It’s not a pleasant thought, but I believe it’s time for those of us in the reality-based community to think about what happens if Republicans manage to win both houses of Congress this November.
I am not conceding that this a done deal, but at this time it feels worse than fifty-fifty, which is distressing. Between the new voter suppression laws and the old tendency of Democrats to not bother voting in midterms, the outlook is not promising.
But while there is little doubt that a GOP takeover would be a disaster for both the country and the world, the question becomes how big a disaster. And I, for one, am thinking we’ve seen worse.
So let’s game this out a bit. Let’s assume the worst, that they take control of the legislative branch. What would the next two years look like?
The most important thing to remember is that the executive branch — the vast apparatus of the federal government, including military, law enforcement, and justice — will stay in the hands of the grownups. Joe Biden will remain at the helm. His people will continue to run all the agencies they’re running now. The basic operations of the country — economy, healthcare, diplomacy, defense, etc. — will not go back to the corrupt incompetence of the Trump years. This is no small thing. Sentient humans will still be in charge. At least through 2024.
This includes Merrick Garland and DOJ. They will stay in business. The cavalcade of arrests, indictments, trials, and convictions of Trump-era criminals will continue unabated and will, I’m guessing, keep moving up the food chain, hopefully as high as Trump himself. Many people will be going to prison — the midterms won’t change that — though many who go there will be, somewhat optimistically, looking ahead to pardons in 2024.
The judicial branch, led by a renegade Supreme Court, will continue to drive the country even further to the right — if not over a cliff — but it’s hard to see them getting any better or worse than they are now. Or than they will be, once they finish off Roe v. Wade. Unfortunately, there’s nothing an electorate can do about this — the Constitution leaves us powerless, and we’ll just have to learn to live with it.
As for the legislative branch, we all know it will be bonkers. The Senate and House will be both malignant and useless for two years. The GOP caucuses and the committees they’ll control will be as vile and Putinish as they can get away with.
That said, we will be treated to all sorts of rowdiness and rancor within those caucuses. There’s a deep schism in the Republican party right now — crazy versus crazier — driven in part by a visceral fear of their own base. It will only get worse, and more embarrassing, just as the Ukraine situation gets the rest of the world trusting us again. Oh well.
Senate Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell, will go back to appointing incompetent judges and doing little else. They won’t engage in any actual legislation — they wouldn’t know how — and they will filibuster anything that moves.
The House, however, will surely ramp up the crazy. Led by Kevin McCarthy — with committees headed up by the likes of Jim Jordan or Paul Gosar or Mo Brooks— we’ll get the spectacle of endless public inquisitions along the lines of the old Benghazi hearings. These will be focused mostly, though not exclusively, on Hunter Biden, his laptop, Burisma, and how Ukraine interfered with the 2016 election. I wouldn’t be surprised if they revisited Hillary’s emails, as well.
But while these hearings will spend a ton of taxpayer money and provide endless material for Jimmy Kimmel and Trevor Noah, I don’t think they’ll get much traction. Their only purpose will be to generate sound bites for Fox News, as this sort of buffoonery only works on the deplorables. Nobody else will even look. Any criminal referrals that come out of these show trials will be laughed out of Merrick Garland’s office.
The key thing to remember is that Joe Biden will have no probem vetoing any nonsense a half-witted Republican majority comes up with. Republicans will, in fact, be counting on his veto, since it means they can put out the most batshit, red-meat, base-pandering bills they can think of, safe in the knowledge that no actual laws will emerge. At the same time, each veto they collect will be worth at least a week of manufactured outrage on Fox.
It's a sure thing that a Republican-run House would shut down the Jan 6 committee on day one, but they can’t shut down what won’t be there. The committee will have long since wrapped up, made its criminal referrals to DOJ, and laid out in unmistakable terms exactly what happened and who was responsible for the insurrection. They will have presented their findings on national TV, much the way they did with the two Trump impeachments.
I know there are skeptics out there who say we’re running out of time, that these revelations are needed immediately, that Democrats will never get out of their own way. But I don’t think that gives enough credit to some pretty smart people. Jaime Raskin and Adam Schiff, to name just two, have had plenty of recent practice at making these kinds of cases to national audiences. They know how to put on a show. And read a calendar.
The committee has announced that televised hearings will begin June 9, which is well timed if you ask me. Five months before the midterms, with plenty of time for the public to absorb what they’re seeing and hearing.
Raskin hasn’t been shy about prepping the public for a blockbuster, and I take him at his word. If the show weren’t good, he’d be downplaying expectations, not hyping them. The committee itself has been playing the media, spooning out criminal revelations a little at a time — a text message here, an incriminating phone call there — presumably saving the real bombshells for the televised hearings. It’s clear they have a ton of stuff to show us, and if Raskin is to be believed, we’re in for some riveting television.
It's a shame a third of the country won’t see it, because it won’t be running on Fox. But it should be able to grab a fair number of people who don’t generally pay attention to politics at all. In my dreams, that would be enough to swing the midterms to the Democrats, but for now it would be silly to even think that.
None of this is to say that a GOP takeover of the House won’t be fraught with danger, especially regarding appropriations. The House holds the government’s purse strings, after all, and I can easily see the party holding up funding for, say, weapons for Ukraine, until Democrats agree to allow preschoolers to carry concealed weapons. Don’t laugh.
But mostly, what the takeover will mean is two more years of legislative paralysis in the face of the multiple catastrophe-level problems confronting the nation. The most likely scenario is that we’ll see no meaningful legislation at all — Democratic bills won’t pass, Republican bills will be vetoed — and barring some new cataclysm even a Republican can’t ignore, it will all just be dysfunction as usual.
I don’t mean to minimize the damage that can do, or the cans that will get kicked even further down the road. I’m only trying to put that damage in perspective.
Republicans have made abundantly clear that they don’t care. They have no intention of addressing any real problems at all, ever. What we can expect is endless variations on the crap they’ve pulled before.
We’ve seen this movie. We know most of their tricks. We know they’re transparently awful people and we’ll have to keep a close eye on them.
But, while I may be wrong — or even extremely wrong — I’m thinking there’s only so much damage they can do. Until 2024. Knock wood.