Two years ago this day, fans of former President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol, intent on disrupting the democratic election of Joe Biden amid Trump’s claims that the 2020 presidential contest had been rigged.
For a brief moment following the January 6 Capitol riot, it looked like most Republican lawmakers and pundits would condemn Trump’s lies and the riot they spawned. But a funny thing happened on the way to what should have been a reckoning: A whole lot of conservatives decided to back Trump’s narrative about a stolen election. Meanwhile, those who vocally opposed it found themselves on the wrong side of the ongoing inter-GOP war, one in which more moderate or conventional conservatives were demonized by Trump and his populist lackeys and Republican rising stars fought to position themselves as “the craziest son of a bitch in the race” (to quote Kentucky Republican Rep. Thomas Massie on what he realized voters swinging from libertarian-leaning candidates to Trump were looking for).
Flash forward two years, and whack job populism has suffered a smidge of comeuppance. The 2022 midterm elections weren’t kind to Trump-backed candidates and election deniers, and—Trump’s 2024 candidacy notwithstanding—it looks like the fever dream that culminated in the events of January 6, 2021, has started to break.
Does that mean we’re in for a more functional, less factional, and more coherent Republican Party?
This week’s shenanigans surrounding the election of a House speaker suggest showboating, chaos, and bitter divisions still rule the day for Republican leaders. And yet, amid the chaos and disorganization, there might be some small signs of hope.
It’s a very, very different kind of chaos than we saw two years ago, of course. I’m not trying to equate anything going on in Congress this week to Trump’s election fantasies or what happened on January 6, 2021. What’s going on right now is, in some ways, the exact opposite—a sign of a democracy functioning.
All I’m saying is that any hopes that the party had gotten its act together in the two years since the Capitol riots or the two months since the 2022 election have been exposed this week to be just as fanciful as Trump’s election fraud claims—and that it showcases the void Trump’s diminished status has created in the GOP.
For years, Trump alone basically set the Republican agenda, his whims and grievances substituting for anything like a policy platform, coherent vision, or legislative goals. Now, with the former president’s power and support in the Republican Party waning, the party is left with a confusing and chaotic mess of priorities, alliances, and figureheads. Without Trump to dictate the party’s direction, it’s a free-for-all over who will or should.
Those vehemently opposing Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R–Calif.) election as House speaker—the “hard right” Republicans, as they’re often called, though that’s something of a misnomer since the divisions between them and their GOP opponents isn’t exactly one of more or less conservatism—tend to represent a no-compromises, burn-it-all-down attitude toward GOP orthodoxies and more “respectable” politics. They delight in doing the thing most of their colleagues wouldn’t. They’re loud. Trollish. Trump-y, in many ways. Not about to go along or pipe down. And very adept at seizing any news cycle and making life very difficult for folks cast as their enemies. Some also harbor genuinely good ideas for procedural reform, including “reducing the speaker’s power by making his position less secure, increasing the ability of individual legislators to cut spending through amendments, and requiring a supermajority to approve earmarks on a case-by-case basis,” as Reason‘s Jacob Sullum notes.
They run up against more establishment Republicans still torn between trying to appeal to Trump and Trump fans and trying to start steering the party in another direction—a position that often renders them seemingly spineless and certainly with few good options.
These factions have come to a head this week, unable to agree on a House speaker through a whopping 11 rounds of voting over the past three days.
Having no dog in this fight, it’s all rather amusing. Besides, a Congress that spends all its time voting on who to lead it is a Congress that can do minimal damage. Perhaps endless voting for House speaker is the best thing it could do. And the fact that the revolt against McCarthy is part attention-seeking stunt doesn’t preclude it eventually producing substantive procedural reforms.
But it’s clear the divides and dysfunctions on display in the House speaker vote represent something much bigger than disagreement about McCarthy or congressional procedures. And they leave little room for belief that the Republican majority in the House will be able to accomplish much, even as they highlight some substantive policy goals.
It’s all got to be a little disheartening for folks who had high hopes for Republican action over the next two years. But from a libertarian perspective, the inertia may be a good thing, considering much of what’s on the GOP agenda anyway.
Honestly, there may even be cause for optimism about the Republican Party in the current congressional chaos, too. Once upon a time, the two ruling parties weren’t monoliths. There was room for disagreement among Republicans and divides among Democrats. These disagreements and divisions helped temper the worst impulses of either the right or the left.
Both parties have been slouching toward dangerous internal consistency over the past few decades, and Trump’s ascendancy and dominance took this to scary new places among Republicans—as we saw with January 6 and its aftermath.
Perhaps a more divided GOP like the one we’re seeing now is actually a really good sign.
A second look at athlete deaths. Some folks have been spreading misinformation about athlete deaths from sudden cardiac arrest, alleging that there have been more such deaths in the past two years than in the previous 38 combined. This “fact” comes from a letter to the editor in the Scandinavian Journal of Immunology. But there are major problems with the data on which the authors of the letter relied. Eric Burnett, a doctor and assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University, lays out the issues in this thread:
I’ve been seeing a lot of people quoting stats that show more athletes died in the last year than have died in the last 38 years. Is this true? No, let’s chat about it. A ???????????? pic.twitter.com/kdzM1mUewL
— Eric Burnett, MD (@Doctor_Eric_B) January 5, 2023
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) wants to ban all noncompete agreements. Such a ban would be “blatantly unlawful,” said Sean Heather, senior vice president for International Regulatory Affairs and Antitrust at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “Since the agency’s creation over 100 years ago, Congress has never delegated the FTC anything close to the authority it would need to promulgate such a competition rule,” Heather added. “Attempting to ban noncompete clauses in all employment circumstances overturns well-established state laws which have long governed their use and ignores the fact that, when appropriately used, noncompete agreements are an important tool in fostering innovation and preserving competition.”
The Adams County Sheriff’s Office in Ohio raided Afroman’s home over marijuana and he turned the security footage into a music video. This song deserves to be on every radio station in the country.pic.twitter.com/tJ9eQEc1nn
— Fifty Shades of Whey (@davenewworld_2) January 6, 2023
• The Wall Street Journal examines Facebook’s failed efforts to serve up less political content. “In late 2021, tired of endless claims about political bias and censorship, Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and Meta’s board [instructed] the company to demote posts on ‘sensitive’ topics as much as possible in the newsfeed that greets users when they open the app.” But the plan resulted in some unintended consequences:
The result was that views of content from what Facebook deems “high quality news publishers” such as Fox News and CNN fell more than material from outlets users considered less trustworthy. User complaints about misinformation climbed, and charitable donations via the company’s fundraiser product through Facebook fell in the first half of 2022. And perhaps most important, users didn’t like it.
• South Carolina’s Supreme Court has ruled the state’s six-week abortion ban unconstitutional. “With federal abortion protections gone, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic sued in July under the South Carolina constitution’s right to privacy,” notes the Associated Press. In a 3–2 decision, the state’s high court sided with Planned Parenthood, saying that while the state “unquestionably” has the authority to place limitations on the right to privacy, limitations must provide enough time for discovery of a pregnancy and taking “reasonable steps” to terminate it. “Six weeks is, quite simply, not a reasonable period of time for these two things to occur,” wrote Justice Kaye Hearn for the majority.
• “Is it racist to like big butts?” asks Kat Rosenfield.