March 7, 2023 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Republican CrayCray is Republican CultThink

Force respectable white people to know the difference.

Donald Trump at the 2023 Conservative Political Action Conference.
Donald Trump at the 2023 Conservative Political Action Conference.

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There’s some political utility to saying that the congressional Republicans, especially those in the House, are, well, crazy. There’s some utility to it because of the effect of saying it on respectable white people. 

Respectable white people are that cohort of Americans that decides which of the major parties prevails most of the time during any given historical period. They are unlikely to be seen palling around in public with anarchists and other Republican mayhem agents, as their reputations as respectable white people demand that they at least maintain the appearance of taking the side of “law and order.” 

So keeping up the pressure on keeping up appearances is useful.

But not that useful.

The Stern Fathers
Choosing to emphasize Republican Party CrayCray has the consequence of begetting a counter-emphasis on sober and serious policy-oriented lawmaking among other Republicans, especially the eldest men of the Senate, to whom newsspeakers and opinionhavers turn habitually for commentary on Republican Party CrayCray.

There must be drawn a larger, more coherent picture illustrating an illiberal project that’s bent on destroying far more than its political enemies. It’s bent on destroying the freedom, power and ability of individuals to think for themselves. 

There’s always going to be one or two Republican senators, usually from states in “the heartland,” willing to tsk-tsk Republican congressmen like Kentucky’s James Comer, chair of the House Oversight Committee, who has accused the president’s family of “influence-peddling” as well as “shady – potentially criminal – business dealings and a ‘cover up’ regarding classified documents.”

US Senator Mike Braun of Indiana, ie, “the heartland,” told Roll Call’s John Bennett in January, after the new Congress was seated, that “the process is important,” but that holding presidents accountable require finding evidence, not just talking about finding evidence. He added: 

“Whenever you try to expedite or take a shortcut, it’s going to probably make you susceptible to whatever you end up concluding. I would hope that it’s all done in a way that has proper process to it, because whatever the result is, I think it’ll have more legitimacy to it.”

US Senator Mitt Romney, the party’s former “standard bearer,” Bennett wrote, was less wistful. “You don’t reach conclusions before you’ve actually done the investigation,” he told Bennett. “I think the American people would like Congress, particularly, to focus on inflation, immigration, education – and to make our lives better.”

Romney added: “So yeah, oversight is important, but it shouldn’t be the cornerstone of the new congressional leadership team.”

The illiberal cast of mind
Braun and Romney are not fools. They know they are providing cover for their House brethren. They’re giving them the room needed to do the CrayCray while Braun, Romney and others perform the role of The Stern Fathers of the Party. As phony as that is, it’s effective. It allows respectable white people to continue believing what they’d rather believe, not their lying eyes – that it’s OK to vote for Republicans since at least some seemed concerned about Republican Party CrayCray.

I don’t see this pattern exhausting itself given that news and opinion headlines need only one Republican to justifying saying, as the headline to John Bennett’s Roll Call column says, that The Stern Fathers of the Party continue to insist that “evidence matters.” This, I think, is where the political utility of keeping up pressure on keeping up appearances comes to an end. The question then might be: now what?

The answer can be found in the way House Republicans “prove” stuff. It is not the way Romney said – an investigation that searches, with an open mind, for evidence from which to draw a conclusion. It is the opposite. We know this. Romney knows this. It can’t be otherwise. Prosecutions come before verdicts. For the GOP, verdicts come first.

This cast of mind is as old as illiberal politics. Illiberals have always found the evidence they are looking for, because they are looking for evidence that “proves” what they already believe to be true. If they already believe, because it’s politically useful to be believe it, that the Biden family is tantamount to an organized crime syndicate, well, buh Gawd, they’re going to find something anything that underscores that belief while dismissing something anything that does not.

This cast of mind is not really a choice so much as a reflection of the political needs of illiberal projects the world over. They need, more than anything else, for their followers to stay in line, to believe the same thing, to avoid independent thought and otherwise resist the sin of the temptation of acting like individuals, because when enough of them think for themselves, that’s the end of the illiberal project.

The collectivism of the GOP
Evidence, in this context, is risky, as there’s no guarantee that it will underscore the illiberals’ allegations against their enemies. Evidence might prove counterproductive. So finding evidence is never as important as talking about finding evidence. Talking about finding evidence is moreover central to binding followers to each other. Evidence may be risky, but it can’t do too much harm as long as followers of the illiberal project say the same thing at the same time.

From this point of view, it should be clear that Braun, Romney and the other Stern Fathers are not exceptions to the rule of Republican Party CrayCray so much as exceptions to the rule of Republican CultThink. They are also exceptions that prove that the Republicans, far from being rugged individualists, are in word and deed collectivists akin in word and deed to the collectivists of the Chinese Communist Party. 

As in the so-called Republic of China, where no individual speaks contra the CCP’s line, individuals won’t speak contra the GOP’s line unless, as is the case with the Stern Fathers of the Party, it advances it.

There is daylight, to be sure, between the GOP and the CCP, but that daylight should be seen as the difference between “death” by politics and (actual) death by political violence. Otherwise, the GOP and the CCP share the same overarching goals all illiberal projects share.

CrayCray is CultThink
As long as there are Stern Fathers willing to tsk-tsk the Republican CrayCray, there’s only so much utility to keeping up pressure on keeping up appearances. To move respectable white people from Democratic dilettantes to Democratic dependables, there must be drawn a larger, more coherent picture illustrating why Republican CrayCray is Republican CultThink — a project that’s bent on destroying far more than its political enemies. It’s bent on destroying the freedom and capacity of individuals to think for themselves on their own terms. 

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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