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Republicans have a very strange idea of self-interest

From clinging to the outdated Electoral Count Act to investigating Hunter Biden, the party is working against itself

No one believes Kevin McCarthy and House Republicans would have the good sense to let a rewrite of the 1887 Electoral Count Act ever reach the floor in 2023, Shapiro writes.
No one believes Kevin McCarthy and House Republicans would have the good sense to let a rewrite of the 1887 Electoral Count Act ever reach the floor in 2023, Shapiro writes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Nearly a century ago, Will Rogers boasted, “I am not a member of an organized political party. I’m a Democrat.” 

These days, the equivalent expression would be, “I am not a member of a rational political party. I’m a Republican.” 

It is stunning how completely, in Congress and the nation, the GOP has abandoned the guiding principle of politics: self-interest. 

Take, as an emblematic example, the current last-ditch efforts to update the 1887 Electoral Count Act, the badly drafted and confusing legislation that governs the tabulating of electoral votes in a presidential election. 

As some might recall, there was a bit of a contretemps on Jan. 6, 2021, over Vice President Mike Pence’s purported power to reject duly cast electoral votes. 

That 2021 fuss triggered an effort by Democrats and some of the last remaining sane Republicans on Capitol Hill to codify into law the commonsense provision that the vice president’s only power is to read aloud the tally of the electoral votes. The proposed rewrite of the Electoral Count Act would also clear up other ambiguities and eliminate frivolous objections to the election results. 

The problem is that on Capitol Hill the days are dwindling down to a precious few. Unless the rewritten Electoral Count Act is quickly attached to a must-pass piece of legislation, its prospects are dicey in the end-of-the-session frenzy in Congress.

Urgency is demanded for one overriding reason: No one believes that the House Republicans would have the good sense to allow a rewrite of the Electoral Count Act to ever reach the floor in 2023. 

Obstructionism, which appears to describe the entire agenda of House Republicans, would leave the status quo in place. And that would mean that (grab your smelling salts) Kamala Harris would be the vice president presiding over the final tally of the 2024 election.  

Are the Republicans sure that this is what they crave? 

Imagine that a left-wing law professor comes up with the cockeyed notion that a vice president has the unilateral power to overturn an election. And, even though it strains credulity, picture such a law professor, along with a few nutcase associates, hanging out in the Oval Office plotting to deprive the Republicans of the presidency. 

Of course, America isn’t the sort of place where such anti-democratic plots would ever be considered along the corridors of power. Still, the opposition of most congressional Republicans to reforming the Electoral Count Act for 2024 defies the logic of self-preservation.  

House Republicans, to their credit, have absorbed the lesson of the midterms. Voters rejected extremism — particularly, in the form of rabid election deniers — in an effort to return American politics to an even keel.

Kevin McCarthy and his brazen band of bomb throwers have an answer for Americans worried about the economy and troubled by the partisan cacophony in Washington. They are going to respond to the deepest needs of swing voters by working night and day to investigate Hunter Biden. 

Without exonerating the behavior of the president’s troubled son with a history of drug problems, it is difficult to grasp what the Republicans expect to achieve politically with the never-ending hunt for Hunter.

Despite months of screaming about Hunter’s laptop, the Republicans have yet to come up with a storyline that would convince anyone other than right-wing true believers.

Yes, Joe Biden was overly indulgent toward his sole surviving son. You can just hear the GOP attack ads with their voice-of-doom narration, “Joe Biden is a parent who cares too much. America can’t risk four more years of that kind of caring.” 

It is also worth mentioning in passing that the lucrative business arrangements of presidential families may not be an exclusively Democratic problem. As a point of comparison, House Republicans might recall names like Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, along with their sterling records of selfless government service.  

The last time the Republicans were this obsessed was over Hillary Clinton’s supposed responsibility for the 2012 deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, including the ambassador. 

The former secretary of State even publicly testified for 11 hours in 2015. But the two-year House Republican investigation proved little beyond lax embassy security by the Barack Obama administration. And while there were many reasons why Clinton lost in 2016, Benghazi wasn’t one of them. 

Hunter Biden is just one of many targets on the Republican dartboard. After he leaves government service by the end of the year, 81-year-old Dr. Anthony Fauci will have a new full-time job testifying before House committees. 

In the GOP demonology, the distinguished medical researcher is somehow responsible for everything from COVID-19 itself to all the steps the government took since early 2020 to combat the spread of the pandemic.  

A sane political party might wonder why it has made COVID-19 denial an article of ideological faith. When mask-wearing is equated with totalitarian overreach and vaccination is derided as only for wimps, the Republicans are offering a peculiar message as the virus is once again surging during the holiday season.

Traditionally, political parties tend to prefer to keep their most loyal voters alive as long as possible. In the past, Democratic political machines sometimes were not even deterred by death when it came to getting out the vote.  

But the current Republican strategy seems to be built around encouraging risky behavior by older voters who ardently watch Fox News. At a time when almost all elections are close, the GOP should rationally think through the demographic implications of a COVID-19 death rate that is currently running at around 3,000 per week.

In fact, the mantra of House Republicans harks back to the excesses of the 1960s drug culture. “If it feels good, do it” may sound like fun, but it is no way to win future elections. 

Walter Shapiro has covered the last 11 presidential campaigns. He is also a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU and a lecturer in political science at Yale. Follow him on Twitter @MrWalterShapiro.

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