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The House GOP's unlikely resistance fighter
Ken Buck is mostly terrible. But amid the speakership crisis, bad actors are taking bold stands.
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The ongoing GOP House speakership debacle has been a clownish, humiliating spectacle which has made basically every Republican involved look like a dunderhead unfit to look smug on Sean Hannity’s show, much less govern the country. So it’s all the more surprising that one legislator who has emerged as a figure of resolve is Colorado’s Ken Buck.
Buck has not, up to now, been a figure of integrity, to put it mildly. He’s a radical right Freedom Caucus member who was instrumental in defenestrating former Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Buck was in fact one of the eight Republicans who voted with oleaginous self-promoter Matt Gaetz to end McCarthy’s speakership, plunging the caucus into chaos.
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And yet, suddenly and unexpectedly, Buck has located a spine and used it to stand up to his colleagues. In the leadership forum following McCarthy’s ouster, Buck demanded that the two leading candidates, Steve Scalise and Jim Jordan, state clearly that Joe Biden, not Donald Trump, won the 2020 election. When neither would do so, Buck said he wouldn’t vote for either of them. You have to imagine Buck asking his question during the leadership forum and every single Republican in the room doing a spit take, wiping the coffee off their chins, and having flashbacks to Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger.
Buck’s newfound concern with election integrity doesn’t make him a good person. It does indicate, though, that the GOP House leadership crisis has, perhaps, opened up space for some bad actors to make better choices. And it’s also a reminder that, if the GOP is going to get to a better place, some pretty awful people will need to decide to be — tactically, perhaps temporarily — less awful.
You would never vote for Ken Buck
As you’d expect from a very conservative Republican, Buck’s past — distant and more immediate — is disgraceful. In 2005, as Weld County prosecutor, he refused to prosecute a rape case despite a taped confession because he said a jury “could very well conclude that this is a case of buyer’s remorse.” When he ran for Colorado Senate in 2010, he claimed voters should back him in the primary because he said, unlike his female opponent, “I don’t wear high heels.”
Buck is an anti-abortion extremist who opposes abortions even in cases of incest or rape. In that 2010 campaign, he called homosexuality a choice, and compared it to alcoholism. After his election to the House in 2014, he embraced radical right positions such as trying to defund Defense Department climate change initiatives on the grounds that they would undermine national security. He was one of only two representatives to vote against the bipartisan covid aid package in March 2020. He was one of the 157 Republicans to vote against bipartisan protections for same-sex marriages in 2022. And of course he was one of eight Republicans to vote to oust McCarthy to punish the speaker for using Democratic votes to prevent the government from shutting down.
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Nor has Buck been a consistent defender of democracy. In the run-up to the 2020 election, he asked the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission to investigate postcards sent by the Colorado secretary of state informing people of how to register to vote. Buck framed this innocuous get-out-the-vote effort as a sinister plan to encourage ineligible people to vote. And like many Republicans in the Obama era, Buck was eager to stoke nonsense claims of voter fraud as a pretext for discouraging Democratic constituencies from voting.
Buck also abetted Trump’s big lie. He signed onto Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s lawsuit which attempted to decertify electors in four states that voted against Trump. He also introduced a resolution in the House in support of Trump’s “stop the steal” efforts, demanding that the courts “investigate and bring to justice those who perpetrate election fraud” (there was, of course, no election fraud).
Buck is no longer toeing the MAGA line
If you squint, though, you can also see some precedents for Buck’s abrupt denunciation of Trumpist election lies. Way back in 2010, for example, during his Senate run, he was caught on tape saying, “Will you tell those dumbasses at the Tea Party to stop asking questions about birth certificates while I'm on camera?” Buck, inevitably, semi-apologized, but the inadvertent moment of honesty suggested he was not fully onboard with GOP conspiracy theorizing.
After 2020, Buck, unlike many of his Republican colleagues, voted to certify the election results. He also objected to House Republicans removing Liz Cheney from leadership after she spoke out against Trump’s election lies. He said then too that House Republicans were damaging themselves in national elections by embracing Trumpian conspiracy theories.
More recently, Buck opposed the nonsense Biden impeachment inquiry; he’s also said he won’t support Trump if he’s convicted on any of his many indictments. (Watch Buck explain on CNN why he opposes the impeachment inquiry below.)
Even given these hints of moral fiber, though, Buck’s abrupt decision to make himself the GOP face of principled democracy is something of a shock. In the past, he’s hedged and vacillated, supporting some Republican efforts to overthrow the election while distancing himself from others. Now, though, he’s giving interviews insisting that he won’t vote for an election denier as House speaker. (Buck voted twice last week for Tom Emmer, who also accepted Biden’s victory over Trump.)
It’s weird — and it’s come at a real cost. Buck’s gotten credible death threats for refusing to vote for Jordan, who was endorsed by Trump. The landlord who owns the building where his Colorado office is located has said he is going to evict him. He also may face a credible primary challenge.
Why now? Why Ken Buck?
It’s hard to know exactly why Buck has suddenly embraced his inner anti-Trump. It’s notable, though, that he’s done so at more or less the same time as some of his colleagues. Moderates like Nebraska’s Don Bacon managed to defeat Jordan’s speaker bid — arguably the first time the less rabid caucus managed to stand on principle and decisively thwart the radicals since Trump’s election.
Buck isn’t a moderate by any reasonable definition. But the speaker crisis seems to have forced a lot of Republicans to take a stand they’ve been trying desperately to avoid. The House has been presented with a stark choice; become the dysfunctional outlet for 24/7 snake oil and fascism, or try to govern in a way that will attract the occasional vote from people who have not stapled their eyeballs to Newsmax.
Buck isn’t exactly an honorable man or a good legislator. That’s not surprising; it’s been some time since the GOP has been a party in which honorable people, or good legislators, are at all welcome. That means that opposition to Trump, within the GOP, has to come from people who are compromised, unserious, downright evil, or some combination of all of those things.
Republicans have spent a lot of time constructing a party that encourages members to be their absolutely worst selves. Perhaps Ken Buck is a sign that that’s changing, if only slightly. He’s a bizarre canary in the fascist coal mine — but at this point that’s the only type of canary the GOP has.
So chirp on, Ken. You’re not the hero we want. You’re not the hero we need. But you’re the very marginally less horrible Republican we’ve got.
That’s it for today
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