Jeff Flake, Ben Sasse, Susan Collins, and the Myth of the Moderate Republican

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Jeff Flake, Ben Sasse, Susan Collins, and the Myth of the Moderate Republican

Trump is the Republican Party. The Republican Party is Trump. This is a saying I have developed since 2016, as it is a battle cry I take every day into covering politics for Paste. If my readers learn anything from my writing, it’s that fact. I love The West Wing, but that TV show ruined politics for an entire generation. Thanks to its successful distortion of our reality, the amorphous nature of “bipartisanship” is valued over nearly all policy outcomes in American politics. Every news report which contains natural tension between the White House and congress is doused in “will they or won’t they” jargon surrounding the supposed “good” Republicans. It makes sense in that they need to report what is going on, and it’s incredibly difficult to find a Republican willing to deviate from Trump’s political agenda, and the Senate is narrow enough where a couple dissenters is all it takes. That said, this kind of coverage rests on a faulty assumption that Republican representatives will actually legislatively follow through on their words, despite history proving otherwise.

There are no good Republicans in American government. There are only Trump Republicans. Trump didn’t take over the conservative movement, it led itself to his doorstep. Eighty-nine percent of Mitt Romney voters voted for Trump. There were almost twice as many Obama-Trump voters from 2012 as Romney-Clinton voters. Finding Republicans to tangibly oppose Trump is literally like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Newt Gingrich is the father of modern GOP scorched-earth politics. He told the Bangor Daily News in 1989 that he was going to “build a much more aggressive, activist party” and that “I’m going to be happiest when two Republicans are debating an issue on TV and there’s no room for a Democrat.” Gingrich shortened the congressional workweek to three days, so his party would have more time for fundraising. From the late 1980’s onward, the Republican Party eschewed the sunny disposition of Reaganesque half-truths, and consciously decided to openly trample the precious political norms held dear by The West Wing types in favor of a hyper-corporatist agenda. Gingrich essentially created the modern-day GOP mantra in 1988: “This war has to be fought with a scale and a duration and a savagery that is only true of civil wars.”

Trump is the Republican Party. The Republican Party is Trump.

Republicans in congress are about to nominate Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court. Republicans in congress are doing so in the wake of a three(ish)-day sham “investigation” into credible sexual assault allegations against the Republican president’s nominee (without the FBI interviewing either the alleged victim or perpetrator or plenty of potential corroborating witnesses, per the Republican White House’s orders).

Republicans will likely vote to confirm a credibly accused sexual assaulter nominated by Republican president who has been credibly accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women—a Republican president who once said this about barging into dressing rooms at his Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants (where some contestants were under the age of 18):

Well, I’ll tell you the funniest is that I’ll go backstage before a show, and everyone’s getting dressed and ready and everything else, and you know, no men are anywhere. And I’m allowed to go in because I’m the owner of the pageant and therefore I’m inspecting it. You know, I’m inspecting, I want to make sure that everything is good.

You know, the dresses. ‘Is everyone okay?’ You know, they’re standing there with no clothes. ‘Is everybody okay?’ And you see these incredible looking women, and so, I sort of get away with things like that. But no, I’ve been very good.

Jeff Flake and Susan Collins (voting 83.6% and 79.2% of the time with Trump, respectively)—alleged Republican moderates—are both signaling that they will vote for Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, despite the following testimony from a woman who even Richard Shelby (votes with Trump 94.8% of the time) called “credible.”

Brett groped me and tried to take off my clothes. He had a hard time, because he was very inebriated, and because I was wearing a one-piece bathing suit underneath my clothing.

I believed he was going to rape me.

I tried to yell for help. When I did, Brett put his hand over my mouth to stop me from yelling. This is what terrified me the most, and has had the most lasting impact on my life. It was hard for me to breathe, and I thought that Brett was accidentally going to kill me.

Ben Sasse is a particularly odious kind of fraud (votes with Trump 86.8% of the time), and last night he gave a bizarre, tearful speech about #MeToo on the floor of the senate…which ended with an attempt to separate Kavanaugh from what he is accused of.

Jeff Flake practically told us why he really asked Mitch McConnell to request that the White House authorize an FBI investigation (after giving up his leverage to force this demand), and it wasn't because they were interested in getting to the truth, so his and Collins' quotes about how “nothing has changed” is exactly what this “investigation” was designed to produce.

The nature of the request to initiate an FBI investigation in this instance is such that Trump can dictate the scope of it, and all reporting has proven that it is incredibly narrow.

Trump is the Republican Party. The Republican Party is Trump.

On a certain level, I respect the John Cornyn and Roy Blunt-types (both vote with Trump 96.1% of the time). At least there’s a kind of honesty that comes with their politics. There is no question that both have stapled themselves to Dear Leader Trump. Flake, Collins and Sasse dance around to score points with a mainstream media more concerned with reporting on “both sides” than reporting on facts, and as a result, we do this same stupid dance every single time a major vote comes up. Flake and Sasse voted for Trump’s healthcare repeal every step of the way, yet both still were characterized by plenty in major media as people who stand up to Trump because sometimes they send out mean tweets.

This whole FBI “investigation” into Kavanaugh (without interviewing Kavanaugh) is specifically designed to create cover in the media for “moderates” like Jeff Flake, Ben Sasse and Susan Collins to vote their conscience. The truth of the matter is that through the Gingrichization of Republican politics, they have created an alternate reality that these people can spend an entire lifetime in. It’s not just the conservative media apparatus, either—there exists an entire professional livelihood of lobbying, speaking and consulting inside the extremist Republican bubble. That’s why retiring senators with all the incentive in the world to buck Trump and become the most powerful person in a Congress decided by two votes will not do it. Jeff Flake and Bob Corker (votes with Trump 83.8% of the time) have millions of dollars ready to flow into their pockets so long as they shut up, confirm Trump’s judges, and help remake the country in Trump’s—I mean the Republican Party’s—image. Democracy be damned.

Think about Corker and Flake for a second. They have no elections to worry about since they are retiring, so they should be less constrained by the narrow vision of Republican politics. However, the post-politics career laid at their feet is clearly more powerful to them than wielding the deciding vote for the rest of this session in one of the most powerful legislative bodies in the world. So please, all of you who got excited that your mythical moderate Republican would ride in to save the day with Kavanaugh, apologize to your readers (Lisa Murkowski may vote no, but that is thanks to powerful Alaskan political forces opposing Kavanaugh). The West Wing is a work of fiction for a reason, and the lofty ideals for our politics that it preaches are of no interest to the Republican Party. Hell, there is basically zero evidence in their behavior from 2016 onward that the Republican Party is seriously concerned about sexual assault.

The GOP could have pulled Kavanaugh at any point, nominated Amy Barrett, and sailed through this confirmation process much easier. Instead, they consciously chose to double down on a credibly accused attempted rapist. Just like the GOP consciously chose to double down on Roy Moore after the immensely credible reports of Moore’s pedophilic past rocked the Alabama senate race.


Say it with me now:

Because Trump is the Republican Party. The Republican Party is Trump.

Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.