The Republican Party = Dysfunctional

Heather Cox Richardson

The Senate passed the appropriations bill shortly after midnight on Saturday morning, and President Joe Biden signed it Saturday afternoon. In his statement after he signed the bill, Biden was clear: “Congress’s work isn’t finished,” he said. “The House must pass the bipartisan national security supplemental to advance our national security interests. And Congress must pass the bipartisan border security agreement—the toughest and fairest reforms in decades—to ensure we have the policies and funding needed to secure the border. It’s time to get this done.”

House speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) has refused to bring forward the national security supplemental bill to fund Ukraine, Israel, the Indo-Pacific, and humanitarian aid to Gaza. He has also refused to bring forward the border security measure hammered out in the Senate after House Republicans demanded it and passed there on February 13. Johnson is doing the bidding of former president Trump, who opposes aid to Ukraine and border security measures. 

Congress is on break and will not return to Washington, D.C., until the second week in April. 

By then, political calculations may well have changed. 

MAGA Republicans appear to be in trouble.  

The House recessed on Friday for two weeks in utter disarray. On ABC News’s This Week, former representative Ken Buck (R-CO), who left Congress Friday, complained that House Republicans were focusing “on messaging bills that get us nowhere” rather than addressing the country’s problems. He called Congress “dysfunctional.” 

On Friday, NBC announced it was hiring former Republican National Committee (RNC) chair Ronna McDaniel as a political analyst. Today the main political story in the U.S. was the ferocious backlash to that decision. McDaniel not only defended Trump, attacked the press, and gaslit reporters, she also participated in the effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election. 

In an interview with Kristen Welker this morning on NBC’s Meet the Press—Welker was quick to point out that the interview had been arranged long before she learned of the hiring— McDaniel explained away her support for Trump’s promise to pardon those convicted for their participation in the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by saying, “When you’re the RNC Chair, you kind of take one for the whole team.”

That statement encapsulated Trump Republicans. In a democracy, the “team” is supposed to be the whole country. But Trump Republicans like McDaniel were willing to overthrow American democracy so long as it kept them in power.  

That position is increasingly unpopular. Former representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) wrote on social media: “Ronna facilitated Trump’s corrupt fake elector plot & his effort to pressure [Michigan] officials not to certify the legitimate election outcome. She spread his lies & called 1/6 ‘legitimate political discourse.’ That’s not ‘taking one for the team.’ It’s enabling criminality & depravity.”

McDaniel wants to be welcomed back into mainstream political discourse, but it appears that the window for such a makeover might have closed. 

In the wake of Trump’s takeover of the RNC, mainstream Republicans are backing away from the party. Today, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said she could not “get behind Donald Trump” and expressed “regret that our party is seemingly becoming a party of Donald Trump.” She did not rule out leaving the Republican Party.

In Politico today, a piece on Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, by Adam Wren also isolated Trump from the pre-2016 Republican Party. Pence appears to be trying to reclaim the mantle of that earlier incarnation of the party, backed as he is by right-wing billionaire Harlan Crow (who has funded Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas over the years) and the Koch network. Wren’s piece says Pence is focusing these days on “a nonprofit policy shop aimed at advancing conservative ideals.” Wren suggested that Pence’s public split from Trump is “the latest sign that Trumpism is now permanently and irrevocably divorced from its initial marriage of convenience with…Reaganism.” 

Trump appears to believe his power over his base means he doesn’t need the established Republicans. But that power came from Trump’s aura of invincibility, which is now in very real crisis thanks to Trump’s growing money troubles. Tomorrow is the deadline for him to produce either the cash or a bond to cover the $454 million he owes to the people of the state of New York in fines and disgorgement of ill-gotten gains for fraud. 

Trump does not appear to have the necessary cash and has been unable to get a bond. He claims a bond of such size is “unprecedented, and practically impossible for ANY Company, including one as successful as mine,” and that “[t]he Bonding Companies have never heard of such a bond, of this size, before, nor do they have the ability to post such a bond, even if they wanted to.” But Louis Jacobson of PolitiFactcorrected the record: it is not uncommon for companies in civil litigation cases to post bonds of more than $1 billion.

Trump made his political career on his image as a successful and fabulously wealthy businessman. Today, “Don Poorleone” trended on X (formerly Twitter). 

The backlash to McDaniel’s hiring at NBC also suggests a media shift against news designed to grab eyeballs, the sort of media that has fed the MAGA movement. According to Mike Allen of Axios, NBC executives unanimously supported hiring McDaniel. A memo from Carrie Budoff Brown, who is in charge of the political coverage at NBC News, said McDaniel would help the outlet examine “the diverse perspectives of American voters.” This appears to mean she would appeal to Trump voters, bringing more viewers to the platform.  

But former Meet the Press anchor Chuck Todd took a strong stand against adding McDaniel to a news organization, noting her “credibility issues” and that “many of our professional dealings with the RNC over the last six years have been met with gaslighting [and] character assassination.” 

This pushback against news media as entertainment recalls the 1890s, when American newspapers were highly partisan and gravitated toward more and more sensational headlines and exaggerated stories to increase sales. That publication model led to a circulation war between Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journalthat is widely—and almost certainly inaccurately—blamed for pushing the United States into war with Spain in 1898. 

More accurate, though, is that the sensationalism of what was known as “yellow journalism” created a backlash that gave rise to new investigative journalism designed to move away from partisanship and explain clearly to readers what was happening in American politics and economics. In 1893, McClure’s Magazine appeared, offering in-depth examinations of the workings of corporations and city governments and launching a new era of reform. 

Three years later, publisher Adolph Ochs bought the New York Times and put up New York City’s first electric sign to advertise, in nearly 2,700 individual lights of red, white, blue, and green, that it would push back against yellow journalism by publishing “ALL THE NEWS THAT’S FIT TO PRINT.” Ochs added that motto to the masthead. With his determination to provide nonpartisan news without sensationalism, in just under 40 years, Ochs took over the paper from just over 20,000 readers to more than 465,000, and turned the New York Times into a newspaper of record.

In that era that looks so much like our own, the national mood had changed.

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