One of the widely held beliefs of politics is that the squishes always cave. ‘Squishes’ is the pejorative term given to those in the minority of some political group who oppose some policy or action of the majority but are not strong-willed and can usually be bullied into acquiescing. In the UK, Margaret Thatcher used the term ‘wets’ to describe those in the Conservative party who were not sufficiently gung-ho about her policies.
In British slang, “wet” meant weak, “inept, ineffectual, effete”. Within the political context, the term was used by Thatcher’s supporters as both as a noun and as an adjective to characterise people or policies which Thatcher would have considered weak or “wet”.
In the GOP, squishes are those who opposed the various appalling candidates like Jim Jordan who were being put forward to be the speaker. But when they held firm in opposition despite intensive bullying and tanked Jordan’s bid, it seemed like the squishes had suddenly developed some backbone and there was even an article describing their behavior as “the revenge of the squishes”.
But that did not last long. When Mike Johnson was proposed as the Speaker nominee, the squishes returned to form and all fell in line, although Johnson held all the attitudes that they said they objected to in Jordan. They all caved, every one of them.
Johnson is not just an advocate of the Big Lie that serial sex abuser Donald Trump (SSAT) won the 2020 election, he actively worked to overturn the result and went all in with the completely loony narrative of Venezuela and Hugo Chavez being behind the manipulation of Dominion voting machines. So what about GOP representatives like Ken Buck of Colorado who had earlier told CNN that “I don’t want someone who was involved in the activities of January 6 … There’s no way we win the majority if the message we send to the American people is we believe the election was stolen, and we believe that January 6 was a tour of the Capitol” and had voted against Jordan because of that? He too fell in line. All the GOP members of the ‘No Labels’ group that claims that they are seeking centrist bipartisan solutions, also fell in line, trying to pretend that Johnson is not a MAGA cult member. When a reporter tried to ask Johnson about his support for the Big Lie, GOP members shouted her down and asked her to shut up.
Tim Miller brings up Johnson’s record and says that he is being brought forward by the GOP hoping that his bland appearance will sufficiently mask his MAGA extremism.
This has long been the strategy of the MAGA cult, to have front people like Kevin McCarthy, Steve Scalise, and Tom Emmer who look like establishment types (and are thus mischaracterized by the media as ‘moderates’ when they are anything but) but who are actually sympathetic to them and whom they can pressure to adopt all the extreme policies they want. And it has worked for them for a long time, even with leaders before McCarthy. But Matt Gaetz blew up that strategy by forcing all those front people out. Johnson’s facade is easily exposed as phony because although he may not look like a raving loony, his record of being one is very clear and it will be hard to hide that fact.
So why have Gaetz and company pursued this latest strategy that is likely to be less effective than what they had before? Rich Lowry argues that some in the GOP don’t seem to really want to be in the majority at all.
There are costs to being in the House minority, such as watching the majority – within limits, depending on its size – do and pass whatever it wants. Otherwise, life is easy. There are no real responsibilities except voting “no” and giving speeches.
Being in the majority, on the other hand, requires constant choices. Which priorities are most important? How far can the party push on any given issue? What’s the balance between achieving important policy goals and minimizing political risk? How to hold together the various factions that are inevitably part of a majority coalition?
This isn’t easy, and gets much harder if members care more about their primetime cable hit than making any responsible contribution, even in opposition to the leadership.
Some within the party’s right flank have developed a mode of operating that is almost hostile to affecting legislative outputs as a matter of principle. Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz and his compatriots didn’t help Rep. Kevin McCarthy pass a Republican-supported spending bill as a shutdown loomed, then slammed him for – what else was he supposed to do? – going to Democrats.
It tells you all you need to know that some of the ringleaders of this circus preferred an unworkable majority to a robust one.
Gaetz comrade-in-arms Rep. Matt Rosendale has said so explicitly. The Messenger reported that he told donors, in a call that included Gaetz, “Look, we have shown, OK, with a very small handful of people, six at times, five at times, that we can have tremendous impact in that body and when a lot of people, unfortunately, were voting to have a 270, 280 Republican House, I was praying each evening for a small majority.”
No one who has the interests of his or her party at heart ever wishes for fewer members. If you want your majority to be so narrow that it is vulnerable to disruption and blackmail, maybe you don’t really want a majority at all. If that’s true of Gaetz and his friends, the chaos of the last few weeks may make it a little more likely that they are eventually relieved of the burden of being part of a majority next November.
I think Lowry, a conservative commentator, is on to something. It used to be that new members of Congress would start by learning the ropes of how to legislate and get on committees and hold hearings on some issues and draft bills. But that is boring, governing stuff. They would slowly rise up the seniority ladder, largely anonymous outside their own districts until they reach the top leadership posts. The current people want to be famous from the get-go. To achieve that goal, it is easier and more fun to say provocative things, use committees to attack opponents, and to go on TV and grandstand on some hot-button issues. That is easier to do when you are in the minority because there is nothing else for you to do.
Let’s see how all this plays out when Johnson has to confront the realities of governing and has to make choices that his supporters oppose and he can no longer duck hard questions about his ugly past.
Seth Meyers also takes a look all Johnson’s record.