As you probably know by now, Greg Abbott's latest election year stunt-- holding up trucks at the southern border, ostensibly to search for drugs and undocumented migrants, came up empty-handed: no drugs and no migrants. But it cost Texas taxpayers $4.2 billion. The border guards, however, did take 850 commercial trucks off the road for under-inflated tires, broken turn signals and oil leaks.
Abbott is hardly the only Republican poseur using the border as a political ploy to take voters' minds off real problems. In fact, badly mauled House leader/inveterate liar Kevin McCarthy thinks he can get people to stop concentrating on his latest series of lies by leading a gang from his raucous caucus down to Eagle Pass, where conservative politicians make millions of dollars by nodding and winking at the world's biggest drug-smuggling operation. He dragging along Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and Gary Palmer (R-AL), Marjorie Traitor Greene (Q-GA), Tony Gonzales (R-TX), Randy Weber (R-TX), Michael Guest (R-TX), Chip Roy (R-TX), Diana Harshbarger (R-TN) and Blake Moore (R-UT).
But McCarthy and his allies aren't rushing down to Eagle Pass to get pay-offs from drug barons. He's running away from the pressure of being called out for his week of exposed falsehoods, denying accusations that he went down the #NeverTrump route for a couple of days after the attempted coup-- only to see a horrid series of leaked audio tapes being played all over the media proving without question that McCarthy is a guy for whom-- as one of his longtime colleagues told me-- "telling the truth is just an option." It's not an option he leans towards when he gets backed into a corner. Does it matter? Apparently not to Republicans, the party of alternative realities. As Annie Karnie reported yesterday, McCarthy's lies "drew little outrage from members of his party."
She wrote that what the episode exposed as "a widely known but seldom seen phenomenon in Washington: the hypocrisy of Republicans who have privately scorned Trump while publicly defending him... For McCarthy, the immediate political problem was not being caught in a lie. In the Republican Party, which has coalesced around Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him, falsehoods have become routine and even accepted. The greater danger for McCarthy on Friday had been the truth-- that, with the disclosure of his negative comments about Trump, he might invite the ire of the former president, who maintains a stranglehold on his party and on a powerful faction of extremist House members who already pose the greatest risk to his political future. But by Friday evening, it appeared the danger would not materialize, as Trump told the Wall Street Journal in an interview that their relationship remained good."
McCarthy's allies were all given taking points and told to repeat them as often as possible to the media. Robotic Republicans all publicly parroted them in tweets and interviews: Tony Gonzales (R-TX) and Ashley Hinson (R-IA) didn't even bother to change the words: "Republicans are going to take back the majority in November and when we do, Kevin McCarthy will be our Speaker." Anyone see Gym Jordan, the suspected leaker, repeating those points? Or any of his allies?
McCarthy’s prime concern on Friday, according to a person familiar with the situation, was about Republicans he thought would be upset by his private criticism of Trump-- not those who might be alarmed by the fact that he had been exposed as a liar in denying it. As if to underline the point, McCarthy repeated the falsehood on Friday, telling reporters in Ridgecrest, Calif., “I never thought that he should resign.”
There were few expressions of outrage from Republican members of Congress about their leader-- one who would be in line to succeed the president if he achieves his aspiration of being speaker of the House-- having been caught in a falsehood. They appeared to be following the lead of Trump.
The former president “probably realizes this is all being driven by the left and the mainstream media,” said Jason Miller, an adviser to Trump, noting that it would work in McCarthy’s favor that the recording was first aired on an MSNBC broadcast hosted by Rachel Maddow, a frequent target of the right. “The speaker battle will happen after we win back the majority.”
McCarthy’s private expressions of outrage most likely did not come as any surprise to Trump, who was irate when the congressman criticized him immediately after the Capitol assault in an unusually sharp House floor speech, saying he “bears responsibility” for the riot and proposing that he be censured.
But McCarthy soon changed his tune after visiting the former president at his resort in Palm Beach, Fla. He walked back his condemnations, ultimately fought the creation of an inquiry and led an effort to purge Representative Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming, from her House leadership post for speaking out against Trump.
Some Republican lawmakers privately downplayed the significance of the taped conversation. They noted that McCarthy was not known as a truth-teller or someone who has been deeply loyal to Trump. Rather, he has built his reputation as a political operator whose approach is to fall in line with where a majority of his conference is heading.
The recording, those members said, merely revealed McCarthy for the person his conference knew him to be. And for now, there was no obvious alternative to challenge him in a race for speaker.
But McCarthy is also up against powerful political enemies who hold sway with the extremists in his conference. On Friday morning, Stephen Bannon, the former top White House adviser, said on his popular podcast that it was a “cardinal sin” to deny comments that were then aired on tape.
In his quest to become speaker, McCarthy has long engaged in painful contortions to please the disparate factions of his conference-- all of whose support he will need to become the most powerful Republican in Washington.
That has often meant going out of his way not to antagonize Trump or his staunchest allies in Congress. He has dodged reporters in the hallways of the Capitol asking him about a Republican National Committee resolution that suggested that Jan. 6 was “legitimate political discourse” and censured members of his conference for participating in the House investigation of the attack. He has refrained from punishing far-right Republicans who have attended white supremacist rallies or released videos promoting violence against Democrats, instead saying that he has had stern, private conversations with them about their behavior.
...In Trump’s circles, McCarthy is already viewed with skepticism and little trust. The relationship between the two men, aides to Trump said, was cordial but not particularly close. The former president is closer with House members like Representative Elise Stefanik of New York and Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, both of whom he speaks to regularly and views as loyalists. McCarthy, in contrast, often relies on his aide Brian Jack, a former White House political director, as an intermediary who has a solid relationship with the former president.
Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida and a critic of McCarthy’s who has pushed for Trump to become speaker, was the first to denounce his comments.
“While I was rallying in Wyoming against Liz Cheney… Kevin McCarthy was defending Liz Cheney among House Republicans,” Gaetz posted on Twitter on Friday, noting that McCarthy “should have trusted my instincts, not your own.”
Yes, trusting Matt Gaetz's instincts... could even he have said that with a straight face? As Jonathan Weisman pointed out this morning, "There was a time in the nation’s capital when lines mattered, and when they were crossed, the consequences were swift and severe." He went through a whole litany of politicians from both parties that learned that the hard way, including-- pretty recently-- Blake Farenthold (R-TX), Patrick Meehan (R-PA) and Trent Franks (R-AZ) who were driven out of Congress for sexual improprieties that looked like drizzles compared to Gaetz's Category 5 hurricane.
Bringing up the McCarthy case, though, Weisman noted that "Dissembling is not a crime, but doing so to conceal a wholesale reversal on a matter as serious as an attack on the citadel of democracy and the possible resignation of a president would once have been considered career-ending for a politician, particularly one who aspires to the highest position in the House. Not so for a Republican in the age of Trump, when McCarthy’s brand of lie was nothing particularly new; maybe it was just a Thursday. On Friday, another House member, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, said under oath at an administrative law hearing in Atlanta that she could “not recall” having advocated Trump imposing martial law to stop the transfer of power to Biden, a position that would seem difficult to forget. 'It’s a tragic indictment of the political process these days-- and the Republican Party of late-- that truth doesn’t matter, words don’t matter, everybody can be elastic in areas that were once viewed as concrete,' said Mark Sanford, a former Republican governor of South Carolina who lied to the public about his whereabouts when he was pursuing an extramarital affair in South America and was censured by the State House of Representatives. 'You cross lines now, and there are no longer consequences.' Sanford’s political comeback as a Republican member of the House ended when he crossed the one line that does still matter in his party: He condemned Trump as intolerant and untrustworthy. Trump called him “nothing but trouble,” and Sanford was defeated in a primary in 2018."
It was Trump himself who showed just how few consequences there could be for transgressions that once seemed beyond the pale for the nation’s leaders in 2016, when he survived the release of leaked audio in which he boasted of sexually assaulting women-- then went on to win the presidency.
The episode was vivid proof, if any more were needed, that tribalism and party loyalty now outweigh any notion of integrity, or even steadfast policy beliefs. But if there were any questions about whether the end of Trump’s presidency would begin to restore old mores and guardrails, the past months have put those to rest.
...In Missouri, Eric Greitens, who resigned from the governorship in 2018 amid charges that he stripped the clothes off his paramour, taped her to exercise equipment in his basement, photographed her and told her he would release the nude photos if she told anyone of their affair, is running for the Senate as a Trump-loving conservative. When his ex-wife accused him of domestic violence in a sworn affidavit last month, he pressed on, near the top of the polls, saying she was being manipulated by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, and Karl Rove, President George W. Bush’s former political adviser.
“The Greitens campaign has received tremendous support from donors and patriots across the country who see the deception and lies peddled by establishment RINOs,” said Dylan Johnson, his campaign manager, using the acronym for “Republicans in name only.” “Since they launched these unfounded attacks in the last few weeks, the campaign has seen an exponential increase in the rate of donations, sign-ups and engagement.”
Remember, for Republicans, the ultimate arbiter of lines not to be crossed and the consequences to be paid remains Señor Trumpanzee, an extreme narcissist and dangerous sociopath with absolutely no sense of justice or patriotism, let alone ethics.