I didn’t read Dana Milbank’s new book, The Destructionists: The Twenty-Five Year Crack-Up of the Republican Party, yet, but I plan to. The reviews paint a picture of just the kind of reading material I’d enjoy. NY Times: “A thorough and scathing account of how the Republican Party fell prey to Trumpism.” Jennifer Rubin: “With characteristic wit, Dana Milbank reveals how, step-by-step, characters like Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove (bolstered by a barrage of dark money and rightwing media) replaced normal politics with character assassination, violence, endemic lying and racial division. Trump was the inevitable result after the party of limited government morphed over decades into one obsessed with holding power at all costs. Dana documents how Trump accelerated the downward spiral, making it 'safe' to be a bigot and 'weaponizing' conspiracy theories. If you want to understand Trump, this account of Republicans’ destruction of democracy, truth and decency is essential reading.”
Booktable wrote: “A scathing history of twenty-five years of Republican attempts to hold on to political power by any means necessary, by a hugely popular Washington Post political columnist. In 1994, more than 300 Republicans under the command of obstructionist and rabble-rouser Congressman Newt Gingrich stood outside the U.S. Capitol to sign the Contract with America and put bipartisanship on notice. Twenty-five years later, on January 6, 2021, a bloodthirsty mob incited by President Trump invaded the Capitol. Dana Milbank sees a clear line from the Contract with America to the coup attempt. In the quarter century in between, Americans have witnessed the crackup of the party of Lincoln and Reagan, to its current iteration as a haven for white supremacists, political violence, conspiracy theories and authoritarianism. Following the questionable careers of party heavyweights Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove, Mitch McConnell, and Rudy Giuliani, and those of many lesser known lowlights, Millbank recounts the shocking lengths the Republican Party has gone to to maintain its grip on the American people.”
Even if you’re not ready to invest the $30 to buy the hardback, Milbank’s column in yesterday’s Washington Post, about how the GOP is blowing it’s chances for historic midterm wins is worth the read. He sees generic ballot polls generally easing from red to blue and knows exactly why: “Trump is back on the ballot, metaphorically speaking. In the last few days, a historical anomaly has emerged, a glitch in the electoral matrix: For the first time in the modern era, momentum has shifted toward an incumbent president’s party at this point in a midterm election year.” All the Trump news is getting Democratic voters riled up and voter enthusiasm among Democrats and blue-leaning independents is rising.
“And the data,” wrote Milbank, “are supported by anecdotal evidence: high Democratic turnout in contested primaries, a lopsided rejection of an antiabortion measure in Kansas, and Democratic candidates’ dramatic outperformance of Joe Biden’s 2020 showing in recent special elections in Minnesota and Nebraska.”
84 days from the election, the big red wave looks to be more of a ripple. This is because voters are receiving repeated reminders of what made them so unhappy about the Trump era.
Republican lawmakers and candidates, and their Fox News echo chamber, have again wrapped themselves around the former president with their hysterical reaction to the court-ordered search of Mar-a-Lago. Their violent talk (followed by threats and actual violence), their attacks on the rule of law (“destroy the FBI”), their conspiracy theories (the FBI planted evidence?) and their reckless defense of the indefensible (possibly pilfering nuclear secrets) are all reruns of the Trump presidency. Republican officials did much the same when faced with the damning revelations of the Jan. 6 committee.
Extremist candidates— some with ties to QAnon, the Oath Keepers or the events of Jan. 6— are dominating Republican primaries. Scores of election deniers have become GOP nominees for governor, secretaries of state and other positions. The few truth-tellers have been banished; with Tuesday’s likely defeat of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), eight of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump will be leaving Congress.
The Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, enabled by three Trump appointees, has taken a fundamental right from Americans. The proliferation of extreme prohibitions since then— abortion bans without exception for rape, incest or the health of the mother— have been shocking in their cruelty.
On top of these unwelcome reminders of what MAGA means, easing inflation, falling gas prices and a string of legislative successes for President Biden’s agenda— all with unemployment at a 50-year low— have blunted the GOP argument that Biden and the Democratic Congress are ineffective.
Handicapper Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight, noting the rising possibility that Democrats could defy historical patterns, asks: “Will this be an asterisk election?” But it’s also possible that exceptions to the historical pattern are now the rule.
Midterm elections have historically been low-turnout contests, determined by differences in partisan enthusiasm. Voters favoring the party that won the presidency tend to stay home, while voters from the opposing party are angry and motivated. (Very few voters swing from one party to the other.) For decades, turnout ranged from 37 percent to 42 percent.
But the Trump era blew up the old models. In the 2018 midterms, turnout soared to 50 percent. Turnout again shattered records in 2020. And Democrats tend to win high-turnout elections because most Americans reject Trumpism. There were 3 million more votes for Hillary Clinton in 2016, 9 million more for House Democrats in 2018 and 7 million more for Biden in 2020.
Now signs point to another high-turnout election. Republican voters were already fired up before the Mar-a-Lago search. Now, Democratic voters (many of whom were frustrated at the lack of accountability for Trump despite the revelations of the Jan. 6 committee) appear to be matching them in passion.
Back in early February, when Democrats were in the doldrums, Podhorzer, the former AFL-CIO political director, wrote: “When voters believe that the election is ‘about’ Trump, turnout soars— but more so among his opponents than among his supporters.”
That’s exactly what appears to be happening.
Now, for an even more complete picture of the Republican Party, try factoring in the grifters and the sociopaths who have come to dominate the party's grassroots.