House Speaker Kevin McCarthy came out Thursday and denied that he had promised Donald Trump votes on expunging his two impeachments by the House. Politico Playbook broke the story that Trump, angry that McCarthy had said, last month, that Trump might not be the GOP’s strongest presidential candidate for 2024, asked—er, “asked”—McCarthy to endorse him for president. Wanting to stay neutral, McCarthy reportedly put Trump off by promising to hold votes on wiping his impeachments from history’s obelisk.
The notion, of course, is chimerical. There’s no provision in the Constitution or in law for impeachments to be officially erased, so they would remain in the historical record. The votes would be purely for Trump’s ego. Anyway: “There’s no deal,” McCarthy told reporters Thursday, adding, however, that “I support expungement.”
Why the denial? Because the matter puts McCarthy in a horrible bind. We’ll get to that, but the more interesting point here for our purposes is how this shows what a shell the party of Lincoln has become. Everything that’s sick and warped and desiccated about today’s Republican Party is present in this deal (or “deal,” if McCarthy is to be believed).
What, precisely, is sick and warped and desiccated about today’s Republican Party? At least three things.
Number one: It’s a cult of one man—not a political party anymore in any remote sense of the word. Trump says jump, and they ask how high. In fact, these days, Trump rarely even has to say jump. A certain situation arises, and congressional Republicans anticipate that he’s about to say jump, so they start jumping, trying to guess the height that will please him most.
Elise Stefanik, the upstate New York congresswoman whose tongue must be purple from all the Kool-Aid she’s slurped down, is leading the chorus of jumpers here. And there are plenty of others. It so happens that this resolution is in trouble (more on which in a bit). But the fact that something this extreme is even being considered is proof of the congressional GOP’s servility.
Number two: The party is driven more than ever by its extremes, which is something that has never been the case for any political party in American history. You’ll recall, when Democrats had the majority, Nancy Pelosi was obsessed about what she called her “frontline” members—the vulnerable ones in purple districts. She was loath to make them cast a politically tough vote. This made her more progressive members grumpy at times. McCarthy is exactly the opposite. He has a few moderate-ish members (again, more on which in a bit), but just about everything he’s done so far has been to pander to the hard right.
Number three: There is no normal small-d democratic accountability in the GOP anymore. In theory, American political parties are accountable to the voters. But because of the way Republicans have gerrymandered congressional districts, most Republicans can’t lose—except to a primary challenger who’s even more MAGA than they are.
And that in a nutshell is why the party has become what it has become: an extremist cult that has no incentive to behave otherwise—and in fact has every incentive to keep behaving exactly this way or worse.
Now: What makes this episode delicious is that there is no good outcome for the GOP. Since the story broke, a number of House Republicans have said, on the record or on background, that they’re not so enthusiastic about this. Why? Because they think it might fail on a floor vote. Why? Because there are 18 Republican House members who represent districts Joe Biden won, and they’re terrified of having to vote on this. They’d all, or mostly, want to vote “no.” And they know very well what would happen: Trump would find a primary opponent to run against them, and those candidates would have instant access to big dollars and would be lionized by the right-wing media. So they might vote “yes” to prevent that from happening—in which case they would hand their Democratic opponents instant clubs with which to hammer them. McCarthy’s five-seat majority would be at serious risk.
You get the picture, I trust. There are three possible outcomes here, and all of them are bad for the GOP:
1. It comes to the floor and passes. A, they look ridiculous to swing voters. B, this will require the votes of at least some of the Bidenland 18, who’ll be instantly vulnerable.
2. It comes to the floor and fails. A total humiliation for McCarthy and Trump. Especially the latter.
3. McCarthy somehow doesn’t bring it to the floor at all. Trump is livid. The base is furious at “My Kevin.” Trump still looks weak, because everyone will know that the vote didn’t happen because Republicans feared it wouldn’t pass, endangering McCarthy’s speakership because he failed Dear Leader.
It’s great fun to watch. But it’s really tragic for the country. Step back and mull it over. A sitting president tried to subvert a foreign leader into getting involved in an American presidential campaign, threatening to withhold aid unless the leader did so. A clearly impeachable offense. Then he literally led an insurrection against the government he’s supposed to lead—an offense that was not only clearly impeachable but, as we appear to be about to learn from special counsel Jack Smith, may well have been criminal.
And the response of his party? To try to wipe these crimes from the books. I hope they succeed. It’s clear at this point that some percentage of the American electorate needs to be hit over the head to finally see the Republican Party for what it is. Expungement is the blunt instrument that might just do it.