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May 08, 2014 1:15 PM Placating the Base With Show Trials

By Ed Kilgore

Sometimes WaPo columnist Dana Milbank gets too carried away with regarding politics as just another form of entertainment. But he’s right on point as treating the elevation of Trey Gowdy into the Vyshinksy position in the upcoming Benghazi! show trials as part and parcel of the Republican Establishment’s efforts to keep a lid on the Tea Folk by adopting their POV:

Rep. Trey Gowdy, the tea party Republican tapped to lead the new committee investigating the 2012 Benghazi attacks, made a telling slip Wednesday morning in describing his mission.
Asked by MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough about the possibility that his panel’s work would continue into the 2016 election campaign, Gowdy replied that “if an administration is slow-walking document production, I can’t end a trial simply because the defense won’t cooperate.”
A trial? And the Obama administration is the defense? So much for that “serious investigation” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) promised; his new chairman intends to play prosecutor, proving the administration’s guilt to the jury — in this case, the public.
As a legal matter, Gowdy, a volcanic former prosecutor, is on shaky ground declaring his committee a court and his investigation a trial. But his honesty is refreshing, and it confirms what seemed implicit in Boehner’s selection of the second-term South Carolinian to head the panel over more experienced and less combative colleagues.

And here’s the connection to the broader currents in the GOP:

In a broader sense, Gowdy’s rapid ascent in the party fits closely with what House Republicans are doing in this midterm election year: abandoning any pretense of legislating in favor of unremitting hostilities with the White House.
Gowdy, who deploys courtroom theatrics on the House floor and in committee hearings, often wears his gray hair long and slicked back and has gained attention for wild-eyed, high-volume bursts of pious indignation. The rise of another Southern white male to the top of the GOP probably won’t improve its demographic difficulties, but Gowdy’s climb is a key example of how the Republican Party has blunted the tea party threat in large part by co-opting the movement.
On Wednesday, Republicans were celebrating victories Tuesday night by establishment candidates in primaries in North Carolina and elsewhere; Boehner resoundingly defeated a primary challenge on a night that was kind to incumbents. But much of this recovery of the Republican establishment comes from establishment figures talking and acting like right-wing insurgents — particularly in their zeal to expose wrongdoing in the Obama administration.

Beating them by joining them is the ticket. And there’s no better way to join them than with Benghazi!

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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