Any capable writer would have looked at the words “legitimate political discourse” and said “Uh Ronna? Can we talk privately?”
Of course, the writer might’ve been less than capable. Or ignored altogether. Neither would come as a shock.
But let’s assume there was a real copywriter on the job. You wouldn’t want to go to market without one, especially when you’re a political clown like Ronna McDaniel, and what you’re trying to market is conspiracy and sedition.
Still, you can see how it happens. They’re in this meeting of the Resolutions Committee of the Republican National Committee. Ronna is RNC chair, so we guess she’s driving the effort.
The purpose of the meeting is to write a censure resolution. They’re there to cobble together some sort of logic, no matter how tortured, that can justify the censure of Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger. Everyone on the Zoom call knows this is nuts. They all know it puts things on record that have no business being there.
Yet someone — and I wonder if we’ll ever know who — has insisted on this strange shunning, of two of their own.
So picture these committee members, people who once thought themselves respectable citizens. Pillars of their communities, valued members of their party, they’re still trying to figure out how they came to be aiding and abetting the overthrow of their own government.
Sure, there are some ideologues and firebrands among them, and even they must be wondering what they’re getting themselves into. But most are just political lightweights who are already in too deep.
They’re terrified of the Jan 6 committee. Many of them know they’ve behaved badly for five years. Some know they have criminal exposure. Some were involved in the run-up to Jan 6 and would rather not discuss it. Some are asking themselves who they can flip on, or what they might know that a prosecutor might trade up for. Most can’t afford the kind of lawyers that could pull them out of trouble.
And a lot of them really need their current job, whatever that may be. The job market might be sweet right now, but not for people with Trump stink on them. Their choices have narrowed.
So we’re looking at a roomful of ethical compromises, broken laws, and nervous people who now realize they’ve chosen sides in a game they didn’t even know they were in.
And this RNC resolution is a significant turn for the worse. Up to now, they’ve just been pretending to hate government. They’ve been out there amplifying lies, trashing Fauci, fighting mandates, demanding recounts, trolling Democrats, and taking credit for their states’ infrastructure funding. Nothing too strenuous, nothing too incriminating. Just following orders.
But now they’re being asked to put their names on this resolution, a document that is clearly bonkers, top to bottom.
They’re being asked to put in writing what we’ve known all along: that the Republican party is a conspiracy in plain sight, a knife at the throat of democracy.
All the more reason for them to get the wording right.
Because that’s what these edgy, not-very-bright people are reduced to — arguing about wording. They have to come up with a document that somehow makes bonkers sound reasonable. Let me assure you this is not easy.
You’d think they would bring in one of the pros from the Heritage Foundation, writers totally adept at making bullshit smell like napalm in the morning. Though this particular task might stump even them.
One of the many ironies here is that this censure resolution didn't need the phrase “legitimate political discourse” at all. They’d already made their point. Cheney and Kinzinger are already thoroughly tarred and feathered by the sixth paragraph. Joe Biden and every living Democrat are already savagely slandered for their “effort to replace liberty with socialism.” The whole resolution is already a bizarre cavalcade of lies and gaslight. Bringing it around to the Jan 6 rioters is both superfluous and fraught.
So it's at this point that the writer should be warning them that it’s time to cut to the punchline, to the part where they resolve to excommunicate the two apostates.
But they can’t help themselves. They just have to add a rhetorical flourish. They need an exclamation point.
So they argue about how to say it.
Is “legitimate” the right word? They can’t use “legal” or “lawful” in reference to the rioters — that would draw belly laughs. “Permissible” sounds too wimpy. “Valid” doesn’t go far enough. “Righteous” goes too far (“far-righteous?”). So they settle on “legitimate,” a loaded word in the context of an event that was anything but. But so be it. One word down, two to go.
The next word, “political,” is more-or-less a throwaway. It doesn’t add much to the discussion. It’s sort of a modifier, something that goes without saying. They could have left it out.
But of all the ways one could describe the wanton criminality of Jan 6, “discourse” is easily the most adorable. Like the whole event was just a few happy busloads of concerned citizens who came to Washington to engage in polite debate.
What they’re looking for is the perfect euphemism, a way to sugarcoat the violence that was there for the entire world to see. Nixon used "pacification" in Vietnam, when he really meant "bombing villages and burning civilians." If this committee could get away with “hijinks” or “antics” or “shenanigans” they’d jump at it. “Discourse” might have been the best they could do. Did they consider “intercourse?”
But it’s getting late and they’re tired of arguing, so they do what committees the world over do. They reach an agreement. They settle on these three words.
And yet they don’t check to see how those words might fly in the real world, a place they rarely visit. They mistake their own consensus for effective communication. Which is what the writer — supposedly the effective communicator in the room — should have told them.
But instead, history has zeroed in on those ten fateful syllables. Ronna wishes she had them back. She even tried to pull them back, but too late. They were already on record, out in public, and a lead story for at least three news cycles.
Of course, the phrase might have been exactly what they meant. They might really think the riot was legitimate discourse. In which case I fear for the country even more.
And lest you think I’m being overly hard on the writer, let’s just say that this one had, and still has, plenty of culpability. Not so much for failing to head off the loaded language — which maybe couldn’t be helped — but for working for Ronna McDaniel in the first place. For writing this garbage with a straight face, and taking money for it.