Letters From an American

Find the Republicans in the GOP

Find the Republicans in the GOP

February 4, 2021

Today Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) proposed giving at least $3000 annually per child to American families. This suggestion is coming from a man who, when he ran as the Republican candidate for president in 2012, famously echoed what was then Republican orthodoxy. He was caught on tape saying that “there are 47 percent of the people who… are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”

Romney’s proposal indicates the political tide has turned away from the Republicans. Since the 1980s, they have insisted that the government must be starved, dismissing as “socialism” Democrats’ conviction that the government has a role to play in stabilizing the economy and society.

And yet, that idea, which is in line with traditional conservatism, was part of the founding ideology of the Republican Party in the 1850s. It was also the governing ideology of Romney’s father, George Romney, who served as governor of Michigan from 1963 to 1969, where he oversaw the state’s first income tax, and as the secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Richard Nixon, where he tried to increase housing for the poor and desegregate the suburbs. It was also at the heart of Romney’s own record in Massachusetts, where as governor from 2003 to 2007, he ushered in the near-universal health care system on which the Affordable Care Act was based.

But in the 1990s, Republican leadership purged from the party any lawmakers who embraced traditional Republicanism, demanding absolutely loyalty to the idea of cutting taxes and government to free up individual enterprise. By 2012, Romney had to run from his record, including his major health care victory in Massachusetts. Now, just a decade later, he has returned to the ideas behind it.


First, and most important, President Joe Biden has hit the ground running, establishing a momentum that looks much like that of Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933. Roosevelt had behind him stronger majorities than Biden’s, but both took office facing economic crises—and, in Biden’s case, a pandemic as well, along with the climate crisis–and set out immediately to address them.

Like FDR, Biden has established the direction of his administration through executive actions: he is just behind FDR’s cracking pace. Biden arrived in the Oval Office with a sheaf of carefully crafted executive actions that put in place policies that voters wanted: spurring job creation, feeding children, rejoining the World Health Organization, pursuing tax cheats, ending the transgender ban in the military, and reestablishing ties to the nation’s traditional allies. Once Biden had a Democratic Senate as well as a House—those two Georgia Senate seats were huge—he was free to ask for a big relief package for those suffering in the pandemic, and now even Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), who had expressed concern about the package, seems to be on board.

FDR’s momentum increased in part because the Republicans were discredited after the collapse of the economy and as Republican leaders turned up as corrupt. Biden’s momentum, too, is likely gathering steam as the Republicans are increasingly tainted by their association with the January 6 insurrection and the attack on the Capitol, along with the behavior of those who continue to support the former president.

The former president’s own behavior is not helping to polish his image. In their response to the House impeachment brief, Trump’s lawyers made the mistake of focusing not on whether the Senate can try a former president but on what Trump did and did not do. That, of course, makes Trump a witness, and today Jamie Raskin (D-MD), the lead impeachment manager, asked him to testify.

Trumps’ lawyers promptly refused but, evidently anticipating his refusal, Raskin had noted in the invitation that “[i]f you decline this invitation, we reserve any and all rights, including the right to establish at trial that your refusal to testify supports a strong adverse inference regarding your actions (and inaction) on January 6, 2021.” In other words: “Despite his lawyers’ rhetoric, any official accused of inciting armed violence against the government of the United States should welcome the chance to testify openly and honestly—that is, if the official had a defense.”

The lack of defense seems to be mounting. This morning, Jason Stanley of Just Security called attention to the film shown at the January 6 rally just after Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani spoke. Stanley explained how it was an explicitly fascist film, designed to show the former president as a strong fascist leader promising to protect Americans against those who are undermining the country: the Jews. Stanley also pointed out that, according to the New York Times, the rally was “a White House production” and that Trump was deeply involved with the details.

Trump’s supporters are not cutting a good figure, either. Today, by a vote of 230-199, the House of Representatives voted to strip new Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) of her assignments to the Budget Committee and the Education and Labor Committee. It did so after reviewing social media posts in which she embraced political violence and conspiracy theories. This leaves Greene with little to do but to continue to try to gin up media attention and to raise money.


House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) had declined to take action against Greene—although in 2019 he stripped assignments from Steve King (R-IA) for racist comments– and only eleven Republicans joined the majority. The Republican Party is increasingly associated with the Trump wing, and that association will undoubtedly grow as Democrats press it in advertisements, as they have already begun to do.

McConnell has called for the party’s extremists to be purged out of concern that voters are turning away from the party. Still, the struggle between the two factions might be hard to keep out of the news as the Senate turns to confirmation hearings for Biden’s nominee to head the Department of Justice, Merrick Garland.

Going forward, the attorney general will be responsible for overseeing any prosecutions that come from the attempt to overturn the election, and the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will question Garland, has on it three Republican senators involved in that attempt. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has been accused by Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger of calling before Trump did to get him to alter the state’s vote count. Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Josh Hawley (R-MO) both joined in challenging the counting of the electoral votes.

It is hard to imagine the other senators at the hearing will not bring the three compromised senators into the discussion. The Republicans have so far refused to schedule Garland’s hearing, although now that the Senate is organized under the Democrats, it will happen soon.

Trump Republicans are betting the former president’s endorsement will win them office in the future. But with social media platforms cracking down on his disinformation, his ability to reach voters is not at all what it used to be, making it easier for members of the other faction to jump ship.

In addition, those echoing Trump’s lies are getting hit in their wallets. Today, the voting systems company Smartmatic sued the Fox News Channel and its personalities Maria Bartiromo, Lou Dobbs, and Jeanine Pirro, along with Giuliani and Trump’s legal advisor Sidney Powell, for at least $2.7 billion in damages for lying about Smartmatic machines in their attempt to overturn the election results.

Republicans rejecting the Trump takeover of the party are increasingly outspoken. Not only has Romney called for a measure that echoes Biden’s emphasis on supporting children and families, but also Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) today released a video attacking the leaders of his state’s Republican Party after hearing that they planned to censure him for speaking out against the former president.

“If that president were a Democrat, we both know how you’d respond. But, because he had ‘Republican’ behind his name, you’re defending him,” Sasse said. “Something has definitely changed over the last four years … but it’s not me.”

We are pleased to be presenting daily posts from Heather Cox Richardson’s “Letters From an American” email newsletter. You can sign up to receive it in your inbox here.

Heather Cox Richardson

Heather Cox Richardson teaches American history at Boston College. She is the author of a number of books, most recently, How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America. She writes the popular nightly newsletter Letters from an American. Follow her on Twitter: @HC_Richardson.