You don’t want to swim in these political waters. There’s always something lurking below waiting to take a bite out of you.
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Earlier this week, the chair of the Arizona Republican Party, Jeff DeWit, resigned abruptly. He did so after a public airing of a private 2023 discussion in which he urged controversial GOP politician Kari Lake not to seek a US Senate seat this year.
In his letter of resignation, DeWit said he was determined to fight for his position — until he “received an ultimatum from Lake’s team: resign today or face the release of a new, more damaging recording.” (The Lake team denied it.)
In any case, he said in the published recording that big givers didn’t want her to run for Senate, and urged her to again seek the Arizona governorship in 2026, as she had in 2022.
The man was blindsided and bewildered by the turn of events, as he became the focus of attention.
The conversation between himself and Lake had taken place long ago, at a time when Lake worked for a company he owned; he believes his remarks were edited to remove the full context of the conversation before they were released. (The tape was conveniently “leaked” days before Trump was scheduled to appear at a fundraiser for the Arizona GOP.)
Also, in the conversation, he made the point, which has gotten lost in the controversy, that it was not about issues or views, but about Lake’s ability to raise the kind of money needed to succeed in such a race. (Which is, in fact, the kind of thing party chairs do think about — and discuss with candidates.)
Unquestionably, though, the edited tape made him look bad and put Lake, who defiantly ignored his suggestion, in a kind of heroic, self-inflating glow. (“I cannot be bought… not for a billion dollars… This is not about money. This is about our country… This is about defeating Trump, and I think that’s a bad, bad thing for our country.”)
The audio was provided by an Arizona talk show host to the mass-market, conservative UK tabloid the Daily Mail, which has an enormous audience in the US. But it’s pretty obvious that Lake was the one covertly taping DeWit — and so her own statements, ostensibly about principles, were obviously calculated for public consumption, meaning she already was thinking about using the tape.
It was a blow DeWit could not overcome. He resigned immediately. And his reputation is shredded among his party members.
How, he must be wondering, could a fellow Republican, one he had helped, stab him in the back this way?
This man was surprised that an employee manipulated him, secretly recorded him, and used the recording to try to destroy him and benefit herself. (Lake is well known for wearing a small, concealed microphone to secretly record people and weaponize the results.)
As DeWit put it, “I question how effective a United States Senator can be when they cannot be trusted to engage in private and confidential conversations.”
DeWit is now among a growing list of Republican leaders, functionaries, and activists who facilitated the ascent to power of the most vicious and self-serving individuals, and who now find that spawn have come back to feast on their own sponsors and enablers.
This swelling “woe is me” retinue, now disparaged as RINOs, must either fall on their GOP swords and grovel before these home-grown, cannibalistic media stars, or flee to join the party’s ever dwindling moderate resistance involved with entities like the Lincoln Project and The Bulwark.
Lake or Cesspool?
Kari Lake is vicious, but she’s hardly alone, and the ethic of “do anything to win” predated even President Trump.
At first, it was mostly about going after the “enemy.” Recall, for example, the Project Veritas hidden-camera-gotcha-guy, James O’Keefe, who looked for the soft underbelly of poverty organizations, news outfits, and the like, hoping someone would say something indiscreet he could use to damage their organization.
Gradually, though, it became standard issue in the GOP to do battle with anyone you disagree with, and to shed all niceties (as well as honesty) in the battle.
Back in 2014, when Liz Cheney challenged a fellow Republican, the incumbent Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi, a highly deceptive “push poll” appeared, asking, “Are you aware that Liz Cheney supports abortion and aggressively promotes gay marriage?” Cheney is actually “strongly pro-life” and “not pro-gay marriage.” But she ended up dropping out.
During the 2016 GOP primaries, Ted Cruz spread false rumors that Ben Carson was dropping out of the race, and distributed a video that supposedly proved that Marco Rubio doubted the Bible, and appeared to say there are “not many answers” in the Bible. In fact Rubio said the opposite — that the Bible has “all the answers.”
From there, the fray came to the halls of power themselves. Republican lawmakers who voted against Jim Jordan as speaker of the house were subjected to harassing text messages and phone calls — and death threats.
And then, of course, the physical attack on the Capitol and Congress.
Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) was so angry at Trump during the January 6, 2021, attack that, according to former staffers, while hiding from the mob in her office, she talked about confronting the rioters to get them to punch her — so she could become the face of anti-Trump Republicans.
She has now lined up behind Trump’s candidacy. Meanwhile, she faces a bid to unseat her by her own former chief of staff, who is being advised by other ex-staffers frustrated by Mace’s toxic work environment, relentless publicity-seeking, and campaign flip-flops.
The epidemic of bad behavior and ruthlessness is not always so dramatic. Some of it plays out largely under the radar. When it does surface, so inured have we become that most of it doesn’t even occasion outrage, much less censure.
Republicans’ take-no-prisoners style in Congress is well known, but the phenomenon has spread to all parts of the country. On a more infantile level, the GOP leadership in the Missouri state Senate is currently penalizing obstructionist fellow Republicans with whom they’re feuding by demoting them on committees and through petty acts like downgrading their parking privileges. And talk about infantile level: In Michigan, a GOP delegate forced his way into a closed-door meeting, approached the chair of the Clare County Republican Party, and kicked him in the crotch.
To put it bluntly, GOP discourse in the public arena has degenerated to a schoolyard struggle for dominance: In a reflection of right-wing media opinion mongers, it’s all about screwing each other. Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News not only demeaned politics in the country, but got into feuds with its own compatriots. Ever more outlandish media entities emerged to try to take down their comparatively more moderate — if still nastily extreme — competitors.
Who are the heroes in this sordid story? One group of uninspiring contenders includes those who belatedly “did the right thing” by renouncing their own enthusiastic complicity, like Michael Cohen. Then there are those like Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney who at some point broke ranks with a party with a long history of declining standards
As for Lake, she is not just some dangerous, self-serving aberration. She is the embodiment of a political scene in the United States that today is full of people willing to devour their own and sell out the nation in the pursuit of power.
Even worse: while the public may not admire politicians, their behavior too often invites imitation in the larger society.
The cartoon above was created by DonkeyHotey for WhoWhatWhy from these images: Kari Lake caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED), lake (Adrian Grey / Wikimedia – CC BY 3.0 DEED), buoy (Alan Levine / Wikimedia – CC BY 2.0 DEED), snake (lwolfartist / Wikimedia – CC BY 2.0 DEED), plane (Łukasz Golowanow & Maciej Hypś / Wikimedia), tongue (Marathekedar93 / Wikimedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED), flag (Madden / Wikimedia), spikes (Manurathalis / Wikimedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED), sign (Ken Lund / Wikimedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED), grass (James Leesley / Pixabay), sack (Sześcian / Pixabay), logo (Republican Party / Wikimedia), and cattails (Arto J / Wikimedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED).