Among the many betrayals of our democracy we witnessed this week, perhaps none were more disheartening than seeing our own Steve Scalise join the dark forces trying to overturn an American election.
Scalise built a political career that brought him great respect and made Metairie and LSU proud. Through intelligence and hard work and friendships, he rose to be the second most powerful congressional Republican. He was Louisiana’s most consequential congressman since Hale Boggs. Who knows what his future might hold, perhaps even the speakership of the House?
But at a critical moment this week, Scalise had to choose between loyalty to the Constitution or loyalty to his own politics and ambitions. He made the wrong decision.
Scalise’s political skills were on full display during Donald Trump’s tumultuous presidency. He was guided by respect for the office, overlooking behavior that made many of us cringe, and he built a constructive relationship. And a poor state like Louisiana needs as much help as it can get from the man who prints the money, especially in a year of storms and sicknesses when federal fiscal restraint seemed to vanish entirely.
Donald Trump won the 2016 election legitimately, and he lost in 2020 the same way. Our Republican friends like to point out that Democrats worked to undermine Trump’s presidency, though the principal vehicle of that effort, the Mueller investigation, was actually started by Trump’s own appointees.
In any event, nothing that occurred in 2016 or over the past four years can compare with Trump’s petulant refusal to concede, his false claims that fraudulent voting cost him an election that he in fact lost decisively, his disruptive tweets that encouraged supporters to lawlessness reminiscent of the 1960s.
Other, more courageous Republicans knew when to jump off the Trump train, like Mitch McConnell and our own Bill Cassidy, who stands tall among Louisiana’s Republican congressional cowards. Some, like Clay Higgins and John N. Kennedy, are so shallow and calculating that we were not surprised by their willingness to ignore the will of the American people.
Garret Graves seems to be trying to have it both ways, supporting the challenge to Pennsylvania’s electors while denying the Arizona challenge. His statement, though nearly 750 words long, offers no evidence of fraud in Pennsylvania.
But none were as disappointing as Scalise. Wednesday morning, he released a 200-word statement. After working for weeks to undermine faith in the vote, he cynically asserted that “every American deserves to have complete confidence that our elections are free, fair, and secure.”
In defending an effort to steal an election, he said “we must stand up for the rule of law.”
Scalise could have stood for principle and explained to his voters the perils of undermining our democracy. His constituents are unlikely to punish him for his vote and he may go far in politics. But his betrayal will always blight him and haunt our republic.