Opinion | The Triumph of the Anti-Legislator

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Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama spent a solid decade toiling in the House, with little to show for it beyond a bill renaming a local post office. Then came Jan. 6. An enthusiastic supporter of Mr. Trump’s big lie that the 2020 presidential election was rigged, Mr. Brooks was one of only a couple of House members to speak at the Stop the Steal rally that immediately preceded the attack on the U.S. Capitol. The horrors of that day somehow convinced Mr. Brooks that he’s Senate material. In fact, he says the blowback he received from his involvement in the rally upped his name recognition and improved his standing among the base. It certainly improved his standing with Mr. Trump, who recently endorsed Mr. Brooks for the Senate.

And what is there to say about Representative Lauren Boebert of Colorado, other than “Welcome to the decadent phase of American democracy”?

The Republican Party has been shifting its focus away from governing and toward reactionary demagogy and obstructionism for a while now. During the Obama years, the party’s House conference experienced major churn, as new members rode into town in on the promise of thwarting the president’s every move. The conservative Tea Partyers put mainstream, establishment Republicans on the defensive, and the House Freedom Caucus devoted itself to making sure its own leadership did not even think about bipartisan compromise. By the end of Mr. Obama’s tenure, the House Republican conference was dominated by lawmakers who had no idea what their job entailed beyond bomb throwing.

Over in the Senate, Republican leader Mitch McConnell is famous for caring not a whit about legislating. His party’s longest-serving Senate leader, he instead has devoted his energy to pushing through conservative judges, which he sees as a more enduring legacy. Even legislative initiatives from his own team have been left to wither.

Going back farther, you can trace the roots of modern Republican obstructionism at least to the tenure of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, credited by many as the man who broke Congress. It is true that he did much to promote political dysfunction. But the Republican revolutionaries of 1994 also had a robust policy agenda they were selling — a Contract With America, if you will. Mr. Gingrich had many big ideas, even if they were awful. What do the likes of Mr. Gaetz and Ms. Greene have? Nothing but ’tude.

But that is precisely what many Republican voters crave these days — especially after four years of marinating in Mr. Trump’s rhetorical bile. What is governing compared to owning the libs? Profiles in courage compared to tales of grievance?

Mr. McCloskey may, in fact, wind up being an ideal choice for a Republican senator. And after that, who knows? With enough attitude, maybe even the White House.

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