Image Credits: CNN.
The primary conceit of a politician is that they’re uniquely valuable. They often believe that they offer something vital–that their service isn’t easily replaceable. And, to a degree, we want politicians to feel this way. We need new and fresh ideas, as well as some ambition to be better than average. The American system encourages this, too, as there is a much looser party structure than is typical in parliamentary systems. Our congressmembers have more leeway to buck party leaders and carve a somewhat independent path.
Yet, we elect people to represent us. We want ideas and we want leadership, but we also have the right to expect that our interests will be served. When a community or state sends someone to Congress, they want that person to reflect their beliefs and values. This is the central conflict for a politician: when to serve and when to lead.
Relatedly, there are circumstances where leadership calls for decisions that are unpopular, and this is when a decision must be made about risk and worth. If you do what you deem is the right thing knowing it could cost you your job, is the tradeoff worth it?
Whatever the particular issue, does the outcome outweigh the potential loss of a career? A seat for your party? Maybe control of the House or Senate?
There are no universal answers to these questions.
But I think it should be self-evident that consistently doing something you know to be wrong just to please your constituents or to maintain your job security or to satisfy your party leaders, is something you ought not do. And if you go down that path, then you are certainly replaceable. You give up the right to see your role as uniquely valuable or vital. You’re just a cog in a machine.
We see this also with people who serve in more bureaucratic roles. They may find themselves in the middle of policy pushes that they believe are dangerously mistaken or immoral, and they ask whether things would be even worse without their influence. Won’t my replacement likely be worse–less likely to push back, more of a rubber stamp?
At a certain point, you have to make a break. Your job and your influence aren’t the most important things, and if you’re not able to do what you think is right then you aren’t going to be a good representative or servant. You have to ask why you pursued this career path in the first place. Was it just to have a paycheck and some prestige? Didn’t you think you could do the job a little better and make a difference?
It’s this conceit, this lack of humility that gets in the way. It tends to be believed even in circumstances where it’s clearly no longer operative.
And that’s what is going on with Republican officeholders right now. They are acting like January 6 was no big deal because their supporters want them to treat it as no big deal.
After the storming of the U.S. Capitol, GOP insiders told The Intelligencer they had lost patience with Trump, whom they predicted would face waning influence within the party. Trump’s closest allies also feared that his role as the riot’s catalyst would hurt his legacy and the party.
However, Civiqs’ daily tracking polls have shown that following the tumultuous 12 months since the riots, Trump’s standing among Republicans is largely unchanged.
Just before the insurrection, 83 percent of registered Republican voters surveyed said they had a “favorable” opinion of Trump. That rating stayed above 80 percent every month until August 2021, and was still as high as 76 percent by the end of December.
The people who have suffered in opinion polls are those who did their duty or told the truth about the 2020 election and the coup attempt.
Pence’s favorability rating, which was 78 percent at the time of the insurrection, slumped immediately to 40 percent after he certified the election results. By the end of 2021, the rating had declined even further to 28 percent.
McConnell’s 58 percent rating declined 10 points when he recognized Biden as the winner on December 15, 2020. It went even lower after he condemned Trump’s “conspiracy theories” before Congress on January 6, 2021. He now has a net favorability rating of minus 32, according to the polling reported by FiveThirtyEight.
Republican lawmakers were attacked on January 6 right along with their Democratic colleagues, but they’re responding to the sentiments of their constituents and their party rank-and-file. This isn’t leadership. This isn’t good service even if it’s faithful representation. A Republican member of Congress who knows better can’t argue that their replacement would be worse if they’re making the same poor decisions that their replacement would make in their stead.
At some point, you should walk away from a job that requires you to be immoral, or a party that no longer shares your values. You came to serve because you thought you had something special to offer. It turned out you were wrong. The private sector is always there, and now is the time to explore new opportunities.