The Mercury News

In politics it's all about nastiness, party loyalty

- By Mark Z. Barabak Mark Z. Barabak is a Los Angeles Times columnist. © 2023 Los Angeles Times. Distribute­d by Tribune Content Agency.

Last weekend, the Texas Republican Party voted to punish one of its own.

Tony Gonzales, a twoterm congressma­n from San Antonio, was censured for, among other things, backing a modest gun safety law after 19 children and two teachers were slaughtere­d at an elementary school in Uvalde.

The day after the party issued its condemnati­on, Texas Rep. Ronny Jackson appeared on Fox News (motto: “Lying to viewers for fun and profit”) where he cracked wise about the removal of a cancerous growth from President Biden's chest.

“Biden is the cancer,” the Amarillo Republican said. “He's what needs to be removed, not the lesion they found.”

There has been no clamor among Texas Republican­s to sanction Jackson for his callous and tasteless remark, and none is expected.

Together, the events — though unrelated — say a good deal about the state of our politics and, especially, the nature of the Trumpified GOP.

Forget basic human decency. What counts is pugnacity, acting out and blind, unswerving allegiance to the party line.

For years, Texas' 23rd Congressio­nal District

— a behemoth sprawling hundreds of miles from El Paso to San Antonio — was among the most competitiv­e in the nation.

Gonzales, a former Navy cryptologi­st who served in Iraq and Afghanista­n, won a close race in 2020. He had an easier time of it when he sought reelection in 2022 after the lines were redrawn to give the district a somewhat more Republican tilt.

But it's still competitiv­e by Texas standards, and Gonzales' performanc­e suggests a lawmaker trying to navigate shaky political ground.

His district includes Uvalde and his vote for the gun law following the May 2022 massacre was hardly a radical response; all the legislatio­n did was strengthen background checks, help states implement red-flag laws and boost funding for mental health and school safety. (A lead Republican negotiator was Texas' senior U.S. senator, John Cornyn.)

If the measure came up again, Gonzales told reporters as the state GOP was weighing action against the congressma­n, he would double down in his support.

Another of Gonzales' heresies was voting in favor of legislatio­n that codified same-sex marriage. It “wasn't a tough vote,” he told the Texas Tribune, noting the diversity of his district. “If the Republican Party is gonna grow and thrive, we gotta be open to that.”

Republican­s used to call it “the Big Tent,” and everyone was said to be welcome inside.

But for extremists who have taken over leadership of the GOP in Texas and other states, the emphasis is no longer party-building. It's purges and purity tests.

After Saturday's overwhelmi­ng vote to censure, the state GOP issued a statement accusing the lawmaker of a “lack of fidelity” to Republican “principles and priorities” and all but begged a challenger from his party to step in and take on Gonzales in 2024.

Never mind that someone more rigid and ideologica­l might prevail in a primary but then very likely lose the House seat in November.

In Texas, “you don't get censured for being too far right,” said Cal Jillson, an analyst and political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, or for taking a loud, confrontat­ional stance in favor of guns and against gay rights.

How about making fun of the president having skin cancer?

“Our politics have descended to a level where that's not uncommon,” Jillson noted, adding if that kind of boorish behavior drew more widespread condemnati­on “there would be lots of people being censured very frequently.”

Here's a better idea. If you'd like to see more compromise and bipartisan­ship in Washington, vote for someone like Gonzales who shows a willingnes­s to think independen­tly, stand on principle and cross party lines to achieve a greater good.

And ship Jackson out to sea, where he belongs.

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