Say you dropped in from outer space for a quick review of the American political scene, circa early 2021. You could be forgiven for thinking, among other things, that the Republican party seems a bit unhinged.
Depending on who you ask these days, the GOP is dead, or nearly dead, or in danger of dying. Or doesn’t really exist any more, having morphed into the Trump party. Or consists of two main groups: Trump and his followers on one hand, and Mitt Romney plus, maybe, Liz Cheney on the other. Or, if not quite dead, then at least pretty crazy — in a specifically white nationalist way.
“The Republican Party is stuck, probably irreversibly, in a doom loop of bizarro,” wrote liberal economist Paul Krugman in the New York Times on January 29.
Ex-Republican Congressman David Jolly of Florida says the GOP under Trump has become “an association of largely white populists with an angry anti-government grievance agenda.”
Tom Nichols, a former Republican congressional staffer and now a columnist for USA Today, says that “[the GOP] is now dominated by Donald Trump and people who’ve bent the knee to Donald Trump, and once you do that, once you’ve betrayed the Constitution, there is no coming back.”
Jolly adds, “I don’t believe a Republican Party under this generation of Republican leaders, my former colleagues, is one that can be trusted…One of the reasons I left is because I realized I can never trust these colleagues again.”
Nichols, writing in The Atlantic in September 2020, noted: “Some Republicans, even while they grant that Trump is a sociopath and an idiot — and how unsettling that so many of them will stipulate to that — are willing to continue voting for Republican candidates because the GOP is nominally pro-life or because the administration’s judicial appointments show that the people around the president are doing what conservatives should want done… But Trump’s few conservative achievements are meaningless when compared with his war on American democracy, a rampage that few Republicans have lifted a finger to stop.”
Nichols titled his Atlantic essay, “This Republican Party is not worth saving.”
Such fervor notwithstanding, it’s probably premature to write off the GOP just yet. But make no mistake, there’s plenty of crazy to go around. To paraphrase one waggish view, “There might still be a few decent Republicans, but you can only count Mitt Romney once.” On the other hand, wacky Congressional newcomer Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia seems emblematic of where the GOP is headed.
Greene is the one who opined not long ago that California’s massive wildfires might have been started by Jewish space lasers controlled by the Rothschilds. She has also speculated that mass shootings at Parkland High and Sandy Hook elementary school were “false flag” operations designed to promote stricter gun control, something she opposes.
More recently, she has been a loud supporter of the totally repudiated theory that Trump actually won but was robbed of the 2020 election, a claim Trump himself has endlessly repeated.
To some it might seem appropriate to call Greene batshit crazy. But not inside today’s GOP. It is evidently true that Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy gently counseled Greene on maintaining some minimal appearance of decorum, after which she offered up a speech in which she admitted, among other things, that the deadly school shootings really did occur as reported — as if that were sufficient proof of her sanity. But overall, her defiance of consensus reality seems undiminished.
On February 4, House Democrats led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi voted to rein Greene in by denying her several cushy committee assignments. But in doing this, they risk reinforcing the right-wing grievance machine that is the Trump wing of the GOP, without doing Greene any serious damage. Greene herself said the next day that she woke up “literally laughing thinking about what a bunch of morons the Democrats are for giving someone like me free time.”
Meanwhile, respected GOP stalwart Liz Cheney, the highest ranking Republican woman in the House, had to fight off a recent effort to remove her from leadership because she voted to — wait for it — impeach Donald Trump. It seems that principles and facts don’t apply if they threaten to undercut Trump’s iron grip on the party.
Trump himself has made it abundantly clear that he will exact harsh revenge on any GOP actor who fails to show him sufficient loyalty. Now ensconced in his Mar-a-Lago digs after vacating the White House, Trump seems to broadcast an “eye of Sauron”-like power over what remains of the party, as illustrated by the obsequious visit in mid-January of Minority Leader McCarthy to discuss future election strategy. Whether Trump ends up running again remains to be seen, but there’s little doubt he will exercise a strong influence over anyone who does run.
For all practical purposes, the GOP is now synonymous with the Party of Trump. That means that Trump’s values, such as they are, are functionally equivalent to the GOP’s values. And that is not a happy thought. Those values include:
- White supremacy. Though not all Republicans are white (Michael Steele, a black man, served as chair of the Republican National Committee ten years ago) and not all white people are Republican, today’s GOP is undoubtedly the white people’s party because, well, white people are just better. Donald Trump himself is an undisguised and unapologetic white supremacist who made a point of trying to restrict non-white immigration by any means necessary, including his idiotic border wall with Mexico.
- Christian nationalism. Trump sides philosophically with those who view the United States as a nation founded by and for Christians. Not surprisingly, white evangelical Christians lean Republican by 78%, the most lopsidedly right-leaning segment of the electorate. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being a Christian, until it becomes synonymous with being a truth-denying, gun-toting, Muslim-hating, “patriotic” American. Jesus might have something to say about that.
- Conspiracy theories. Trump has become both a topic of, and a supporter of, a range of weird conspiracy theories, notably the wacky QAnon belief system espoused by Marjorie Taylor Greene among others, in which Trump himself is viewed as a messiah figure. More broadly, Trump’s worldview is chockablock with conspiracies, mostly aimed against him, that serve to justify his constant claim of being mistreated and unfairly disadvantaged. Extended to the GOP, a chief complaint is the uncontrolled influx of non-white immigrants who vote Democratic by more than two to one, hence conspiring to dilute both white ethnic hegemony and conservative political power.
- Lies, lies, lies. Donald Trump will be remembered as the Liar-in-Chief long after he is gone. According to the Washington Post Fact Checker’s database as of mid-January, 2021, Trump is credited with making over 30,000 false or misleading claims since first taking office. As such, he’s undoubtedly the most prolific liar ever to occupy the White House
At the top of the list stands The Big Lie: Trump’s incessantly repeated claim that he won the 2020 election. Attorneys representing Trump have gone to court at least 62 times to argue that massive voter fraud cost him the election, only to lose the argument every time (one court in Pennsylvania ruled in Trump’s favor on a technicality, but it didn’t change any outcome). Even Trump’s disreputable Attorney General William Barr said he could find no evidence of widespread voting irregularities. But Trump’s followers were not to be denied. In several important swing states, such as Georgia and Pennsylvania, Republican operatives are currently working to change election rules to make it difficult or impossible to vote by mail, knowing that this will mainly suppress the vote among Democrat-leaning non-white voters. Other efforts at voter manipulation, such as gerrymandering, are underway in several states.
But the Big Lie spilled into public view most notably on January 6, 2021, when thousands of Trump supporters, answering what sounded like a public invitation, stormed the halls of Congress intending to stop the Electoral College vote count that would confirm Biden’s victory. The ensuing riot resulted in five deaths and put the Capitol under National Guard lockdown. Trump has yet to repudiate those events and continues to insist he won the election. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, among others, has lately been seen wearing a face mask with the printed message “Trump Won.”
To stipulate a fact: Trump did not win. Unless you’re seriously crazy, this is not a debatable point. But then, some people actually are crazy…
In fairness, crazy is an equal-opportunity condition. In times past, it could reasonably be argued that Democrats were crazy (in Lincoln’s time, for example, many southern Democrats favored slavery and were willing to secede from the Union). Lately, however, crazy is finding a happy home among Republicans. Not all Republicans, of course (remember, there’s Romney). But more than a few; and more than among, say, Democrats. There are reasons for this.
Not all Republicans will admit it, even to themselves, but as a group, the GOP is in a state of quiet desperation. Inasmuch as the Republican base is now overwhelmingly white, the party faces a demographic nightmare as the nation shifts more and more toward an ethnically mixed population. Recent studies indicate that, for the first time, fewer than half of all U.S. citizens under the age of 15 are non-hispanic white. Going forward, this means that the Republican base must shrink, while the Democrat base grows. The election math is stark. On a level playing field, Republicans stand little chance of winning future national elections.
Thus, suppression of non-white votes is, for the GOP, a matter of life or death. They know this beyond any doubt; and current evidence suggests they will ramp up suppression efforts in any way they can get away with.
Suppression is one way to resist reality. Outright denial is another. Here, the GOP is all in. Example: A new AP-NORC poll dated February 5 found that only 33% of Republican voters believe Biden was legitimately elected president, while 65% say he was not. In contrast, fully 97% of Democrat voters say Biden was legitimately elected. Sadly for Republican deniers, the facts are clear. But that’s the thing about denial: when the facts are inconvenient, you can choose to ignore them. Or maybe stage a riot at the Capitol.
The events of January 6 represent the very face of Republican desperation. In the aftermath, despite a growing number of arrests, one key GOP takeaway is: we can express our collective angst massively and violently, and we can pretty much get away with it. With that evidence in hand, further episodes of unrest seem almost inevitable. Whether or not the body politic survives these tumultuous times intact, and how Republicans choose to participate, remains to be seen.