Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, is not likely to win a popularity contest among politicians of either party any time soon.
One of the most conservative members of the House, he was but five months in office when he single-handedly held up a 2019 disaster-aid bill that included $4 billion to help his home state recover from Hurricane Harvey. Upsetting plans to pass the measure under a pro forma procedure in a near-empty chamber during a recess, Roy lodged an objection and insisted it be subjected to debate and a vote, which forced an 11-day delay.
Last October, Roy was the most prominent Republican calling for the resignation of Texas’s hard-right attorney general, Ken Paxton, amid allegations of bribery. His denunciation was made all the more remarkable by the fact that Roy used to be Paxton’s top aide.
But not even those moves went as deeply against the Trump-era grain as Roy’s latest maneuvers. While most House Republicans appear to be positioning themselves to mount a futile and deeply undemocratic challenge Wednesday to Joe Biden’s clear electoral victory in the 2020 presidential contest, Roy is leading a small band of conservatives who are calling them out.
Roy, with a half-dozen others, released a statement Sunday declaring that, President Donald Trump’s temper tantrums and the GOP’s own disappointment notwithstanding, lawmakers have no choice but to accept the electoral college results that have been certified by the states: “The text of the Constitution is clear. States select electors. Congress does not. Accordingly, our path forward is also clear. We must respect the states’ authority here. Though doing so may frustrate our immediate political objectives, we have sworn an oath to promote the Constitution above our policy goals.”
That same day, which was swearing-in day for the new Congress, Roy went one gutsy step further. He challenged the seating of 67 House members from the six states where Trump has claimed, without evidence, that victory was stolen from him.
Roy’s logic: If the presidential result was tainted, so was the outcome of those House races, which employed the same ballot procedures, signature validations, and judgments by state executive and judicial branch officials.
The gambit, unsurprisingly, failed. But it forced a vote that highlighted the hypocrisy and political opportunism of Roy’s fellow Republicans, all but two of whom voted to seat the members. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Capitol, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, for whom Roy once served as chief of staff, is stoking his 2024 presidential hopes by helping to lead a dishonest drive to question the electoral college results.
Do not be confused: Roy has been among the staunchest supporters and admirers of the president, and remains so. It is hard to see any political upside to his principled stand. He may have invited a primary challenge that could put the squeeze on him in a rapidly growing Central Texas district that Democrats already see as a prime pickup opportunity.
But he, and a few others like him, are worth watching in the months and years ahead as Republicans try to figure out how to navigate the post-Trump era.
Whether Trump leaves the White House on his own or has to be dragged out of the building by federal agents, Republicans are going to have to come to terms with the shambles that they and he have made of their supposedly conservative values.
The only dogmas they recognize anymore are the impulses and lies of a president who stands on no discernible principle beyond self-interest.
As Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., another conservative who has stood against the herd, put it: “The Founders entrusted our elections chiefly to the states — not Congress. They entrusted the election of our president to the people, acting through the Electoral College — not Congress. And they entrusted the adjudication of election disputes to the courts — not Congress. Under the Constitution and federal law, Congress’s power is limited to counting electoral votes submitted by the states.”
And there is another factor. With their radical disregard for democracy, Republicans are writing a playbook for any future presidential candidate — say, a Democrat who loses an election that was actually close — to actually succeed in overturning a valid result.
In their statement, Roy and his fellow Freedom Caucus members noted that the GOP’s presidential nominee has won the popular vote only once in the past 32 years: “If we perpetuate the notion that Congress may disregard certified electoral votes — based solely on its own assessment that one or more states mishandled the presidential election — we will be delegitimizing the very system that led Donald Trump to victory in 2016, and that could provide the only path to victory in 2024.”
That is another way of saying that the fealty Trump has demanded comes with a high price — one that Republicans could be paying long after he is gone.
Karen Tumulty is a Washington Post columnist covering national politics.