Is twisted Republican ritual suicide at play—the ultimate, patriotic sacrifice?
The old lyric, “bewitched, bothered and bewildered,” captures not just the conflicted lover bemoaning her fate but perplexed Republican generals already facing party attrition without any new House purification stunts. Certainly ‘bewitched’ informs the hypnotic Trump cult locked into preposterous election propaganda. A tellingly small cadre of “bothered” adults, like Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney, defy adolescent, highly divisive Trump lies but without great effect. “Bewildered” fits sleazy toadies, like McConnell, McCarthy and Graham, for months dishing out mumbo-jumbo contradictions and mixed cues. Prescient Republicans, forced to back a deviant candidate in ’16 though well beyond party control, recognize that “insurrectionist” Trumpism has cornered the party’s future.
When a minority party gets more headlines over a frivolous leadership demotion than any political agenda, its brand and future are under siege, on par with the targeted Cheney. Dumping a celebrated (woman) conservative – not for breaking ranks, but truthfully declaring the certified election is over and done with, whatever fantasies persist – looms as a lose-lose blunder. Bad alternatives: either the Cheney/Bush/Romney contingent goes bonkers (denying donations and endorsements) – or rightwing fanatics, barred from putting a dissenter in the stocks for violating party purity codes, goes bonkers (and fears a sell-out and may stay home).
Either way, fat slices of an already fragmented party will cry bloody murder. Even worse, a Cheney demotion doubles down on the next Big Republican Lie (after the “stolen” election): without Trump, the party is dead meat. Polling suggests the opposite is far truer. Who but deluded partisans miss that the election not only confirmed an impressive Biden triumph, but exposed Trump as the unelectable, mean-spirited, sore loser of all time.
This delightful conundrum spotlights the high drama of a party on the brink. Today’s circular firing squad reflects what was rarely a solid rightwing coalition, further splintered now by Trump disasters: blowing the pandemic, offending centrists, pandering to white supremacy, and then the topper, the criminal stupidity of pushing a riotous mob to plunder the Capitol. For right-leaning centrists allergic to extremism, these serial, unforced errors nix prospects for retaking the White House. And if Trump is taken ill, who matches his charisma? For a party that’s won only one popular presidential vote since 1992, the direction and speed of this slide is more telling than the unsavory moments.
What wounded party overcomes the self-sabotage of attacking each other with greater vigor than they do “socialist” Democrats? Party unity, like truth in war, is the first casualty when Republicanism is little more than cheering on indefensible lies. It’s not as if four years of Trump expanded the party, indisputably the most conspicuous egotist who hijacked, then chopped up his own triumphant gang. Trumpist radicals may win re-election, but only to reign over a permanent rump party of whining losers.
When three is less than one
Clearly, the party that elected Dubya twice is badly fragmented into three uncivil slices:
1) ardent FOX-emboldened Trump worshipers glorying in the leader’s cultist perfection – corralling gun nuts, evangelicals, white supremacists and militant insurgents;
2) corporatist executives and billionaire donors indifferent to “populist grievances” but livid against government controls over their operations and, worse of all, higher taxes; and
3) the squeaking residue of Romney-Boehner-Liz Cheney “conservatives” who can’t abide Trump or Trumpism, boldly positing that coherent policy alternatives, down-home deliverables, and a reality-based party will grow, not shrink.
If anything, party divisions have amplified since the election. Party coherence shook when McConnell scolded corporate titans for opposing heavy-handed (and for experts pointless) voter disenfranchisement. Big shot donors must wonder how long the inmates will run the show, even if their agents know what they’re doing. Two Democratic Georgia senate wins, despite anti-minority suppression, prove that public intensity, even in a side election, will overcome obstacles.
In any case Trumpers distrust billionaires (save one deviant) for outsourcing jobs and stealing their savings and retirement safety nets. Trump insurgents mistakenly think violence will pressure good, white, Christian Americans to stop suspect minorities from rigging more elections or gaming the “welfare” system for the undeserving. More even than billionaires, Trumpers despise the party’s establishment: slaves to compromise, to topdown control, and telling others what to do. Though billionaires care little for the average joe (too many are badly-trained complainers not worth hiring), they fret less about voter suppression that damage to profit and brand from noisy boycotts.
Enough Trumpers hold power to manufacture shock value (QAnon et al) that grab headlines, thus branding Republicanism as disruptive extremism. Marooned and seething, Trump blathers on: “I can’t have incited that media-invented “insurrection,” little more than a few good old boys partying.” Banish all other of his countless gaffes, Trump’s felonious instigation of insurrection against America cannot be lied or wished away.
‘Obstruction now, obstruction tomorrow, obstruction forever’
Ultimately, electoral negatives from embracing Trumpism transcend the cult figure. Former GOP pollster Frank Luntz foresees that election fraud lies “could cost the Republicans the majority in the House in 2022.” Trump’s dead-end fantasy then becomes the unkindest party cut, depressing GOP turnout. “The reason why there is a Democratic Senate in Washington today is because of Donald Trump,” not others, Luntz declared.
More and more obvious, Trump’s cultist pettiness looks self-defeating, elbowing aside any visibility of a positive Republican agenda. Even if principles be damned, what about real-world deliverables to counter the focused Democratic coalition? Pennies on infrastructure spending? Scrooge-like emergency support payments? Against tax increases for the wealthiest? Instead of good messaging, the GOP merely brews up grievance, retribution, victimization, demonization of Democrats, and pathological allergy to truth-telling. Echoing the Wallace line on segregation, “obstruction now, obstruction tomorrow, obstruction forever.”
For a minority party that disdains being an effective opposition, still enmeshed in Trumpian gestures, even sustaining the status quo is dicey. When has a modern minority party worked harder to cement being a minority? The worst (or best) news for the Republican future is that its destiny lies more in their hands than anything Democrats predictably do. Biden forces are commanding the middle, reinvigorating government as a positive problem-solver. Biden shows that doing something with a chance of success is infinitely better politics than doing nothing – thus assuring failure.
In life, love, sports and politics, stasis is rare: things usually get better or worse. If major party divisions are not resolved, whither the Republican Party as a national power? For decades a fragile coalition, key elements of Republicanism today are, like the universe itself, speedily moving apart. All the while, Democrats are learning to pool resources and, if Luntz is right, could reverse historic midterm reversals. Rest assured: losing again in ’22 will not deliver compelling teaching moments: more likely for true believers, expect closing of ranks, expelling traitors and marching away from national power. As long as Trump holds sway, the rightwing learning curve will be conspicuous by its absence. Immune to accepting certified elections, let along steadfast popular opinion, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”