A handful of House Republicans have finally found their backbones, Washington Post political reporter Aaron Blake wrote on Wednesday.
Blake characterized the GOP votes against Jim Jordan for House Speaker as the first signs of pushback against the way that the MAGA movement has used “threats and intimidation” to cement its “dominance of the Republican Party”.
That’s pretty bold for the Washington Post.
New York Times reporter Catie Edmondson wrote on Thursday about the revolt of the “traditional conservatives” known as “squishes” because of their penchant for bowing “to the whims of their more vocal colleagues who were channeling the passions of the party’s base.”
Now, she wrote, “the influx of threats and menacing calls and messages they have received appears to have singularly galvanized Mr. Jordan’s detractors,” who are “casting their resistance as a way of showing their party that intimidation will not work.”
Their complaints, Edmonson wrote, “have provided a window into just how ugly the political discourse in the United States has become, and how the hard right in particular has normalized violent threats and intimidation.”
That’s pretty bold for the New York Times, too.
But I would take all this a step further.
The big story here is not the pushback. The big story is how effective the intimidation has been for seven years and largely continues to be — how the so-called “moderate” Republicans abandoned their principles rather than risk the ire of MAGA. The real story is about political and physical coercion, on the one hand, and moral cowardice on the other.
The Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol may have made the threat of physical assault more explicit. But coercion has been the name of the game ever since the rise of Trump and MAGA. Any Republican who defied MAGA had good reason all along to fear harassment, not to mention being primaried from the right.
The result has been the effective disappearance of Republican moderates. Establishment political reporters from outlets like the New York Times and Washington Post have long maintained that they still existed, but with the exception of Mitt Romney, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinziger — all of whom were ostracized from their party — it was essentially impossible to point to any.
Maybe there are still some moderates, in theory – but in practice, they’ve allowed themselves to be bullied into submission. Not one of them stood firm in their principles. Until now.
And even now, among the less than two dozen whose revulsion against MAGA enthusiast Jordan was stronger than their fear of MAGA retribution, some were evidently motivated more by peevishness than moral bravery.
(I mean, why now? Why not when they were voting to shut down the government, or when they were voting to impeach Trump for self-evident high crimes? Jordan is uniquely hateable and dishonorable, but still.)
Let’s look at some of the Republicans now speaking out:
- Here’s Virginia Republican Jen Kiggans declaring that “threats and intimidation tactics will not change my principles and values.”
- Here’s Texas Republican Kay Granger stating that “Intimidation and threats will not change my position.”
- Here’s Iowa Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks, issuing a statement Thursday complaining that she “received credible death threats and a barrage of threatening calls” after voting against Jordan in the second round. “One thing I cannot stomach, or support,” she wrote, “is a bully.”
As HuffPost reported:
Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) spoke out Tuesday night after his wife received anonymous and vaguely threatening text messages saying the congressman had better vote for Jordan.
“They’re messing with the wrong guy. I’m not going to be cowed by this stuff,” Bacon told HuffPost on Wednesday. “I spent 30 years in the Air Force, four deployments. You think a bunch of threats and weird Twitter comments get under my skin?”
This is amazing. Reports of intimidation are not new, but what is new is members of Congress going on the record about it, and saying they won’t put up with it anymore.
There had been sporadic reports before.
In a 2022 Atlantic article headlined “What the GOP Does to Its Own Dissenters,” Tim Alberta wrote about Peter Meijer, a one-term Republican congressman from Michigan who voted to impeach Trump. The story included this scene, from the vote to certify the election results that was held once the Capitol had been cleared of insurrectionists.
On the House floor, moments before the vote, Meijer approached a member who appeared on the verge of a breakdown. He asked his new colleague if he was okay. The member responded that he was not; that no matter his belief in the legitimacy of the election, he could no longer vote to certify the results, because he feared for his family’s safety. “Remember, this wasn’t a hypothetical. You were casting that vote after seeing with your own two eyes what some of these people are capable of,” Meijer says. “If they’re willing to come after you inside the U.S. Capitol, what will they do when you’re at home with your kids?”
And last month, also in the Atlantic, McKay Coppins wrote about how Mitt Romney “had been shelling out $5,000 a day since the riot to cover private security for his family.”
[A]fter January 6, a new, more existential brand of cowardice had emerged. One Republican congressman confided to Romney that he wanted to vote for Trump’s second impeachment, but chose not to out of fear for his family’s safety. The congressman reasoned that Trump would be impeached by House Democrats with or without him—why put his wife and children at risk if it wouldn’t change the outcome? Later, during the Senate trial, Romney heard the same calculation while talking with a small group of Republican colleagues. When one senator, a member of leadership, said he was leaning toward voting to convict, the others urged him to reconsider. You can’t do that, Romney recalled someone saying. Think of your personal safety, said another. Think of your children. The senator eventually decided they were right.
But Meijer had already lost his reelection bid, and Romney had already announced his retirement. These new charges are coming from inside the actual Republican Party establishment.
And, of course, the campaign of threats and intimidation is still working very well indeed within the GOP caucus – most noticeably with members of Congress who, just days after expressing die-hard opposition to Jordan, suddenly flipped in his favor.
- House Armed Services Committee Chair Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), who told reporterson Friday there was nothing Jordan could do to win his support, then said Monday that he will vote for Jordan.
- Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), another self-proclaimed never-Jordan member, who announced her reversal on Monday
- Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), who indicated on Friday that he was against Jordan but changed his mind over the weekend after a conversation with Jordan.
- Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) who first said he wouldn’t vote for Jordan, then voted for Jordan in the first round (but not the second).
Is there any doubt they caved to pressure? (Reporters should dig deeply into what exactly motivated them.)
Republicans in the full throes of MAGA at least have convictions. The same can’t be said for the so-called moderates who vote against their conscience and their constituents to avoid the wrath of bullies.
What’s puzzling is why Jordan, of all things, was a bridge too far for Republicans who had gone along with the MAGA voting bloc every time until then .
Yes, Jordan is a uniquely slimy and unlikeable guy, a blowhard who lies and lashes out at witnesses like a spoiled child. Yes, he’s been credibly accused of helping cover up a sex abuse scandal on his Ohio State wrestling team. Yes, he conspired with Trump to steal the election. And yes, as Speaker, he would have been the face of the House GOP as well as second in line to the presidency.
Precisely why they drew the line there isn’t clear. But what is clear is that they are basically admitting that the party’s non-MAGA members have let the MAGA movement have its way until now.
Not exactly the stuff of profiles in courage.
We need more stories about how successful MAGA’s reign of terror has been – with examples. And then we need to keep a close watch on whether this little rebellion is an aberration — or a sign that MAGA’s death grip on the entire party apparatus is, at long last, waning.