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Many may know that Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) lost his right eye after he was hit by an IED blast in Afghanistan. What may not be as well known is that he also temporarily lost sight in his left eye. Or that once he regained sight on the left, a miracle in and of itself, he returned to military service.
And yet, Tucker Carlson mocks that injury on Fox News with little resistance from its conservative viewers or from elected officials.
What a time: Watching Republicans shift away from a platform defined by “support the troops” is tripping me up more than Drake’s foray into house music. And this isn’t just about Crenshaw or even President Trump’s rivalry with the late Sen. John McCain, though that was certainly a flashpoint. This is something much bigger: a sign that the Republican Party isn’t just in transition. It’s lost.
Growing up in the Reagan era wasn’t great, but at least most everyone understood what the rules were. Democrats painted Republicans to be the party for some combination of rich, old and white. Conservatives accused liberals of being godless, big spenders and weak on crime. Political absolutes are rarely productive, but they do make for great TV.
Anyway, for the most part since the Reagan era, liberal messaging hasn’t changed — unfortunately. On the flip side, since the rise of the tea party in 2010 conservatives have been in the midst of the biggest ideological shift since Reagan and the Christian Coalition coalesced their powers 40 years ago.
Before we dig into the substance, I must say the style isn’t changing so radically. Even today, as the nation continues to grieve the victims of the mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas, many conservatives employ Reagan’s brand of disingenuous “problem solving” to avoid talking about gun laws. Although nearly 12% of the nation was living under the poverty line in 1976, Reagan was out testing his “welfare queens” rhetoric on the campaign trail. When his conservative heirs are asked about a school shooting in Texas, they say, “What about Chicago?” in an effort to talk about urban street crime instead. But we all know that hammering Democratic mayors on crime is less about being thoughtful and more about using racist tropes to change the subject.
The left could borrow that same style to redirect any conversation toward a tempting target. Imagine what that would look like: No matter what the reporters at a news conference asked Biden, he’d point out that most of our poorest states are run by Republicans. Mississippi, for example, has more than a fifth of its population living below the poverty line, and conservatives have controlled that state since 2012. Republicans have run South Carolina since 2003, and it’s in the top 10 as well. I could go on, but that would be petty (Tennessee) and unproductive (Alabama). Besides (Oklahoma, Arkansas and West Virginia), you get the point: Changing the subject and oversimplifying to score cheap points doesn’t solve problems.
For Republicans, the reflex to pivot like this has finally turned in on itself. They’re attacking their own. Even those hailed as military heroes.
Crenshaw faced taunts of “eyepatch McCain” last week from attendees at the Texas State Republican Convention, echoing the jab Carlson made last month. This is not politics as usual. Neither is the Republican response to the Jan. 6 hearings.
We are not used to seeing conservatives behave so indifferently toward the sound of police officers pleading for help. It was less than two years ago when the country’s largest police union endorsed Donald Trump for president. The Fraternal Order of Police said it was “proud to endorse a candidate who calls for law and order across our nation.” We now know that on Jan. 6, 2021, Trump called for no such thing, leaving the overwhelmed Capitol police officers to fight for their lives for hours.
That’s not the behavior of someone who’s leading the law-and-order party. In fact, congressional Republicans are treating the officers who were wounded in the Capitol attack like pariahs.
Seems like the gender of a gingerbread cookie was met with more concern than the deadly attack on police.
And the outcry against Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) must truly mark the end of Republicans’ “support the troops” era. This Air Force veteran dared to back the Jan. 6 investigation and stand up for truth — even as his wife and baby are threatened with “execution” — and for that sort of integrity he is accused of treason.
Democrats and Republicans have both consistently supported first responders and the military, but until recently the GOP had made that position central to its identity. Now the party is identifying itself in other ways, and I’m not quite sure where that’s going. More concerning, I don’t think they are either. There is a campaign video featuring a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, Missourian Eric Greitens, and a team of men carrying guns, dressed in tactical gear, breaking down a door and using smoke bombs as they tell you they are hunting faux Republicans.
This feels more substantial than just convenient positions taken by followers of one former president who hope he’ll have a political future. When the most popular host on Fox News makes fun of a Republican soldier who lost an eye fighting for the U.S., and viewers side with the host, that blue line might as well be fuchsia.
When Trump and McCain exchanged barbs, that seemed unique, perhaps just a little tremor inside the party. What the Capitol Police, Kinzinger and Crenshaw are encountering feels more like shifting — and colliding — of tectonic plates.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.