The Tuesday: What the Republican Party Needs vs. What It Wants

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BY KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON May 04, 2021
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WITH KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON May 04, 2021
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What the Republican Party Needs vs. What It Wants

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about thus and such and whatnot, language and politics and culture, and other things. To subscribe to the Tuesday and receive it in its divinely ordained email format, please follow this link.

The Unmaking of a Congressman

Mike Wood has done harder things than running for the House of Representatives, and some of those hard things he did in Afghanistan, where he won two Purple Hearts and a Navy Commendation Medal — which made it especially irritating for him to listen to fellow Republicans describe him as a "traitor" during his recent campaign in Texas’s 6th District. Wood has a direct, unadorned way of communicating (one section of his campaign bio begins, "After getting shot . . ."), a refreshingly stoic style in our age of hysterical politics. Emotionally incontinent displays are not his thing, but there is some tension in his voice when he sets that scene.

"Not a whole lot gets to me, but when some of these nut-jobs called me a 'traitor,' it got to me more than it should. I have scars on all four limbs from fighting for this country, but — because I refused to bend the knee to Donald Trump — I'm some sort of Benedict Arnold character. But that's where our politics are right now." Hearing about the Utah GOP's treatment of Mitt Romney — the senator was denounced as a "traitor" and, of all things, a "communist" — Wood saw it as more of the same: "Disgusting."

Wood, whom I first met when he was a National Review Institute Regional Fellow in Dallas, is the sort of candidate conservatives used to dream about: under 40, a decorated veteran, articulate, educated (bachelor's from NYU and an MBA from SMU), a business owner with a big, photogenic family, he had everything going for him with the exception of one thing: apostasy.

Wood is one of a surprisingly large number of conservatives who opposed Trump in 2016 but supported him — voted for him, anyway, with whatever other qualifications or hesitation — in 2020. But he also has been plainspoken about the Trump movement, which he accurately describes as a "cult of personality" in thrall to loopy conspiracy theories. It was Trump's post-election performance leading up to the events of January 6 that most troubles Wood, who calls Trump's conduct "disqualifying."

Some very wise political insiders in Texas advised Wood to tamp down the anti-Trump rhetoric, on the theory that while the GOP may be — may be — ready for post-Trump leadership, it is not ready for anti-Trump leadership. And those voices of caution probably were right as a matter of pure political calculation — Wood came in fifth among Republicans and ninth overall in the 23-candidate, bipartisan goat-rodeo of an election — but there is more to life, and more to political life, than calculation.

"I want to serve in elected office," he says, "but I don't want to go to Congress if that means I have to act like Madison Cawthorn or Lindsey Graham. If the cost of entry into Republican politics is that you have to pretend to buy into lies, then I don't want to do that."

Wood's anti-Trump stance won him national media attention and the endorsement of the Dallas Morning News, but it did not win him a lot of support in the Republican rank-and-file. After the election, noted QAnon kook Marjorie Taylor Greene ridiculed Wood and Representative Adam Kinzinger, one of his political allies. The nice lady who thinks that California wildfires are caused by Jewish space lasers wrote that Wood and his backers are "clueless about what Republican voters think and feel" and that what Republicans demand is "America First and loyalty to Trump." And, as strange as it is to write, the nice lady who thinks that California wildfires are caused by Jewish space lasers is almost correct: Wood is far from "clueless" about the Republican demand for "loyalty to Trump" — he is keenly aware of what Republican voters think and feel, but he believes that these thoughts and feelings are grounded in falsehood and paranoia that ultimately will destroy the Republican Party and do great damage to the country itself. And, to the detriment of his electoral prospects, he says so.

The race in the 6th will be resolved in a runoff, and the candidate expected to win is a Trump-endorsed member of the State Republican Executive Committee (Drain that swamp!) whose main claim to the seat is that she is the widow of the man who most recently held it.

It is a sign of the Republican times that the ...   READ MORE

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