But it’s troubling that Collins’ announcement is worth writing about.
Republicans should find it easy to vote for Jackson. She is one of the most qualified people ever chosen for court, and her elevation will not change her philosophical makeup. Collins’ vote can be read as a quiet rebuke to the outrageous smear campaign hardline Republican members of the Judiciary Committee mounted against Jackson during his recent confirmation hearings and since.
Their escapade was not unique. Extremism has become central to what it means to be a Republican, which was not the case when Collins began his career in 1975 as a staffer for William S. Cohen, a Republican congressman who is then became a senator and then secretary of defense to President Bill Clinton.
Yes, a Republican agreed to serve under a Democratic president, and a figure like Cohen is almost inconceivable in the GOP now. Liberal Republicans – figures such as Jacob Javits of New York or Clifford Case of New Jersey – have completely disappeared.
The conventional GOP view of today is true as far as it goes: that Donald Trump’s enduring popularity with the party’s core voters compels reasonable Republicans to turn into moral pretzels.
They may report from time to time that they realize Trump is a dangerous liar, but they know they can’t be fully crossed with the roughly two-thirds of GOP voters who think President Biden hasn’t not been legitimately elected.
Moreover, the party’s energy remains with the extremists, judging by many primaries this year. Watch the GOP nomination battle for the seat of retired Republican Senator from Ohio, Rob Portman, a relatively moderate conservative.
Time magazine’s Philip Elliott took readers on a spirited tour through what he called “conservative fantasy’s greatest hits” that rang out during last week’s debate between potential Portman successors: “Massive ballot collection operations in urban areas. Jail for Dr. Anthony Fauci. A defense of Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Madison Cawthorn. Hunter Biden’s Laptop and Joe Biden’s Family Crime Syndicate. A total deportation of immigrants to the country illegally and the reinstatement of Donald Trump in the White House as soon as possible.
A statement from three-time Senate nominee Josh Mandel captured the mood: “To all RINOs and media elites, the 2020 election was stolen from Donald J. Trump.
Yet, despite having great visibility today, the far right has deep roots in Republican history. Remember the heyday of the John Birch Society in the early 1960s. of the Senate for the appointment of Justice Robert Bork to the Supreme Court in 1987.
The Birchers were proud of their ‘Impeach Earl Warren’ billboards, targeting the Liberal Chief Justice who presided over the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision ending school segregation. They even sponsored an Impeach Earl Warren Essay Contest. (Warren, by the way, was a Republican.)
But while the GOP then welcomed far-right votes, its leaders largely kept extremists at bay until Fox News, significant parts of the tea party and the Trump movement managed to mainstream conspiracy theories, the far-right appeals and increasingly violent rhetoric that became reality with the January 6, 2021, Capitol bombing.
What changed? It’s not just that the moderate and liberal Republicans who most directly and forcefully took on the mad fringe in ancient times have been largely driven out of the party. It’s also that the remaining mainstream conservatives are so dependent on the votes and energy of crackpots and fanatics that they hold back and stall. To paraphrase the title of a far-right book from the 1960s: No one dares talk about extremism.
This is a huge problem for our democracy. The nation needs a reasonable centre-right party. The GOP is trying to impersonate one. But Republicans make themselves unfit for the role as long as they are more eager to sideline Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) than Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), and as long as they tolerate or even embrace the McCarthy style that defined Jackson’s treatment.
As for Susan Collins’ vote, she would have had a lot more company once. Now she’s part of a party that seems eager to channel those old Birch Society billboards.