Republicans Are Scrambling to Invent Facts for Their Alternate Reality
The GOP’s big project isn’t creating jobs or beating inflation, it’s trying to make their weird and ever expanding canon of lore and grievances make sense.
Representative Jim Jordan rarely makes a public appearance in which he does not look psychically frustrated on some deep level, but he has been having—for his standards—a rough time of late. You see, the Ohio Republican is currently pulling double duty as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and heading up his other brainchild: the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, a weird star chamber in which the many tangled strands of the Fox News Extended Universe are expected to get a congressional hearing now that the GOP controls the House.
But as The New York Times recently reported, things have not been going well for Jordan. His first slew of ostensibly blockbuster whistleblowers have, according to Democrats on the panel, “offered little firsthand knowledge of any wrongdoing or violation of the law.” The Times reporters concur, describing the motley crew that Jordan has summoned as “people who do not meet the definition of a whistle-blower and who have engaged in partisan conduct that calls into question their credibility. Furthermore, it raises questions about whether Republicans will be able to deliver on their ambitious plans to uncover misdeeds at the highest levels.”
In fairness, these are the subcommittee’s early days. But what’s coming down the pike doesn’t look too promising. It plans to delve into a quickly scuttled plan to build a disinformation bureau at the Department of Homeland Security. It’ll be making hay over school board protests, a matter that Democrats on the panel seem well positioned to counter. And then there will be a fuller airing of the so-called “Twitter files,” Elon Musk’s seriocomic demonstration of the law of diminishing returns that now only occupies the imagination of a handful of people with Substack newsletters.
It doesn’t sound like a recipe for turning things around. And as Axios recently reported, Jordan’s penchant for overpromising and under-delivering has earned him a sizable share of friendly fire on the right. “This is doomed to fail,” tweeted former Chuck Grassley aide Mike Davis. Fox News’s Jesse Watters has expressed similar worries on his show: “Make me feel better, guys. Tell me this is going somewhere. Can I throw someone in prison? Can someone go to jail? Can someone get fined?” Jordan has mustered little to counter these charges besides bragging about how his panel has sent out more subpoenas and letters than any other committee. It’s an old Beltway song and dance: pretending that activity constitutes achievement.
Ah, but who could have predicted this, besides everyone who’s been paying attention? The Republican Party, having abandoned the diligent work of governing, rarely attempts to make policy anymore. What little it’s cobbled together on that front is a mix of the unpopular and the unviable. Without any substantive project to which the GOP might anchor itself, the party has instead become the party of off-putting weirdness. Instead of writing laws, they write lore—a constantly updating canon of bewildering grievances and spectral enemies.
It can be hard to keep up. With each passing day, some new piece of culture-war detritus ends up receiving the full force of the conservative movement’s ire. One week, they’re angry because a cartoon depiction of a candy isn’t sexually desirable enough. The next, they’ve dreamt up some weird “woke” collaboration between Wall Street and climate activists, to explain away the simple fact that investors are, for good reason, not bullish on the future of coal. And then there are the big hits: The 2020 election was stolen, the “deep state” is conspiring against Republicans, the January 6 rioters are actually political prisoners.
Jordan’s weaponization committee has been likened, by far-too-charitable people, to a reprise of the 1975 Church Committee that investigated abuses by intelligence agencies. But as Joshua Zeitz explained in Politico, the comparison doesn’t hold up. Where the Church Committee was a wide-ranging bipartisan effort that brought real wrongdoing to light, Jordan’s been tasked with backfilling some kind of factual basis for the conservative movement’s canon of anti-reality lore.
Naturally, Jordan is hardly alone in this mad mission to find some sort of meat to stuff in these nothingburgers. This week, Tucker Carlson has been spinning far-right myths with his reels of footage from the January 6 riots—to the apparent dismay of many Fox News staffers as well as several senior Republicans, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said, “It was a mistake, in my view, for Fox News to depict this in a way that’s completely at variance with what our chief law enforcement official here at the Capitol thinks.”
As my colleague Alex Shephard noted, Carlson’s attempt at revising history is all the more ironic given what’s been disclosed during Fox News’s long-running lawsuit with Dominion Voting Systems. Thanks to a voluminous cache of text messages from Fox News personalities, the world now has a pretty clear view that the network’s stars—Carlson included—never believed the central claims of a stolen election that sparked the January 6 insurrection.
But what’s all the more extraordinary is that what Carlson actually believes is a bunch of utterly normal stuff about Donald Trump. “I hate him passionately,” he texted, adding that he “truly [couldn’t] wait” for the chance to “ignore Trump most nights.” His assessment of Trump’s presidency was dire: “We’re all pretending we’ve got a lot to show for it, because admitting what a disaster it’s been is too tough to digest. But come on. There really isn’t an upside to Trump.”
This is the galling thing about the GOP’s entanglement with Trump. There were moments when the party could have rejected his destructive influence, but they demurred. Now, as Jordan and Carlson weave twisted fairy tales from their respective perches, I wonder if anyone will finally realize that it would have all been so much easier to simply tell the truth.