Column: Republicans eye power, but not to solve problems

A man speaks next to another man outside.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, left, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell embody a certain kind of craven follower.
(Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

It’s been striking in recent days just how the headlines have underscored that the Republican Party’s “leaders” are, in fact, followers — in thrall to a radicalized base. That base wants performance artists, not problem solvers.

If voters decide to empower these Republicans in this year’s midterm elections for Congress and state offices, they’ll do so without exactly knowing how the party would (not) address issues like inflation, economic inequality, climate change, college costs, a drug epidemic, racial tensions, gun crime. Just as Donald Trump’s party put forward no new platform in 2020, it has no official policy agenda for the 2022 midterm elections.

Asked in January what his party would do if it controlled Congress, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said, “That is a very good question, and I’ll let you know when we take it back.” Not for nothing is a McConnell biography titled “The Cynic.”


Opinion Columnist

Jackie Calmes

Jackie Calmes brings a critical eye to the national political scene. She has decades of experience covering the White House and Congress.

While the party’s politicians may not be telling us what they would do, they are showing us. Rather than fixing things in states where Republicans hold sway, they are breaking stuff — election systems, public schools, border trade, constitutional rights — as they wage a culture war against made-up problems. Leading the way are the governors of Florida and Texas, presidential wannabes Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott.

And in Washington, the willingness of Congress’ Republican “leaders” — McConnell, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise — to put party and power over country, and enable the antidemocratic machinations of Trump and his allies, has been proved beyond doubt, thanks to reporting and audiotapes from the New York Times.

Start with Texas. Its record of breakage under Abbott and the Republican-controlled Legislature is quite … something.

The state’s unconstitutional antiabortion law, which authorizes bounties to sue anyone who helps a woman at least six weeks pregnant get an abortion, has been a model for other red states, including Oklahoma on Thursday. Families seeking gender-affirming treatment for transgender minors are being investigated for child abuse. An estimated 13% of mail ballots were thrown out in Texas’ primary elections in March, thanks to a new law — inspired as in other red states by Trump’s voter fraud lies — that restricts voting and imposes new ID requirements. In the 2020 election, the ballot rejection rate was under 1%.

Abbott’s reelection-year effort to embarrass President Biden, by mounting a multibillion-dollar border crackdown of his own, has instead embarrassed Abbott. His order that state troopers inspect every commercial truck crossing from Mexico snarled traffic and trade, disrupted supply chains for U.S. businesses and caused produce to rot. Yet troopers found no drugs, weapons or human trafficking, according to reports of state data. Now Abbott is asking Texans to donate toward the cost of busing migrants to Washington. (For ease of photo-ops, these individuals are dropped off near Fox News.)

Not to be outdone, Florida’s DeSantis in a single day last week signed into law: a bill restricting how schools and businesses can discuss race and gender; a gerrymandered congressional map that boosts Republicans’ edge while erasing a Black Democrat’s district; and two bills retaliating against Disney, the state’s largest employer, for opposing the new “Don’t Say Gay” law’s restrictions on speech about race and sexual identity.


DeSantis has created the state’s first-ever police unit devoted to virtually nonexistent voter fraud and is responsible for banning more than 50 math textbooks – math! – allegedly containing “indoctrinating information” on “prohibited topics.”

When it comes to breaking things, he’s bested Abbott: The new law to dissolve the special state-created district that is home to Disney World in effect leaves Floridians in the two counties facing huge tax liabilities that had been paid by Disney.

The “leaders” in Washington have even more reason to be ashamed. For nearly 16 months since Trump supporters’ attack on the Capitol, they have opposed a congressional accounting for that crime against democracy. Worse, they’ve knelt again to Trump and ignored the continued incitements by his congressional allies.

McConnell, McCarthy and Scalise were privately just as appalled as you and me by the attack. The newly disclosed tapes of the House Republicans, and contemporaneous interviews with McConnell, show it. McConnell told advisors that Democrats would “take care of the son of a bitch for us.” McCarthy told colleagues he’d advise Trump to resign.

Trump hasn’t (yet) signaled thumbs-down on “My Kevin” and McCarthy’s dream of being speaker if Republicans capture the House. But Fox News star Tucker Carlson has, damning McCarthy as “a puppet of the Democrats” who “sounds like an MSNBC contributor.”

Someone ought to keep McCarthy and his ilk out of power, but that job shouldn’t fall to a Fox News pundit. Voters could be the ones to give a thumbs-down, and prevent a Republican takeover.