Republicans begin new year in extreme ways

Republican House Majority Whip Steve Scalise

Republican House Majority Whip Steve Scalise

Republicans, who won big in last November’s elections, have already trotted out extreme positions, statements and behavior for the new year. If this trend of GOP extremism continues, it could be one of the biggest issues of 2015.

First, Congressman Michael Grimm of New York, who was under a 20-count indictment from federal prosecutors, pleaded guilty to felony tax fraud. Initially, Grimm refused to resign his House seat, even though Grimm faces up to three years in prison. After Grimm finally decided to resign under Republican pressure, Republican U.S. House Speaker John Boehner stated that Grimm had made “the honorable decision” to resign, when anyone with a clue would have said Grimm had no choice.

Then reports emerged that third-ranking House Republican, Whip Steve Scalise, spoke before a white supremacist group, the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO), in 2002. EURO was founded (under a different name) by former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard and former Louisiana Republican state Representative David Duke. Scalise has since apologized for his EURO appearance, saying:

I emphatically oppose the divisive racial and religious views groups like these hold.

But why then did Scalise appear at the EURO event? Given that Internet searches were quite easy in 2002, and that it is part of the job of Scalise and his staffers to sort through Scalise’s invitations to speak, it’s not credible that Scalise spoke to EURO without knowing about their racist views. To make matters worse, some Republicans then defended Scalise. Speaker Boehner continued to back Scalise as Majority Whip. But Fox News host Greta Van Susteren disagreed, saying:

I think this was a huge missed opportunity for the Republican Party…. Associating with David Duke is grossly unwise…. It would have been smart to step aside…. The moral courage would be to step down, because it sends a very bad message to the American people.

Democrats are making hay out of Scalise’s continued position as Majority Whip, and no doubt believe that whether Scalise stays or goes, it’s a win-win for them. And David Duke threatened to “name names” of more politicians with whom he’s had relationships.

On New Year’s Day, Republican former Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin posted pictures on Facebook of her six year-old son Trig, who has Down Syndrome, standing on the family dog in order to reach the kitchen sink. Palin praised this behavior by writing:

May 2015 see every stumbling block turned into a stepping stone on the path forward.

The Palin photos sparked an outcry among many Americans, who noted that Trig is not a toddler and weighs scores of pounds. One commenter wrote:

You want to run your state and the country, but you don’t have the sense to tell your children to stop stepping on your dog’s spine?

Another Republican controversy arose over the New York City Police killing of Eric Garner and the ensuing protests on both sides, including some NYPD officers turning their backs on New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio during the funerals of two slain cops. Republican stalwart Newt Gingrich furthered the controversy last weekend on CBS’ “Face the Nation” by saying:

Let me just remind you, the two people who have done the most to save African-American lives in New York City were [former Mayors] Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg, their [stop and frisk] policing techniques, led by Chief Bratton who invented them, actually have saved thousands of lives by focusing on crime in a very intelligent way.

Before that, Giuliani said on “Meet the Press” that “so many white police officers [] have to been in black areas” due to the “high level of crime.” Interestingly, Giuliani did not say that big banks and big polluters similarly need to be policed with such a heavy hand given their numerous violations of the law. As liberal blogger Jesse LaGreca indicated on Twitter last Sunday:

If the GOP can go 2 weeks without one of their major figureheads saying something f@#*ing ridiculous about black people, that is progress.

Next, Republican Tea Party favorite Louis Gohmert said he would challenge John Boehner for House Speaker, continuing the Republican Party civil war that has been raging for years. Gohmert stated that:

There have been numerous examples of problematic Republican leadership, but we were hopeful our leaders got the voters’ message. However, after our Speaker forced through the CRomnibus by passing it with Democratic votes and without time to read it, it seemed clear that we needed new leadership.

Fellow Tea Party Republican Congressman Steve King and other Republican representatives also said that they would not vote for Boehner for Speaker.

On New Year’s Day, Fox News offered some antique-sounding advice for women who want to get a husband, including “always cater to her man’s needs,” stroke her man’s ego, “prepare his meals, draw him a bath, and massage his feet every now and then.” This advice, especially if targeted to younger women, seems a far cry from the outreach to women recommended in the “Autopsy Report” released by the Republican Party after it suffered 2012 election losses. Even the female Fox host in the segment balked at the advice.

Finally, some Florida county clerks who object to same-sex marriage stopped performing marriage ceremonies for everyone, even straight couples. This policy comes at a time when a federal judge has ruled that Florida county clerks have the legal duty to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Florida beginning January 6, after the judge previously ruled that Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. While it’s not clear whether all the county clerks involved were Republican, Florida’s government is largely run by Republicans. Thus, the scorched-earth action by these clerks not to allow any marriage ceremonies will likely backfire by (a) making straight couples who want to get married angry at Florida government officials; and (b) aligning those straight couples with gay couples where previously there would have been no such alliance in many cases.

Note that all of the incidents outlined above happened before the new Congress, including a larger Republican majority in the House and a Republican majority in the Senate, is sworn in today. We may need to write a follow-up to this post, as Republican Senators such as James Inhofe (who stated that global warming is “the greatest hoax”) take over committees (in Inhofe’s case, the Environment and Public Works Committee) whose subject matter is anathema to them, and Republican Senator Rafael “Ted” Cruz threatens to block funding to the Department of Homeland Security in order to derail President Obama’s recent executive action on immigration.

After the GOP won the 2010 elections, Republicans overreached in thinking they had a mandate from American voters, and went down the path of extremism (including the “War on Women”) that led to their 2012 election losses. It remains to be seen whether the Republicans will overreach again in 2015 and 2016. Democrats would love to further a narrative against their opponents by painting the Republican Party as extreme. Thus far, the GOP seems to be handing the Democrats a paintbrush.

Photo by Derek Bridges, used under Creative Commons license.

One Response to Republicans begin new year in extreme ways
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