We hear the phrase “actions have consequences,” often used to justify cancel culture or other moves by the Left to red line those seeking restoration of constitutional government. Well, that’s fine and dandy, as long as it applies to all.
The problem is, the Republican establishment has been trying to duck the consequences of action – or more accurately, inaction – for a long time. Let’s take, for instance, the scandal surrounding the targeting of the Tea Party by the Internal Revenue Service. Those in 2013 who had held themselves up as leaders of the Republican Party by virtue of gaining the nomination for the Presidency in their lifetimes were George H. W. Bush, Robert Dole, George W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney.
Now how much do you recall them speaking out about that targeting? McCain was mum. Bush Sr. and Bush Jr. didn’t bother to blast out anything. Dole was apparently struck dumb. Romney’s reticence was quite remarkable, given one estimate that the IRS’s actions arguably could have cost him the election. We’ve now found out via a book tour that John Boehner, the speaker of the House when the scandal came to light, held the Tea Party in great disdain. The Senate leadership didn’t do much, either.
This inaction, combined with failures on policy (see the Iran nuclear deal) and in-fighting back against other abuses, (Operation Choke Point and Spygate), had consequences. One of them was the rise of Donald Trump. Despite a colorful personal life that included womanizing, despite a number of Tweets and statements that reminded people of “a disposable feminine cleansing product one might use on a summer's eve,” to quote the Big Bang Theory’s Rajesh Koothrappali, many Republicans and conservative voters turned to Trump precisely because he was willing to fight back.
Richard Baris has noted this trend, recently pointing out on Twitter, “Elected Republicans do not defend their voters.” See, for instance, Liz Cheney palling it up with Joe Biden after his address and then defending her actions. Never mind the vicious attacks her dad received from Democrats over the years, attacks many Republican voters defended him against. Her persistence has even worn down the patience of Kevin McCarthy, according to some reports.
Liz Cheney and some others (Ben Sasse, Mitt Romney, and Lisa Murkowski among them) aside, many Republican officeholders and pundits have accepted the consequences and have modified their behavior to some degree. See Lindsey Graham as one of the more prominent cases. Remember how Trump gave him the meeting at Mar-a-Lago prior to CPAC? Graham earned it with some very fierce fights against the Left.
However, a more recent and public example is Senator Tim Scott, whose response to Biden was a tactical masterstroke, with the potential to be a strategic disaster for the Left if Trump and the RNC follow up properly. During his speech, Scott noted how the Left launched racist attacks at him in the past. Then, after his response, the Left proved him right by launching precisely the types of attacks he predicted. Scott, policy differences aside, has learned from 2020. This was an excellent anticipation of the likely attacks, a necessary skill that many Republicans and Conservatives have failed to utilize, much less master.
In addition, Scott is fighting back. It may not be in the pugnacious style of Trump, but considering that the 2020 election taught us that HOW a message is delivered matters, Scott has been very effective without a single mean tweet. While we have to recognize that the “fortification” of the 2020 election renders a lot of data suspect, it is clear that there were enough defections to Biden from Trump 2016 voters that enabled the “fortification” and the bulk-mail ballot scheme to successfully swing the essentially unfair election from Trump.
In addition, Senator Scott, like Kristi Noem, has shone light – in Scott’s case, a new light – on an important facet of the battlefield. While what Noem exposed is something new that competent strategists and tacticians need to account for in legislative and political efforts, Scott has highlighted a pattern of conduct at least three-decades-long – if not longer – that illustrates how the Left really views Americans who aren’t Caucasian that fail to fall in line politically. Look at the treatment of Louis Sullivan, Clarence Thomas, Condi Rice, Herman Cain, Ben Carson, and even that of Colin Powell (pre-Obama) and Michael Steele (pre-Trump). It isn’t just limited to blacks, either. Prominent LGBT Republicans and Conservatives also face these types of attacks, as do women, particularly women of color.
If anything, the Left’s response to Scott is arguably a case where constantly shouting about it may not even be the best course of action. Rather, continuing to give the Left the rope to hang itself could work much better in the long run, especially given the trends that have one Democratic pollster worried.
This is one area where the MAGA coalition is now going to have to think down the road. Not all of those who were in office pre-Trump are irredeemable and need to be tossed. Six years ago, would anyone have predicted Lindsey Graham would be a tough fighter against the Left, most recently by taking on the silence of certain groups about the racist attacks Tim Scott has faced since he gave his response?
Exacting consequences for action – or inaction – will have consequences as well. Too lenient, and failure is not disincentivized. Too harsh, and you can drive those who could be part of a successful coalition away. As important as action is, it must be weighed against the possible reactions to the consequences. This is not to say serious consequences shouldn’t befall back-stabbers like Liz Cheney, Mitt Romney, and Lisa Murkowski. It is a reminder that the response to their backstabbing should be carefully thought through – remember that failing to plan is planning to fail.
The Establishment and Never Trump types are losing control of the Republican Party, as fundraising reports show. The failure to accept the consequences of a two-decade-long pattern of inaction or screwing up has made that outcome inevitable. The big question will be whether the effects of imposing those consequences will distract from the vital task of defeating the Left in 2022 and 2024.