I’m as amused as the next person by the antics of George Santos, though it’s nice to see that when the House returns from its Thanksgiving break, his colleagues will vote to toss him out. Don’t confuse his possible ouster as an act of bravery on the part of Republicans—Santos is a severe liability in a key swing district that they’d love to hold onto next November, and that is the only reason they might vote to expel him. He will leave behind an entertaining legacy, I’ll give him that. Now I know what OnlyFans is, so that’s something.
But lets’ face it: The Santos ethics report, while scathing in an eye-popping way, is at best the fourth-most-important thing that happened in the world of Capitol Hill Republicans this week. Let’s pay attention to what matters.
Republicans seem bent on normalizing political violence, an agenda they advanced this week with Kevin McCarthy’s shoulder check of his colleague Tim Burchett and Senator Markwayne Mullin’s macho posturing during a Senate hearing. McCarthy denied that he meant anything by his shove, but Burchett, a serious right-winger in his own right who voted to oust McCarthy, said that it was definitely a “clean shot to the kidneys.”
Mullin’s preening was just an embarrassment for the United States Senate. How did a former MMA fighter become a U.S. senator anyway? Thank you, Oklahoma. And by the way, let’s not get carried away with the Mullin-as-Rambo theme. The guy is five-foot-eight and appears to have fought in just three MMA fights, which I ungrudgingly admit is three more than I have (and he did win them). But it doesn’t make him Mike Tyson.
Far worse than what Mullin did was the way he handled it afterward. You might have thought that he’d say, a bit sheepishly, that maybe things got a little out of hand there. You’re living in another time if you thought that. What he did was that he went on Newsmax—I guess there are now cases when Fox is for squishes—and bragged about it.
“You know, some people are real strong behind a keypad, but when they get called out, it’s completely different,” Mullin said. “People’s asked me too, ‘Is this becoming of a U.S. senator?’ And I’m like, man, I’m a guy from Oklahoma first. In Oklahoma, you don’t run your mouth like that, and if you do run your mouth like that, you’re expected to be called out on it.”
His Newsmax interlocutor then asked him if anything in Senate rules allowed for the settling of disputes frontier-style. “Well, we looked into the rules, and you know, you used to be able to cane,” came Mullin’s reply.
He was referring of course to one of the most notorious incidents in the history of the Senate, the caning on the Senate floor of Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner by South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks after Sumner had attacked Brooks’s cousin, Senator Andrew Butler, over his pro-slavery views. It’s not true that anybody “used to be able to cane.” Obviously, that was against Senate rules then as now.
The way things are headed, is it really crazy to imagine that we’re maybe weeks or months away from an incident of real violence by some right-wing Trumpist against a liberal Democrat on the House or Senate floor? Violence is celebrated in MAGA land. A poll came out last month showing that exactly one-third of Republicans think violence may be necessary to prevail in politics. Only 13 percent of Democrats think so.
We’re at the point where it seems more likely than not that we’ll see violence—not random, and more orchestrated than isolated—before or certainly on Election Day. That’s a little more important than what Santos bought at Hermès.
But that’s not the only matter from which Santos is drawing attention. Rolling Stone’s scoop on new Speaker Mike Johnson’s remarks on a Christian radio show—where he characterized America as “depraved” and “dark” and almost irredeemable—was one of the more disturbing highlights of the week. What brought him to this low estimation of America? Is it perhaps because of greed, or the way we treat poor people—you know, the kind of admonition the actual Jesus might levy? No, Johnson is trashing the country because one-quarter of high-schoolers (an estimate that is undoubtedly a preposterous exaggeration, but so what if it isn’t?) aren’t straight.
He’s entitled to hold whatever bigoted and kooky views he wants personally. But does he understand as an elected public servant that his duty is to uphold and defend the Constitution and our laws, and that Americans have equal protection under the law whatever their sexuality? This man may prove to be a danger in ways the feckless McCarthy could not have begun to imagine being.
Finally, we have this week’s refreshing admission from Texas Republican Chip Roy, who in a rant on the House floor told the actual truth about his do-nothing party. “One thing. I want my Republican colleagues to give me one thing. One. That I can go campaign on and say we did,” Roy said. “One!”
He’s so close to figuring it out! As Roy well knows, the GOP is not in Washington to do anything. Certainly they’re not that interested in legislating. They are there to disrupt, troll, raise money, go on Fox and Newsmax, rinse and repeat. It’s really no wonder that George Santos thought he’d fit in well with these people. Don’t get me wrong—we’re all better off with Republicans not trying to do things, because on those rare occasions when they do, it’s uniformly horrible for the country.
These are the four faces of modern Republicanism: the contempt for truth and easy embrace of the facile lie (as practiced by Santos); the disdain for doing the job of legislating for the people (as noted by Roy); the articulation of the bigoted theocratic worldview (as expressed by Johnson); and the veneration of violence (as described by Mullin). Lies, hatred of government, bigotry, and violence. The Four Horsemen of the Republican Apocalypse.