Part of the problem we outsiders have in trying to explain Republican elected officials’ behavior is that it continues to be bizarrely incompatible with what they claim to be their party’s driving beliefs. Not from a policy standpoint, mind you. From a “basic human being living their life” standpoint. In premise, Republicanism is all about being tough and bigly: bein’ proudly hypermasculine, an “alpha male” not taking any guff.
But the behavior actually demanded of Republican officials, if they want to keep their positions in the party, is gutless, spineless cowardice. Donald Trump, a perpetual whiner who is terrified of strong women and needs a golf cart to get from one end of a green to the other, is allowed to be the “alpha male.” Every other Republican is expected to be so beta as to barely exist.
George P. Bush, ambitious if loutish offspring of Jeb! Bush, is the extended Bush clan’s only plausible current inheritor of the family political dynasty. He will be challenging Texas attorney general Ken Paxton, who is indicted for f’cks sake, in upcoming Republican primaries. George P. is expected to run a campaign based broadly around “the name Bush is on my driver’s license” and “the other guy is indicted, for f’cks sake!” But Donald Trump absolutely loathes the Bush family, and has been very loud in saying so, because the Bush family is one of the few nests of Republicans left willing to point out that Donald Trump is a grifting, incompetent helium balloon of a man who has screwed up everything he’s ever touched. This requires George P. Bush to make a decision. Defend his family? Or cozy up to Coughed-Up Hairball?
We’re kidding, of course. Like Sen. Ted Cruz and every other Republican before him, George P.’s response to Donald Trump mocking his would-be presidential dad as “low energy” and claiming his family “has to like Mexican Illegals” because George’s mother was born in Mexico is … to suck up to him.
Politico has the brief rundown of where things stand after the most gutless of all Bushes tweeted himself bending the knee to Donald via phone call. The short version is that George has been courting Trump for a long time now, and that it has everything to do with politics. Donald Trump, incompetent death-dealing blowhard, is more popular among the Texas Republican base than father Jeb! or uncle President Guy, so family is out and Typhoid Hitler is in. A man’s got to get elected, after all. George P. Bush is not the sort of person who would settle for simply not being in politics.
Again, though: This is expected behavior for all Republican elected officials. It is required. You are expected to project an aura of utter spinelessness, and you will be met with furious primary challenges if you, as a Republican lawmaker, do not thoroughly humiliate yourself to the world’s most clearly dysfunctional reality television star. Want George P. to attack Rep. Liz Cheney for standing up to Trump’s support for a seditious act? You got it, boss. He’ll get his phone out and do it on the spot.
Republicans appear to genuinely hate Trump, mind you. There are no illusions there as to what Trump is or how destructive he is. In another of the day’s stories we learn that Republican lawmakers and aides are dreading Trump’s eventual return to politics. “This guy is a disaster,” goes one anonymous quote. “If we win the majority back,” it’s “going to be in spite of Trump.”
After securing a last round of tax cuts, former House Speaker Paul Ryan flew out of Washington, D.C., with such speed that it broke windows all through the Beltway. He’s been quiet as a mouse ever since, even as Trump turned his party into a policy-mocking clown show. He’s popping up at the Reagan Library this evening to issue a decidedly milquetoast request that his party move on from Trumpism—with language that, at least in his “expected remarks,” never criticizes Trump by name and doesn’t have much bad to say about the toxic faux-populism that his party is now using in place of policy stances.
Should we believe Ryan? Absolutely not. Not even a little bit. Paul Ryan used his Washington power to land a gig on the Fox News board of directors. He has kept that perch throughout the network’s lurch to white nationalist content, pandemic denialism, and other hoax promotion; Tucker Carlson’s white nationalist show exists because Paul Ryan and the rest of the board want it to exist. The man is the very essence of spinelessness.
In his remarks, Paul Ryan is also expected to call President Joe Biden a “leftist” and bemoan our “woke” society. Paul Ryan’s objections to Trumpism don’t include any actual objections to the content of Trumpism, or any criticism of Trump to begin with. It is once again an exercise in public humiliation, to the extent that news outlets like CNN consider it worth its own story if a Republican speaker pipes up with even one line that could sort of, barely, maybe be construed as asking the party to ease up on the Trump worship.
For a party that ties itself so tightly to premises of toxic masculinity, the actual behavior of its supposed leaders is confusing at best. Lindsey Graham humiliates himself almost daily on Trump’s behalf. House Republicans compete viciously with one another to be the most visibly obsequious, to do Trump’s bidding and protect Trump’s buffoonery and shovel praise in his direction no matter how clownish his actions. Any Republican showing actual spine or independent thought, like Rep. Liz Cheney, results in shrieking panic.
And the base? The base is expected to be absolutely terrified, all the time, about everything. If a food service worker hands you your hamburger wrong, you’re supposed to treat it as communist encroachment. If you have to hear a Black American talk about racism, it must be because Red China wants that to happen. You must be terrified of yoga. You must panic at the thought of having to wear a mask to keep your own relatives from dying. You must wet your pants in fear at the thought of refugee children standing at the southern border—you must be in an absolute froth at the danger posed by a Guatemalan tween—or you are out of Club Bravedude.
And Trump, the alpha male who is considered the Dear Leader everyone else must bow to no matter how many insults he hurls at their families or allies? The man is a wilting flower about everything. There’s never been a more paranoid person in the Oval Office, and that is saying something. The guy thought a worldwide disease outbreak was a plot to make him, personally, look bad. The guy spent four obsessive years both believing that everyone in government was out to get him and tasking his advisers with firing them all before they could. A tame eagle flapped its wings at him and he bolted like he was under sniper fire.
This isn’t a movement of masculine manly-men reclaiming their toughness. This is a collection of all the biggest cowards in America, all watching each other to make sure everyone else is as gutless as they are, with continual shrieks from the Fox News crowd whenever some new cultural spider is found that the movement has to stampede over themselves to run from.
What is even going on here? How the hell are we supposed to make sense of a movement that demands maximal cowardice from every official? Hey George P. Bush, can you make any sense of this for us? Because all we see from the outside is a party of spineless and amoral weasels ingratiating themselves to other spineless weasels for the sake of … what? Getting to do it again?