The Vanishing Courage of Mike Gallagher
Wisconsin congressman took a stand against Republican lies and then turned chicken.
There was an Errol Flynn-like swashbuckler feel to Republican congressman Mike Gallagher’s description of his actions during the January 6 Capitol riot. The former Marine officer, who completed two tours of duty in Iraq, recalled that as the rioters busted into the Capitol building and began calling for Vice President Mike Pence to be hung, he grabbed his ceremonial Marine sword. “I took my sword from its display case on the wall of my congressional office, it seemed like the most practical weapon with which I could defend myself.”
Gallagher and his staff “covered up my nameplate marking our office door, took down the Wisconsin flag in order to use its pole as another weapon, and barricaded the doors with desks. We left a window open as a decoy,” the congressman recalls.
Gallagher condemned the Capitol riot, saying “This is insane, I have not seen anything like this since I deployed to Iraq in 2007 and 2008.” And he blamed President Donald Trump for the problem, saying “The president needs to call it off…. It’s over. The election’s over, and the objectors need to stop meddling with the primal forces of our democracy here.”
Gallagher had always fashioned himself as less ideological than many Republicans. The most recent ranking by the all-important American Conservative Union Foundation found Gallagher agreed with their position on the issues 64% of the time, compared to 81% for Bryan Steil, 85% for Glenn Grothman and 90% for F. James Sensenbrenner, the longtime dean of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation, who was replaced this year by arch-conservative Scott Fitzgerald.
Yes, Gallagher stood out as the state’s only GOP profile in courage. Until he didn’t.
He fell on his sword just a week later, joining every other member of the state’s Republican congressional delegation to vote against the second impeachment of Trump. His speech was a head-spinning feat of contradictory rhetoric that both condemned and mollified Trump. “First, let’s be candid,” Gallagher declared. “President Donald Trump bears responsibility for the tragic events of Jan. 6. He lied to his supporters, insisted that his ‘sacred landslide’ election was stolen, and suggested that Vice President Mike Pence should or even could reverse the outcome. He then dithered for hours as the vice president, the Congress and its employees were in mortal danger, castigating Pence as a coward.”
By then, just one week after the riot, it was clear that the Republican establishment was afraid to cross Trump. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had made a pilgrimage to Mar-a-Logo to bow down to Trump.
And Wisconsin was clearly still on the Trump bandwagon. Of 100 state legislators nationally who wrote Vice-President Pence asking they he refuse to certify Biden’s election 15 of them were from Wisconsin. Wisconsin also had two Congressmen, Tom Tiffany and Fitzgerald, who voted to challenge the election results, even after the Trump mob broke into the Capitol.
There was speculation among Wisconsin Republicans that Gallagher might face a primary opponent. Meanwhile, a trial balloon by Reince Priebus, that he was considering running for governor seemed to fall flat, because the state’s Republican faithful felt Priebus, who served faithfully as Trump’s chef of staff before he was rudely dumped, was insufficiently loyal to the president.
And so Gallagher has made sure to get back on the Republican crazy train, joining the state’s entire congressional delegation in voting against stripping Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee assignments, even after she threatened violence against other House members. Gallagher is also expected to vote for the removal of Rep. Liz Cheney as the House Republican Conference Chair, the number three House leader, for her sin of continuing to blame Trump for the Capitol Riot — something Gallagher and McCarthy both did. Until they didn’t.
But not for today’s version of the party. McCarthy’s most recent move was to hire a new political director, Brian Jack, who previously served as Trump’s political director. This is a man who helped plan the January 6 riot that helped put the lives of House and Senate members in danger. And now he is overseeing McCarthy’s political strategy.
All of which leaves Gallagher still vaguely suspect for his sin of once criticizing Trump. Which means he dare not vote against the removal of Cheney.
As CNN columnist Chris Cillizza has written, the fall of Cheney offers a clear warning to every Republican politician: “The message? This is Trump’s party and anyone — ANYONE — who doesn’t get in line behind him at all times no matter what will be severely punished.”
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