What Is a "Republican"?

If it doesn't look like a duck and it doesn't quack like a duck . . .

Mark it on you calendar: This week I make my triumphant return to Thursday Night Bulwark.

1. A Is A

A philosophical question: What is a “Republican”?

This isn’t like asking “What is a giraffe?” Being “a Republican” is more of an immaterial truth and there is a great deal of both self-image and subjectivity involved in the definition.

But self-image and subjectivity don’t negate the possibility of there being something like absolute truth.

For instance, if Peter Singer were to announce “I’m a Republican” without changing any of his views, we could dismiss his self-definition as meaningless. Peter Singer might vote for Republicans, but he isn’t—his nature is not—Republican in any meaningful way.

We can stipulate that while the question “what is a Republican” is largely subjective, there are some baseline limits which define the limits of possible answers.

So let’s talk about Lisa Murkowski.

Murkowski is the senior senator from Alaska and she identifies as a Republican.

Is she one?

In 2010, the Republican voters of her state rejected Murkowski and she lost her party’s primary. She went on to retain her seat by mounting an independent write-in campaign. After her victory, she continued to caucus with the Republican party.

In 2020, the sitting Republican president of the United States vowed to campaign against Murkowski in 2022.

This weekend the Alaska Republican party voted to censure Murkowski and declared that it was seeking a primary challenger to unseat her.

And as of today Murkowski is . . . still a Republican.


I suppose the Murkowski camp would offer a defense of her absurd self-identification that goes something like this:

The eternal principles of conservatism, from Burke to Oakeshott, are greater than any personality cult and whatever Donald Trump says, Lisa Murkowski is a believer in these true conservative principles which are what define the Republican party.

And if you got a couple of drinks into her campaign staff, they’d probably say something like this:

Look, Alaska has a weird system. Everyone runs in a jungle primary and the top four finishers advance to the general. The Murkowski family brand is Yukon Gold. She’ll finish either first or second, no matter what. And after that, she’ll do what she has to do. For now Murkowski has nothing to lose by staying a Republican. Turning her back on the party has nothing but downside. In Alaskan politics, the name “Murkowski” transcends party power.

The thing is, that first argument is wrong and the second argument isn’t really an argument.

Political parties build their ideologies around a pyramid of ideas and on the defining idea of the Republican party—Trump—Murkowski is not onboard. Any other pieces of policy alignment are incidental.

And as for the idea that Murkowski wouldn’t be helped electorally by leaving the party, that’s a procedural argument that concerns nothing more than the maintenance of power. It has nothing to do with the actual nature of things.

The bigger question, I think, is whether the rest of the country is better off with Murkowski continuing to deny reality.

Maybe it is.

I’m not convinced of that, btw. I can see both sides. Maybe as a prudential matter, having Lisa Murkowski pretend that A is B prevents the authoritarian body of the GOP from adding one more soldier.

Or maybe it’s the other way round and by denying reality Murkowski is providing fungible political power that the authoritarian body of the GOP can use elsewhere, even if they don’t like her.

What I can tell you is that at The Bulwark, we don’t deny reality.

We don’t do fan service.

We tell the truth.

Come With Us

Join Bulwark+

2. This Is a Republican

Some local news from the county where I live:

As debate continues over how to address local affordable housing challenges – and whether to develop the “rural crescent” – a 2019 recording has surfaced of a Republican Prince William supervisor saying that building more apartments in the county will hurt Republicans politically and result in fewer Republican votes. . . .

“These Republicans are just slitting their own throats with approving these apartments,” [Supervisor Pete Candland, R-Gainesville] said. “When you put these apartments in, you’re not getting Joe Republican moving into these apartments. There’s a reason folks are not going to vote for you, and you wonder why the eastern end of the county has not just gone Democrat, it’s solidly blue.”

Huh. Weird.

People in Conservatism Inc. do not like it when I say things like, “Republicans understand that their only path to power in the macro is holding down the number of total votes cast in elections.”

But, you know, there it is.

3. Dishwasher Talk

For the love of all that’s holy, please load your dishwasher correctly:

Don’t dish-wash sharp knives, which will dull. (Butter knives are fine because they are already kinda dull.) Wooden items, like spoons and cutting boards, could warp or crack, so keep them out. Pans, especially of the nonstick variety, don’t belong—they’re bulky and damage-prone. Those twisty reusable straws? Asking for trouble. Essentially, the cardinal rule is this: Don’t put anything in there that you couldn’t (or wouldn’t want to) replace—ceramics, family heirlooms, fine china. . . .

For the most powerful wash, position the tines (sharp doodads) of forks and the bowls of spoons sticking up. And keep knife blades stabbing downwards (for safety). Remember, we’re social distancing: For the water to properly clean every surface, and to minimize scratches, don’t cram too many utensils into the basket at once. Spoons have a tendency to, well, spoon, so try to keep them in different compartments. . . .

Load from back to front to fit in more stuff. Unload from bottom to top so you don’t drip on your dry dishes. Thin plastics (like quart containers and takeout bowls) should live on the top rack to prevent them from melting. . . .

Right after you empty the machine, add the detergent. That way, when you see the soap, you’ll know it’s ready to load. . . .

At 1 a.m. it is very human to want to just shove your cookie sheet or lasagna pan onto the bottom rack and walk away. But you’re going to block the spray arm. And that’s like trying to dust your house by blowing on everything: You’ll look dumb and you’ll make matters worse. Big stuff goes on the sides, and needs to sit at an angle. (Like the cups, remember?)

Read the whole thing.