Whose views are our Congressional representatives supposed to represent – their constituents’ views or their own views as to what’s best for the nation AND their constituents?
This question has come into play as the Republican Party wrestles with its future.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, recently elected Georgia representative, openly espouses the QAnon conspiracy theory and has publicly advocated that someone put a bullet in the head of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. On the other side is third-ranking Wyoming Republican representative Liz Cheney who was one of 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach President Donald Trump after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Greene’s position represents what the Lumen American Government website defines as the delegate model of representation: A representative who is “empowered to enact the wishes of constituents.”
Cheney’s decision to vote for impeachment has caused a major furor in deeply red, deeply Trump-supporting Wyoming. Many supporters there want to remove her from office for not supporting her constituents’ views. Cheney is acting under what Lumen defines as the trustee model of representation: a representative looks to a range of sources, including her own personal views, when voting.
Last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell came out with a strong statement against Rep. Greene, calling her a cancer on the Republican Party. Paradoxically, House Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has been silent about Greene. Instead, he openly traveled to Mar-a-Lago, Florida to speak with former President Trump, asking him to endorse and campaign for Republican candidates. Greene defiantly states that she has 100 percent support from Trump although his subordinates have not made such an open proclamation.
It seems there is a civil war boiling beneath the surface of the post-2020 election Republican Party. The question is: Who really does it represent? Does it reflect Trump supporters only, or are more traditional Republicans also represented? The Republican leadership must decide whether they’re going to continue to support Trump’s lies and denials, or whether they will face the facts and dump Trump. Republican membership has been decreasing across the nation while Republican leaders vacillate over which representative model to adhere to.
The failed 45-5 Republican vote in the Senate to declare the impeachment trial unconstitutional seems to indicate they will follow the delegate model. In doing so, they will have to ignore the attempted coup to overthrow Congress and the results of the 2020 election. This vote makes it more likely that another attempted coup will occur in the future.
Trump and the Republican leadership have placed themselves in this bind between the two representation philosophies because they have been more concerned with gaining power than representing the common good. They have been unwilling or unable to balance the tension between delegate and trustee models.
They must learn to live in the tension between representing the will of their constituents and doing what is good for the nation as a whole. The survival of the Republican Party as we know it hangs in the balance.
The problem that brought them to this crisis is that Republican leadership was silent when Trump manipulated his followers into believing him rather than facing reality. Now they have two monsters to deal with, Trump and his claims of election fraud and his desire to regain power, and Trump’s supporters, many of whom favor racism and revolution over rationality and reason.
The Republicans dug a pit to gain power. Now they have fallen into it. The Republican leadership doesn’t know how to get out of their dilemma without destroying a large portion of their support. The best solution is for the Republican leadership to denounce Trump and his lies and convict him in the Senate impeachment trial. Republican Sen. Mitt Romney stated that Trump’s followers must be told the truth. That option seems unlikely at this point.
What does this portend? In earlier times, the Federalists, a forerunner of the Republican Party, threatened secession over the War of 1812. The Federalists died. The Whig Party of the 1840s, another forerunner, died over the slavery issue, eventually morphing into the Republican Party and the anti-immigrant Know Nothings in the 1850s.
Eventually, truth will triumph. It always does. Living in the tension between philosophies of representation is a sign of political maturity. The problem is how much damage to the nation and to our founding ideals will occur in the process? We’re about to find out. You remember thinking 2020 was a bad year? Just wait.