The debt ceiling crisis has been temporarily settled — momentary relief to be followed almost certainly by at least some degree of mayhem just when Santa is warming up the sled — and almost nobody is satisfied with the outcome. The jangled confusion of today’s “resolution” is the essence of what happens when Republicans try to govern Republicans in the age of Donald Trump.
At first blush, the idea of confusion within the GOP ranks seems incongruous; they are, if anything, more adept at marching in step than the Marine Corps Brass Band. Look closer, though, and understand where they’re marching to: “No masks! No mandates! Trump is the president!” This is the far right being shoved by the far-far right, and the lot of them inevitably run the grave risk of going over a cliff together, taking the rest of us with them.
A perfect microcosm of this phenomenon has been unspooling itself in Idaho this week. The Gem State is no stranger to hard-right politics; there is currently a movement to have Idaho absorb five conservative Oregon counties and refashion itself as, I don’t know, Super Trump Idaho or something. The senior senator from Idaho is Mike Crapo, who famously un-endorsed Trump after the “grab her by the p—-y” video came to light at the end of the 2016 presidential campaign. After the roof caved in on him, Crapo scrapped his un-endorsement and stapled himself to Trump for all time.
So, yeah, it can get pretty weird in Idaho, but this story is another thing entirely. The state’s Republican governor, Brad Little, took a trip on Tuesday to the southern border in Texas, where he was joined by ten other Republican governors to grandstand about President Biden’s immigration policies.
The moment his plane disappeared into the sky, his lieutenant governor — one Janice McGeachin, among the hardest of the hard righties in that state and an assumed candidate for Little’s job next time it comes up — initiated what amounted to a palace coup in order to shove a wad of far right nonsense into the daylight.
First, McGeachin attempted to call up the Idaho National Guard and send it to the Texas/Mexico border, presumably near where Little already was, in order to fight the “invasion” of the country. She was stonily rebuffed by Maj. Gen. Michael J. Garshak, commander of the Guard, who reminded her, “As you are aware, the Idaho National Guard is not a law enforcement agency.”
McGeachin wasn’t finished. Assuming the powers of the governorship, the lieutenant governor signed a number of executive orders banning vaccine requirements for all K-12 schools and universities, even though no such requirements existed to begin with; she banned stuff that wasn’t there. From Texas, Little rescinded her executive orders and National Guard call-up, and scolded her actions as “an affront to the Idaho constitution.”
It is likely Little was not gibbering with astonishment at this bizarre turn of events. After all, McGeachin pulled this same number back in May when Little left town for a conference of the Republican Governors Association. After he left, McGeachin barred all local officials and state schools from requiring masks, even though, again, no such requirement existed. Little reversed her again, reprimanded her again, and will likely have to deal with her when he runs for reelection. These little insurrections were McGeachin’s first campaign commercials, and they have put Little in a bind.
Little, who is far right, gets shoved by the far-far right McGeachin, all because of Donald Trump’s ongoing gravitational pull within the Republican Party. Little put no mask or vaccine mandates in place — a fact his state is suffering for — but McGeachin has painted a portrait of Little The Lefty crushing everyone’s freedom while she alone acted in defense of liberty. Little can try to explain himself, but all McGeachin has to do is howl “Tyranny!” and she’s won the exchange… so Little will be forced to tack even further to the right to defend his flank.
As it goes with Idaho, so it goes in Washington, D.C. The country came to this place with the debt ceiling because Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wanted to throw sand in the gears of President Biden’s domestic agenda but was not intentionally destructive enough to appease his own far-far right flank. He and Little should compare notes.
The handiest hostage in McConnell’s initial effort was the threat of defaulting on the nation’s debt, an act that would have clobbered an already precarious global economy. As the October 18 deadline drew closer, Democrats could not be sure if McConnell was truly enough of a nihilist to follow through on his threat, and they began scrambling for ways to go around him. That got weird in a hurry; ideas like minting a trillion-dollar coin were floated and dismissed.
Meanwhile, McConnell started getting an earful from banks and business interests, asking him to kindly refrain from destroying the world. Overtures were made by McConnell to the Democrats regarding potential resolutions, at which point the far-far right within McConnell’s caucus began to shove. What deal? they asked. I thought we were doing this. We have to do this!
Then it got better: “Looks like Mitch McConnell is folding to the Democrats, again,” Trump whaargarbld from Florida. “He’s got all of the cards with the debt ceiling, it’s time to play the hand. Don’t let them destroy our country!”
Not to be outdone even by his lord and master, Sean Hannity of Fox News weighed in. “Radical Democrats on Capitol Hill have a brand new hero,” he seethed, “with their multitrillion-dollar socialist agenda now stalled in Congress, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is throwing them a lifeline. In a backroom deal, McConnell agreed to raise the debt ceiling, giving Democrats more time to use a process known as ‘reconciliation’ to ram through their socialist agenda.” Hannity concluded his aria by demanding that McConnell “stop being a Washington swamp-creature and start acting like a conservative.”
Despite this outraged yowling, the deal came together before noon on Thursday. “Top Senate Democrats and Republicans said on Thursday that they had struck a deal to allow the debt ceiling to be raised through early December,” reports The New York Times, “temporarily staving off the threat of a first-ever default on the national debt after the GOP agreed to temporarily drop its blockade of an increase.”
The problem — of course there’s a problem, there’s always a problem — is that the McConnell “resolution” accepted by the Democrats does not fully meet the amount required to meet the country’s debt, and it will all have to be re-litigated in December, smack-dab in the middle of the holiday season and right when the next government shutdown confrontation is set to take place. While McConnell may enjoy the chaos this will inevitably cause, the fact remains that what came out of his oven on this was half a loaf, and half-baked at that, because of the shouting from his own right flank.
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer took the deal because it averts an imminent economic apocalypse, and also gives his caucus a couple of months to hammer out the details of President Biden’s Build Back Better Act. All for the good, sure, but also a damn mess, one created by an intramural shoving match between Republican politicians seeking to out-Trump each other in time for next year’s midterms. Just another day of Republican politics, Idaho-style.