The New Republican Heresy

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Now that a bipartisan commission investigating the events of January 6 is yesterday’s wishful thinking, Democrats had to settle for an alternative: A select committee in the House will investigate the Capitol riot. But Republican intransigence is once again poised to derail Democratic plans, with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy threatening to strip committee assignments from any Republican who accepts an invitation from Nancy Pelosi to serve on the panel. The threat hasn’t swayed all Republicans. Liz Cheney has agreed to serve on the panel at Pelosi’s request, and her colleague Adam Kinzinger of Illinois put on a brave face in an interview with Politico. “Who gives a shit?” he said of McCarthy’s threat.

Kinzinger and Cheney were the only two House Republicans to vote in favor of creating the select committee, making them rare dissenters in a party that marches ever more faithfully to Trumpism. Cheney can already attest to the costs of heresy. She lost a leadership position because of her refusal to endorse the lie spread by Donald Trump that were it not for voter fraud, he would have beaten Joe Biden in last year’s presidential election.

On the one hand, it’s difficult to muster much sympathy on her behalf. Cheney voted mostly in line with Trump, making her culpable in the administration’s worst excesses. On the other hand, Cheney’s recent dissension has been useful in showing that past demonstrations of loyalty are no longer sufficient. In order to remain in the party’s favor, nothing but complete commitment to Trump will do. And increasingly that commitment has hardened into a very specific position, which is that the events of January 6 do not merit further investigation. While McCarthy will likely recommend his own candidates to serve on the panel, his threats reveal just how lightly he perceives the whole venture. To him, the panel isn’t a quest for the truth of a serious event. Instead, it’s an opportunity for yet another loyalty test.

That loyalty test is part of an emergent fantasy. In some corners of the GOP, January 6 wasn’t even a riot. “Watching the TV footage of those who entered the Capitol and walked through Statuary Hall showed people in an orderly fashion staying between the stanchions and ropes taking videos and pictures,” said Representative Andrew Clyde of Georgia. “You know, if you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from January 6, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit.” The perpetrators were “peaceful patriots,” Representative Paul Gosar has claimed.

Gosar is not a likely candidate to sit on the January 6 committee. Names floated in a Friday piece from Punchbowl News include Elise Stefanik of New York and Jim Jordan of Ohio. Nevertheless, Gosar is an instructive case study of how the GOP has evolved in the past six months. In March, he appeared as the keynote speaker at an event with Nicholas Fuentes, the white-nationalist founder of the America First PAC; Fuentes went on to complain that America was losing its “white demographic core.” Despite the comments, Gosar later had coffee with Fuentes. That earned him comparisons to Steve King, who lost his committee assignments in 2019 after years of white-nationalist comments. Republican leaders have yet to take a similar step with Gosar. Now, as McCarthy has made clear, those sorts of assignments are stripped for breaking different taboos.

In one sense, McCarthy makes life easier for Democrats by offering clear evidence that his party is uninterested in bipartisan attempts to prevent another insurrection from happening. The events of January 6 endangered everyone, even some Republicans. It should, in theory, be easy to convince the GOP to support a panel aimed at uncovering the truth. “Leader McCarthy had a bunch of demands in order that we move forward on a bipartisan commission. We gave him every one,” Democratic Representative Jim McGovern recently pointed out. “Then what happened is, I guess he didn’t expect us to actually work with him on this in a bipartisan way.”

McCarthy, of course, isn’t invested in finding out the truth. He and other Republicans have always deferred to Trump, and now they’re going a bit further. They’re deferring to Trump’s most radical supporters, creating a situation where the old loyalties no longer apply. Compared to Gosar, Liz Cheney, long an obedient foot soldier for the GOP, is an outsider.

Democrats may find occasional allies among the GOP’s heretics. It’s more likely, however, that these heretics will soon find themselves too powerless to be of much use. Republican leaders will see to it that they suffer consequences for their transgressions, and voters might do the same. A transformation is in motion to anoint new martyrs, like Ashli Babbitt, and to make a new Lost Cause, as Mychal Denzel Smith recently put it in a piece for New York. The consequences will be more devastating than a few lost committee assignments.

January 6 and the New Republican Heresy