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Andy Schmookler: Bob Goodlatte, worse than I thought

Andy Schmookler

I spent 20 months (in 2011-12) running against Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Roanoke). So naturally I gave a lot of thought to the man, trying to see him clearly and understand what made him tick.

What I came to believe was that Goodlatte was inherently a basic Republican who likely would have preferred being part of a normal and reasonably decent political party. But at the same time, I saw him also as an opportunist.

By “basic Republican,” I mean that when he entered the political arena (he was first elected to Congress in 1992, having worked his way up in Republican circles for some years before that), he was oriented toward being part of the Republican Party that had given us the likes of Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and the first Bush.

In other words, I believed that he would have fit most happily into an essentially normal American Party.

By “opportunist,” I meant that his personal ambition was such that – even if he’d have preferred his party to have remained decent – he was entirely willing to serve the GOP even as it became increasingly dishonest and corrupt, if being loyal to such a party would get him the power and status that he desired.

But now I feel compelled to conclude that I was wrong. The truth about Goodlatte is evidently darker.

What compels me to revise my image of Goodlatte is his disgraceful behavior since his (surprising) announcement some months ago that he was retiring from Congress. He has continued to act like a party hack even as the Republican Party has become still more morally bankrupt, and even though there’s no apparent way his current sins can serve his ambitions.

At the age of 65, Goodlatte – having given up a secure seat in the House of Representatives – seems unlikely to run for some other, higher office. Even if he wanted to get elected to the Senate, it seems unlikely that there will be an opening for any Virginia Republican in the foreseeable future, with Kaine and Warner looking strong for holding their seats. Nor does Goodlatte seem likely to find a way to become governor of the state.

So it seems reasonable to me to imagine that when Goodlatte decided to step down from representing Virginia’s 6th Congressional District, he intended never to compete in an election again. So if he’s finished with elections, and finished with Congress, what else is there for him to buy with the proceeds of selling his soul?

So the question arises: Why, as Goodlatte’s party has gone even further into darkness, would Goodlatte be willing to be a leading figure in some of the most disgraceful behavior ever seen in Congress?

That “disgraceful behavior” has involved the Republican Party – now become the “Trump Party” – acting as an accomplice in Trump’s assault on the rule of law, and persistent effort to obstruct justice.

(American parties are always motivated to support their presidents. But never until now has a party gone to such lengths – involving itself in his crimes – as what we’ve seen this year from this “Trump Party.”)

Goodlatte has been central to this Republican complicity: as chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Goodlatte has occupied a position central to the process the Constitution would require in the face of a president showing the kind of lawlessness and corruption almost daily by Mr. Trump.

But rather than upholding the Constitution he took an oath to defend, Chairman Goodlatte has been a leader in launching disingenuous attacks on American law enforcement to protect the president from the rule of law.

Goodlatte’s own son has lately described as “my father’s political grandstanding” the way that Goodlatte (along with Trey Gowdy and others) attacked and demeaned a respectable FBI counter-terrorism expert (Peter Strzok).

Thus the departing Goodlatte – far from returning to some greater Republican integrity — has earned a place in history as a veritable hit-man for this Republican president whose own place in history grows more shameful by the day.

But “grandstanding” means playing to impress an audience. And it is far from clear what audience Goodlatte would have any desire – or, rationally, would have any need – to impress.

Which is what leads to my wondering why Goodlatte has chosen to play such an ugly role?

Is there some other payoff he envisions – some future benefit apart from elective office, and apart from climbing the party hierarchy — which would motivate him to do whatever is necessary to remain in the good graces of the pro-Trump Republican base, or the party bigwigs, or Trump himself?

Or has he served the forces of darkness so long that perhaps he is now drawn to it?

I must confess: I really now do not have a working model to explain what makes Goodlatte tick. But it seems clear that the old model I formed back when I ran against him fails to explain him.

Whether or not it was ever true that he might have more happily served as part of a decent Republican Party, his conduct since opting out of the electoral battle suggests that political “decency” is not a concern of the Bob Goodlatte we see now.

Andy Schmookler – who was the Democratic nominee for Congress in Virginia’s 6th District in 2012 — is a prize-winning author whose series “A Better Human Story” can be found at www.abetterhumanstory.org.

 

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