The gang that couldn't shoot straight: Will the GOP's baffling "ignarrogance" be its undoing?

Kevin McCarthy; Jim Jordan; Steve Scalise Photo illustration by Salon/Alex Wong/Getty Images
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This may be almost too obvious to say, but even when Kevin McCarthy was occupying the chair as speaker of the House, wasn’t the seat already vacant?

By all reports, McCarthy got zero support from Democrats in his bid to keep his position because he made no effort to negotiate with them. He had also proved himself many times over to be untrustworthy and unprincipled. He did worse than nothing; his approach to cajole the Democrats into voting to retain him was to be arrogant, perhaps aping Donald Trump’s unsurprising decision to attack the judges hearing his various civil and criminal cases.

Ah, that reliable Republican blend of ignorance and arrogance! MAGA members of the House and Senate keep slipping a pinch of it between cheek and gum for its relaxing, yet heady, effect. This ignarrogance, a mashup word that appropriately made the Urban Dictionary around the George W. Bush era, is spreading like climate change–sparked wildfire among the extremists in the Republican Party.

As with their reflexive climate-change denialism, Republicans would scoff at the idea they suffer from ignarrogance, something that all reasoning human beings must admit to. (Most of us don't know all that much about most anything, and the wisest among us are willing to admit it.) But, in the face of their nearly utter ineptitude in governing, they preen. Remember how McCarthy said that the vicious infighting and excruciating 15 ballots it took to elevate him to the speakership back in January had taught Republicans how to govern and that they’d be more effective? Beyond being a global embarrassment and yet another ding on America’s credit rating, how’d that turn out?

Republicans now seem, if anything, even more puffed-up and sure of their mettle and fitness for office, as Jim Jordan spends the weekend trying to terrorize his colleagues into making him speaker. But if, in truth, their primary goal is to undermine or thwart the functions of government, we have to tip our collective caps and say, well done. Still, not even MAGA congressional cult members like to look so utterly inept.

Here in the real world, various iterations of moderates and even some liberals are now doing double duty by also playing the roles of actual conservatives. We should almost refer, these days, to “progressive-conservatives” and “liberal-conservatives” — meaning, you know, people who want to conserve the environment, individual rights, the rule of law, democracy itself.

When you have only one functioning political party, its members must take the reins dropped by the other. So traditional conservative stances on law and order, support for the police and the military, and upholding the Constitution and the basic tenets of democracy have fallen almost entirely to elected Democrats, along with a few independents. They at least try live up to their oath of office, which includes defending the Constitution against all enemies, foreign or domestic and, it should be noted, giving “true faith and allegiance” to the Constitution, not to, say, talk up the “illiberal democracy” model of Viktor Orbán or semi-covertly cheer on Vladimir Putin.

So what happened to the Republicans, anyway? It’s complicated, but if I were forced to explain it in one word, I’d say the obvious: greed. If you gave me a paragraph, I’d say that with their main idea of “trickle-down” economics utterly discredited by the 1990s (George H.W. Bush was correct to call it "voodoo economics," and was made vice president to shut him up), Republicans had nowhere to go. After the Cold War mindset dissipated with the end of the Soviet Union, they had few ideas or principles to promote, and they loathed the work and compromise required by governance. They admired Rush Limbaugh’s profitable brainwashing formula of heaping praise on non-thinking “ditto-heads” and scorn on "libtards," so they turned to dehumanizing their political opponents, pushing so-called alternative facts and increasingly harebrained conspiracies. Their vision for winning the future lies in suppressing the vote, creating ideological schools to educate for obedience, and cozying up to various authoritarian role models. They didn’t bother to create a new policy platform before the 2020 election and got mighty irritated when prominent members said out loud what the policies should be.

Historian Heather Cox Richardson would likely frame the story of the unhinging of the Republican Party as largely about "movement conservatives" plotting to dismantle Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. According to Richardson, Republicans cannot abide government spending on a basic social safety net or on maintaining our infrastructure. (Trump’s "Infrastructure Weeks" were just meaningless bluster from our "builder" president.) They think of taxation as redistribution of wealth or “socialism,” and cannot stand the thought of it, especially if it any of that money goes to people of color or immigrants who aren't from, say, Norway.

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They don’t like to bring up their plans to cut Medicare and Social Security (and, more generally, to dismantle the federal government) because those are highly unpopular with the public. So they cut taxes to reward their already wealthy donors and hamstring the government. They’re now working around the edges to ensure more people remain desperate, by keeping people in debt all their lives to repay college loans or by allowing pharmaceutical companies to gouge elders and the working class with drug costs higher than anywhere else in the civilized world.

Meanwhile, the Trump alliance is now being quite clear about its plans to dismantle our democracy, which, as Mike Lofgren notes in a Salon essay about the conservative pseudo-intellectual loathing for the intellectual, creative and spiritual freedom sparked by the Enlightenment, has been the unspoken plan all along. The counter-Enlightenment movement is alive and seething in today’s Republican Party.

Still, the overweening arrogance in the face of all these blunders is baffling. It’s pretty much the only thing House Republicans have left, all the empty posturing and phony investigations. Even if your purpose is to stop the federal government from functioning, even if you’re an absolute and complete troll. it must be soul-crushing to spout off incessantly about individual freedom while supporting so many policies that hurt your fellow citizens. Even for an absolute tool, it must be disconcerting to hear people cheer and laugh when you deride or belittle women, LGBTQ folks and people of color. For those who consider themselves religious, it must be emotionally deadening to speak of Christian and family values and still support a twice-impeached, multiply-indicted fraudster who was also recently found liable for sexual assault and who regularly encourages violence against those who oppose him. What cognitive dissonance must be caused by saluting a man with five draft deferments who repeatedly says awful things about those who have devoted their lives to their country, whether in the military or the civil service?

You have to wonder how these people sleep at night.

So what happens next in the House? As mentioned above, Rep. Jim Jordan, who allegedly chose not to investigate serious sexual abuse charges while he was a wrestling coach at Ohio State — and who now, with zero sense of irony, conducts bogus investigations as House Judiciary Committee chairman, is next in line to be speaker.

As MSNBC’s Alex Wagner notes, it's surprising that Jordan is even in the mix, given the history of former Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert, who went to prison on federal charges related to the sexual abuse of underage boys when he was a high school teacher and wrestling coach. One portrait is missing, Wagner observes, from the gallery honoring House speakers at the Capitol:

When you hear the words "Republican speakers of the House," Republicans really do not want you to think about Dennis Hastert. And today House Republicans are trying to determine who their next speaker will be. And you would think that one of the most basic criteria for Republicans here would be that none of their candidates should be accused of any involvement in any wrestling-related sexual misconduct scandals. Right?

Jordan also did more than anyone else in Congress to support Trump’s attempted 2021 coup and his continued attempts to undermine the legitimacy of elections. If he ultimately succeeds in bullying and blustering his way into the speaker's chair, it will remain vacant in terms of statesmanship. Is there any hope that moderate or centrist Republicans might start to turn the ship of state toward a calmer shore? None is visible right now.

The arrogance of these people is baffling only until you remember that the “con” in con artist is short for “confidence.” The o majority of Republicans in Congress who refused to certify the 2020 election show vastly unmerited confidence because that is an essential part of their ruse. Petty grifters and cult leaders alike need to show confidence as they probe your weaknesses, trying to figure out what will get you to lower your guard and have confidence in them, giving them permission to do things you’d rather not admit, even to yourself, that you want done.