Column: Forget decency. In today’s politics it’s all about nastiness and party loyalty

Republican Texas Reps. Ronny Jackson, left, and Tony Gonzales
Republican Rep. Ronny Jackson, left, made a tasteless quip about President Biden having cancer, but the lawmaker who was censured by the Texas GOP was Rep. Tony Gonzales for, among other heresies, backing a modest package of gun safety laws.
(Alex Brandon / Associated Press; Bill Clark/ CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images)

Last weekend, the Texas Republican Party voted to punish one of its own.

Tony Gonzales, a two-term congressman from San Antonio, was censured for, among other things, backing a modest gun safety law after 19 children and two teachers were slaughtered at an elementary school in Uvalde.

The day after the party issued its condemnation, Texas Rep. Ronny Jackson appeared on Fox News (motto: “Lying to viewers for fun and profit”) where he cracked wise about the removal of a cancerous growth from President Biden’s chest.

“Biden is the cancer,” the Amarillo Republican said. “He’s what needs to be removed, not the lesion they found.”


There has been no clamor among Texas Republicans to sanction Jackson for his callous and tasteless remark, and none is expected.

Together, the events — though unrelated — say a good deal about the state of our politics and, especially, the nature of the Trumpified GOP.

Forget basic human decency. What counts is pugnacity, acting out and blind, unswerving allegiance to the party line.

House members like Adam Schiff and Katie Porter used to toil in relative anonymity. But viral videos and countless social media clicks have changed that for some celebrity lawmakers.

March 1, 2023

For years, Texas’ 23rd Congressional District — a behemoth sprawling hundreds of miles from El Paso to San Antonio — was among the most competitive in the nation.

Gonzales, a former Navy cryptologist who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, won a close race in 2020. He had an easier time of it when he sought reelection in 2022 after the lines were redrawn to give the district a somewhat more Republican tilt.

But it’s still competitive by Texas standards, and Gonzales’ performance suggests a lawmaker trying to navigate shaky political ground.


His district includes Uvalde and his vote for the gun law following the May 2022 massacre was hardly a radical response; all the legislation did was strengthen background checks, help states implement red-flag laws and boost funding for mental health and school safety. (A lead Republican negotiator was Texas’ senior U.S. senator, John Cornyn.)

If the measure came up again, Gonzales told reporters as the state GOP was weighing action against the congressman, he would double down in his support.

Another of Gonzales’ heresies was voting in favor of legislation that codified same-sex marriage. It “wasn’t a tough vote,” he told the Texas Tribune, noting the diversity of his district. “If the Republican Party is gonna grow and thrive, we gotta be open to that.”

Republicans used to call it “the Big Tent,” and everyone was said to be welcome inside.

But for extremists who have taken over leadership of the GOP in Texas and other states, the emphasis is no longer party-building. It’s purges and purity tests.

By Gonzales’ count, he’s taken nearly 1,400 votes in Congress “and the bulk of those have been with the Republican Party.”


No matter.

After Saturday’s overwhelming vote to censure, the state GOP issued a statement accusing the lawmaker of a “lack of fidelity” to Republican “principles and priorities” and all but begged a challenger from his party to step in and take on Gonzales in 2024.

Never mind that someone more rigid and ideological might prevail in a primary but then very likely lose the House seat in November.

If Donald Trump and his devotees have shown one thing in the past few years, it’s that they’re not very good at winning competitive elections.

The reversal of Roe vs. Wade pushed abortion to the forefront of politics in 2022, to the detriment of Republicans. Many in the GOP want to “go on offense” in 2024.

Feb. 9, 2023

Ronny Jackson served as White House physician for five years under Presidents Obama and Trump, and it’s scary — given what he’s revealed since — that anyone let him remotely near the Democrat.

The crass quip about Biden’s cancer is the least of it.

Elected to Congress in 2020, the former naval officer has helped promote Trump’s stolen-election lie — Jackson voted against certifying Biden’s victory — suggested the spread of COVID-19 was part of a Democratic election plot, and offered groundless theories questioning the president’s mental and physical health.

None of which has hurt Jackson with voters in his overwhelmingly pro-Trump district; he won reelection in November with more than 75% support.


In Texas, “you don’t get censured for being too far right,” said Cal Jillson, an analyst and political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, or for taking a loud, confrontational stance in favor of guns and against gay rights.

How about making fun of the president having skin cancer?

“Our politics have descended to a level where that’s not uncommon,” Jillson noted, adding if that kind of boorish behavior drew more widespread condemnation “there would be lots of people being censured very frequently.”

Here’s a better idea. If you’d like to see more compromise and bipartisanship in Washington, vote for someone like Gonzales who shows a willingness to think independently, stand on principle and cross party lines to achieve a greater good.

And ship Jackson out to sea, where he belongs.