Custer to the Cavalry: "Carry on, men. I'm going to be spending more time with my family."
Custer to the Cavalry: "Carry on, men. I'm going to be spending more time with my family."
Everett Historical via Shutterstock

Leading, Following or Getting Out of the Way: Guess What Moderate Republicans Are Doing

Wow. This does not feel like our finest hour. Joe Straus, Republican of San Antonio, just announced he will not seek re-election in 2018 after five terms as speaker of the Texas House. U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, is bailing. So is Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake.

They all have high-sounding words to say about why — good of the country, better able to serve, time with family and so on. But I’m starting to feel like a guy on the decks of the Titanic before the panic started on that fateful night, and I notice that a lot of suits are crowding in very close to the lifeboats.

“Splendid craftsmanship, these boats,” they say.

“I'll say,” they say, lifting Champagne glasses to the boats.

Yeah. So how about you let me ooch in there between you and the lifeboats, guv’ners? Or should I say, former guv’ners?

You can’t help watching this many guys go over the side and not start wondering what they know. I’ve never heard so many high-sounding words about taking a powder.

Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer has been quoted as saying, “I would be willing, yes glad, to see a battle every day during my life.” He didn’t say, “Unfortunately, my kid has a soccer game tomorrow.”

Something serious is going on. Straus taking a powder is not like anybody else in Texas taking a powder. Right after he made his announcement, I had a lunch with a veteran Texas politics observer, and I asked him what he thought Straus’ main role has been.

Without batting an eye, he said, “Standing between us and Satan.”

People who have known the Texas Legislature for a long time can remember when Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, cowboys and metrosexuals all fought tooth and nail with each other all day long on the House and Senate floors, then went out on the town that night in Austin drinking and boot-scootin’ together. Now the Legislature is being taken over by no-eye-blink fanatics who turn their backs on anybody who isn’t a member of their secret order.

I don’t believe in historical hyperbole or drawing extreme parallels just to make a point, but the people taking over Austin now are of the Non Associative Zero Interaction school of thought, you know the Neo Adscititious Zendic Illuvial type, you know the Neoteric Abigensian Zealous Iphigenian type. If you catch my drift.

What my lunch-mate meant was that it was nice having Straus where he was, between us and them, maybe not so nice not having him there anymore.

In making his announcement, Straus said: “We have accomplished what I had hoped the House would accomplish when I first entered this office, and I am increasingly eager to contribute to our state in new and different ways.”

Like rowing?

Three different reactions to impending civilizational doom. Well, two (Flake, Churchill and Straus).
Three different reactions to impending civilizational doom. Well, two (Flake, Churchill and Straus).
Christopher Halloran/Yuosuf Karsh/Wikimedia Commons

When Corker announced he wouldn’t run again, he said, “When I ran for the Senate in 2006, I told people that I couldn't imagine serving for more than two terms.”

That seems a bit legalistic under the circumstances. Back on the metaphorical Titanic, I feel like some big-shot officer is crowding in ahead of me waving a contract in my face:

“Right here, paragraph seven, subparagraph four, clause B, ‘Legitimate grounds for resignation.’ Read it and weep, sucker.”

Give Flake credit. At least he admitted it was the iceberg, one named Trump. In announcing he will not run for re-election, Flake said: “The notion that one should say and do nothing in the face of such mercurial behavior is ahistoric and, I believe, profoundly misguided.”

First of all, what does ahistoric mean? Wait. I see what he’s doing there. He wants me to argue with him about ahistoric while he gets my seat.

It’s the combination of things. On the one hand, these sudden defections tell us that these guys know something, something bad. On the other hand, this isn’t the reaction for which one might have hoped.

What if Abraham Lincoln had said this, instead, on Nov. 19, 1863: “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. I quit.”

I try to imagine FDR on March 4, 1933, saying, “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. Personally, I’m going home after this and climbing under my bed.”

Or Churchill on June 4, 1940: “You people go fight on the beaches, fight on the landing grounds, in the fields and in the streets, et cetera. I will be in my bunker, drinking heavily.”

Any of us can understand the reasoning. They don’t want to go down fighting, but isn’t that what they all told us they would do?

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