There’s a reason why, until recently, Republicans thoroughly dominated the state legislatures in moderate states like Pennsylvania and Michigan: right wing voters and donors were heavily invested in winning these kinds of elections and quietly having this kind of state level control.
There’s also a reason why these same state legislatures are now controlled by Democrats: liberal and moderate voters and donors have fully had enough of Republicans’ crap. The arrival of Donald Trump six years ago, and all the unfettered right wing aggression that came with it, prompted normal Americans to become just as heavily invested in politics as right wingers have long been.
After the downfall and ouster of Trump two years ago, the lesson Republicans should have learned was that if you quietly hold more power than you should, and you intend to use it for corrupt or evil purposes, flaunting that power is not a smart idea. Trump couldn’t shut up about all the awful things that he was doing, making it harder for people like Mitch McConnell to keep getting away with what they’d always been getting away with.
So you’d think that in a red state like Tennessee, where Republicans still thoroughly control the state legislature, they’d have had the sense to have just kept quiet about the power they held. But the minute protesters began trying to draw any amount of attention to the Republican state legislature’s refusal to act on gun reform, those Republicans responded by putting all the attention on themselves with the expulsion of two Black Democrats who dared to stand alongside the protesters.
It’s not difficult to figure out what they were trying to do. As I wrote yesterday, they figured they could create this new controversy with the expulsions that would take the attention and momentum away from the gun reform controversy, and then once the expulsion story died down, they’d be free of both controversies. But wow did they ever miscalculate.
Have these Tennessee Republicans not looked around the nation lately? Did they not see how things have shifted? Have they not figured out that normal mainstream Americans are now just as broadly invested in politics as the right wing minority always has been? Did they not see the Democrats just win a statewide election in the “swing” state of Wisconsin by double digits? Did they really think that blatant racism – even in their red state of Tennessee – was going to be a winning issue for them? And in this era, did they really expect anyone to back down and cower to them?
Justin Jones was back in his seat yesterday, after the Nashville city council unanimously appointed him to fill his own vacated seat. Justin Pearson will be back in his seat tomorrow. There’s been some buzz that Tennessee Republicans might try to punish local municipalities financially for this. But if they try anything like that, they’ll just be digging themselves an even deeper hole.
You really just have to wonder what era these Tennessee Republicans thought they were living in, when they decided that a stunt this stupid, and this racist, was somehow going to work out for them. All they’ve done is take a giant spotlight and shine it on themselves. A week ago, almost no one was focused on the abusive power that the Republican supermajority in the Tennessee legislature has long held. Now everyone is focused on it. Trump taught the Republicans to always loudly flaunt their abuses of power instead of abusing power quietly – and they’re still following his playbook, even though it got him booted out of office and criminally indicted.
You’d think sooner or later these Republicans would figure out that they learned all the wrong lessons from Donald Trump. You’d think they’d look around and see that they’re merely putting their own power in jeopardy by behaving the way they are. But it’s as if they’re incapable of learning. Tennessee Republicans likely just cost themselves their supermajority in the state legislature. Maybe even more. And these Republicans will just keep on losing power for as long as they keep loudly and arrogantly abusing the power that they do have left.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report