Last week’s special election in the 6th Congressional District of Texas brought good news, and even better news, for the GOP.
The good news? A Republican won, giving them their 212th House member – just six seats away from taking control of the lower chamber and ending Nancy Pelosi’s reign as speaker. The outcome hardly represents a shock or a sea change: both candidates who qualified for the run-off election ballot – Susan Wright (widow of the prior incumbent) and Jake Ellzey (an Annapolis graduate, decorated Navy flyer and a member of the legislature’s GOP majority) – identified as conservative Republicans.
Which brings us to the even better news: the healthy, rejuvenating messages the voters of the district sent to their party leaders by electing Commander Ellzey to represent them in Congress.
First, the results embarrassed most pundits and prognosticators who predicted easy victory for Wright because of her strong association with former President Trump. The most visible figure in the Republican world not only directed more than a million bucks in campaign cash to go along with his “total and complete endorsement”, but even recorded robo calls for an election eve blitz of Republican households in the district. “Hello, this is Donald J. Trump, hopefully your favorite president of all time,” his ardent message began.
It turns out our putative favorite president made a dubious decision when he chose to lumber into the midst of a tough, local grudge match he easily could have skipped. His presence in the race naturally made him the focus of hostile national attention given the ongoing, pathological media obsession with all things touching Trump. No, the defeat of his chosen candidate didn’t signify an end to his influence among Republicans. But it does suggest that analysts have greatly exaggerated the former President’s utter, unshakable domination of a party that became his chosen vehicle less than ten years ago. Nine months ago, in the presidential election, Trump prevailed in the Sixth District of Texas by only three points, far less than the 12% margin he enjoyed in 2016., Those numbers suggest that his four years in the White House worked to reduce, rather than cement, local loyalty to Trump’s brand of boisterous leadership.
Moreover, Ellzey’s unexpectedly easy victory (by nearly seven points) discredited the self-defeating strategy of his opponents, who tried to knock-off a well-known GOP leader in the region by smearing him as a “RINO” – or “Republican in Name Only.” This line of attack not only failed to hurt its target, but helped push other mainstream Republicans off the sidelines in efforts to defend Ellzey. Former Governor (and former Trump Energy Secretary) Rick Perry described the “RINO” claims by Trump’s allies in the Club for Growth as “junk” and “absolute trash”, demanding that Susan Wright disassociate herself from the smears and renounce the threat to party unity, which she declined to do.
The election results should help persuade savvy Republicans that in gunning for RINOS they’ll only wound themselves. A twist of timing underscores the point.
The same day that Texans cast ballots for the open Congressional seat, the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th riot began its public hearings with riveting testimony by four cops who endured life threatening combat while defending the Capitol. The televised session featured two high-profile House members already targeted as RINO traitors by Trump and his loyalist followers. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) no doubt helped themselves in their 2022 re-election battles by expressing sympathy and support for the heroic officers from the Capitol and DC police. As the party of Law and Order, Republicans enhance their GOP credentials when they show solidarity for honorable representatives of law enforcement. Nevertheless, Republican leader Kevin McCarthy made a point of insulting Cheney and Kinzinger as “Pelosi Republicans” and dispatched Liz Cheney’s replacement in House leadership (Elise Stefanik, R-NY) to precede the hearings by holding Nancy Pelosi responsible for the riot in January.
The longer that this intramural squabbling continues, the lower the chance that Republicans will successfully defend the 212 seats they now hold, let alone win the 6 Democratic districts they need to seize control.
The only heresy in which Cheney and Kinzinger have dissented from Republican orthodoxy involves their outspoken criticism of President Trump, and both Congress members boast voting records on legislative issues more consistently conservative than Elise Stefanik.
The truth is that signs at Trump rallies that denounce his intraparty critics (“NO MORE RINOS!”) aim to expel current Republicans rather than attracting new ones. One of Cheney’s principal primary opponents offered to provide donors with an official “RINO HUNTING LICENSE” that would empower them in “bagging” their incumbent Congresswoman. This might well amuse MAGA enthusiasts but could easily produce discomfort, if not disgust, among the suburban women the party needs for victory.
The obvious example of a past political party attempting to strengthen its hold on power by purging from its membership all those who dared dissent from the Maximum Leader, is provided by the Stalinist communists of the 1930s – hardly a model today’s liberty loving conservatives should try to follow. On top of its angry intolerance, it’s a drive for a party purge amounts to an insanely illogical political strategy. If you drive out all the alleged RINO’s – starting with the 10 GOP House members and 7 Senators who supported Trump’s second impeachment – you hand the Democrats 17 open seats to contest or, and at least 17 bruising primary fights that give the opposition a significant head start in holding their majority. As the old saying goes, you’re more likely to win at politics through addition rather than subtraction, and by multiplication instead of division.
Even for those who yearn to see a third Trump campaign – especially for them, in fact – it’s time. If Republicans feel serious about going from control of no elected branch of government, to once again dominating all three, the sensible plea is plain: CALL OFF THE RINO HUNT.