The year 2022 is looking like a good one for the Republican Party.
Joe Biden’s once consistently high job-approval ratings among registered voters are collapsing, and voters’ preference on the “generic ballot” test ahead of 2022 indicates that Democrats are losing their Trump-era advantage. Republicans do not lack ways in which they might capitalize on the American electorate’s discontent. From consistently rising inflation, to a stalling economic recovery, to the Biden administration’s inability to tackle COVID and the return of restrictions mere weeks after Biden announced a “summer of freedom” from the virus, to the shambolic and disgraceful display the United States put on in Afghanistan, the GOP enjoys a target-rich environment. But what do they plan to do with the trust they expect voters to place in them? So far, the Republican agenda is murky save one ominously explicit item: revenge.
Last week, 35 communications companies were asked to preserve records from a select number of House Republicans, President Donald Trump, and his family by the committee investigating the events of January 6. It’s reasonable to expect that those records will soon be formally subpoenaed. Some Republicans have called this move by the Democrat-led committee investigating the riots that led to the sacking of the Capitol intrusive and even authoritarian. But House minority leader Kevin McCarthy went a step further. He threatened payback for those companies that cooperated with Congress.
“If these companies comply with the Democrat order to turn over private information, they are in violation of federal law and subject to losing their ability to operate in the United States,” he said. “If companies still choose to violate federal law, a Republican majority will not forget and will stand with Americans to hold them fully accountable under the law.”
It is entirely unclear what “federal law” these firms would be violating if they were to comply with a subpoena for records. But perhaps the brushback pitch aimed at companies that consider cooperating with a congressional initiative wasn’t designed to be coherent so much as intimidating. McCarthy’s remarks have so far only been echoed in their ferocity by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a conspiracy theorist who was stripped of her committee assignments by her fellow members in February. If Greene is a backbencher in the House GOP conference, it’s hard to tell given how closely her “promise” to “shut down” communications firms who fail to comply with a subpoena mirrors McCarthy’s warning.
Every member of the Republican conference is old enough to remember when executive agencies targeted individuals and groups with a level of scrutiny that was attributable only to politics. The admission by the Internal Revenue Service that it had applied precisely that suffocating scrutiny to Republicans in the run-up to the 2010 midterms was just one such scandal. Although Democrats did their best to explain away the IRS’s admission of fault as somehow unwarranted, the IRS nevertheless continued to apologize for the incident in the years leading up to a Justice Department settlement with the targeted groups. At least that abuse of power was conducted behind closed doors. By contrast, the misuse of the public trust some Republicans have entertained today is quite public.
With the White House in Democratic hands, there isn’t much of a positive agenda a Republican-led House (or, for that matter, Senate) could enact. But that doesn’t prevent them from offering one. The GOP can and should organize opposition to ineffective and obdurate federal-level COVID mitigation strategies that have less to do with the pandemic than the reordering of society around progressive policy preferences. They can and should investigate the administration’s mishandling of every step of its withdrawal from Afghanistan—from the renegotiation of the terms of America’s bug out, to the evacuation of the military ahead of civilians, to the many American citizens, green card and visa holders, and the eligible evacuees we left behind (and who may well still be in Afghanistan by January 2023). They can and should recommit themselves to fiscal prudence given the reminder the public received this week that America’s entitlement programs are hurtling toward insolvency in this decade.
Perhaps there will be time for all that. They’ve got to get themselves elected first, right? But Republicans are making promises today that they will be expected to fulfill in office. This latest amounts to little more than the extortion of private interests—an effort to convince them to stonewall the federal legislature with the expectation that the party out of power will reward them if they comply. Republicans would recognize the violation of the public trust they’re flirting with today if Democrats were doing the same thing. And given the precedent they’re trying to establish, it’s a safe bet that the GOP will have the opportunity to bitterly resent it down the road when their opponents follow their lead.