by Andy Schmookler
I spent 20 months (in 2011-12) running against Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA06). 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 the Goodlatte was inherently a basic Republican who might have preferred being part of a normal and reasonably decent political party, but who was also 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 word, I believed that he would have fit comfortably into an essentially normal American Party.
By “opportunist,” I meant that his personal ambition was such that – whether or not he’d have preferred his party to have remained decent – he was entirely willing to sell his soul to the GOP even as it became increasingly indecent, dishonest, and morally bankrupt — so long as being a loyal party hack 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. I can see no 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. What else could he 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 been 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. And Goodlatte – as Chair of the House Judiciary Committee – has occupied a position central to the process the Constitution would require in the face of lawless, corrupt, and out-of-control President like Donald Trump.
But Goodlatte has been a leader in attacking American law enforcement to protect the President, rather than the Constitution he took an oath to defend.
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). The retiring Goodlatte is thus departing wit a place in history as a veritable hit-man for our current vicious Republican President.
But “grandstanding “ means playing to impress an audience. And it is far from clear to me what audience Goodlatte would have any desire – or, rationally, would have any need – to impress.
Which leads me wondering: why has Goodlatte chosen to play such an ugly role? Surely, it will make even more foul his place in history.
Is there some other payoff he envisions, while out of office, which would motivate him to remain in the good graces of the Republican base, or the Party bigwigs, or Trump himself?
Or is he perhaps so hooked into evil so deeply that he is now drawn to it?
I really now do not have a working model to explain what makes Goodlatte tick. But the old model I formed back when I ran against him surely will not work.
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 decency plays no role in who Bob Goodlatte is now.