Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare- then stunning spectators and Washington Insiders alike by suddenly voting ‘No’ on a bill that had been a key campaign issue of the party for a decade. For this, McCain received the type of posthumous hagiographic media coverage usually reserved for O.D.’d pop stars and grunge-rockers.
Mitt Romney, the incumbent senator from Utah- took a page from both Flake and McCain’s playbook when he voted to impeach President Trump early last year. This move was particularly peculiar because impeachment of the President was not especially popular with Romney’s constituents or donors in Utah- leading one to the conclusion that his actions may have been more about seeking positive media attention than serving his constituents or his state.
The composition of the 117th Congress will include a Democrat-controlled House with somewhere between 50-52 Republicans forming a majority in the Senate. Any one Republican senator can defect from the party line and become a crucial instrument in helping the incoming Biden Administration fulfil their legislative agenda. This creates a perfect opportunity for Republican senators to sell out their party for positive media coverage- and why wouldn’t they.
The Optimist Might Say: “This Is Good!”
An optimist might say this is good because Democrats would have to moderate their agenda (or make their agenda more palatable) to Republicans in order to pick up a Republican defection in the Senate. The optimist argument would conclude that a prospective Republican defector (like Romney) would wield an incredible amount of influence and negotiating power.
The Realist Would Respond That This Never Actually Happens
Republicans are never good about moderating Democrats ambitions when Republicans are the key swing votes on an issue- the Supreme Court proves this.
Justice John Paul Stevens, appointed to the Supreme Court by Ford as a conservative, veered strongly to the left almost immediately after his appointment. Even in key 5-4 decisions wherein Justice Stevens was the swing vote that determined the Court majority, no serious argument can be made that Stevens moderated the Court’s opinions in any way.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, appointed to the Court by Reagan (also as a conservative), flipped on nearly every key issue that Republicans felt strongly about. Only on the rarest of occasion did Kennedy substantially vote with the conservative wing of the Court on a contentious issue. Often Kennedy joined Court majorities formed by the Court’s liberal and progressive wings- and his contributions to opinions (in many cases) were indistinguishable from Justice Ginsburg’s.
For this, Republicans like Justice John Paul Stephens got sappy biographies about him broadcast into American Homes on the Sunday News Shows. For example one can watch this odious sap-fest available on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dH_zIWYaQLE
(For any more examples- look at the flurry of media figures going gaga for Republican Governor John Kasich and former Secretary of State Colin Powell (as well as others) speaking at the DNC last year. These Justices and Republican-has-beens got nothing more out of their defections than approving reviews from editorial boards that would otherwise hate their guts; there was no political bargains or moderation to be had).
Crystal Ball Prediction: The next two years- until 2022 when Republicans are widely believed to be able to expand their majority in the senate- will be wrought with embarrassment for the party. There is little chance the GOP establishment will be able to defend Senators Loeffler and Perdue in the oncoming election dispute and subsequently the party will suffer embarrassing setbacks as opportunistic Republican senators repeatedly join to form majorities with the Democrats. The only hope for the Republican senate majority now is for GOP voters to hold their senators (and the party establishment) responsible. Senators may not listen to their call-boards. Senators may not listen to their donors diversion of funds. -But Senators can be made to listen in primaries.