Trump never liked Pence and even tried to rescind his decision to invite him onto the ticket in 2016. But Pence was supposed to be Trump's bridge to an unlikely cohort of right-wing voters; evangelicals. It appeared back then that it would be a heavy lift to get evangelicals to support a profane, golden-calf-worshipping sinner like Trump. Seems like centuries ago! But one of the weirdest revelations from yesterday's impeachment trial was about how Trump encouraged the violent MAGA to kill Pence and his wife as soon as Trump was informed (by coup-plotter Tommy Tuberville) that they were in danger. Videos screened by impeachment managers yesterday showed clearly that Trump's violent insurrectionists were aware of his ugly anti-Pence tweet, and immediately started storming through the halls of Congress screaming "Hang Mike Pence." (They had already erected a gallows.)
Trump no longer needs Pence to literally dictate to brain-dead white evangelicals. He owns them in a way Pence never really did. This morning, Jack Jenkins of Religion News wrote about a new a new survey commissioned by far right think tank, American Enterprise Institute that found 27% of white evangelicals believe a QAnon conspiracy theory asserting that "Trump is secretly battling a cabal of pedophile Democrats, and roughly half express support for the debunked claim that Antifa was responsible for the recent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol." Trump owns them. They are the rotten, toxic core not just of his aspirations but of his political party.
Remember all the talk of a MAGA Party-- a breakaway Trumpist party that would challenge Democrats and Republicans? Although tens of thousands of Republicans across the country have been switching their party registrations, Local Republican committees are censuring and punishing any GOP elected officials who criticized Trump. And a new poll by YouGov shows that significantly more self-identified Republicans support Trump (36%) than the Republican Party (29%), with 24% supporting both equally. Asked if their congressional rep and Trump disagreed who they would more likely support, 47% of Republicans said Trump and just 17% would back their member of Congress. When asked if Trump should be leader of the GOP going forward, 73% of Republicans said yes and just 27% preferred someone else. And then there's this:
A new poll from HarrisX found that 64% of registered Republican voters would join a new political party led by Trump. (About 28% of independents and even 15% of registered Democrats also said they'd join a Trumpist party.)
I'm not saying this is all evangelical-driven. But most of it is. How is it possible that people who read the Bible can still be mired in Trumpism. I looked to a post Rev. John Pavlovitz wrote yesterday, When No Line Is Too Far To Cross. Thinking about the impeachment trial and about the evangelical community he's spent much of his life ministering to, he wrote that "Human beings are supposed to have a bottom: a base level of decency that defines us, a place we will not go to because to go there would mean abandoning the very moral givens that tether us to one another-- and slipping into inhumanity. We are expected as participants in community to have some ethical boundaries that hedge us in and prevent the very worst of our tendencies from festering to the point they grow toxic and metastasize within us and among us. We live in this world every day alongside countless people in our work and our travels with the assumption that most of them still operate under those fixed and fundamental rules of humanity: of goodness, justice, truth, compassion. This assumption allows us to exist without fearing that we are in imminent danger in their presence, that we are safe to live in close proximity to them. There are supposed to be rules humans abide by that declare that we are human and that we recognize and honor the humanity in others."
He thought it was an unspoken deal, an agreement. But alas...
The Republican Party has decided that they are not bound by such rules anymore, that inhumanity is simply not a bridge too far, that they are a bottomless entity which no longer has use for morality—and I feel stupid for thinking otherwise.
I honestly thought this was going to be a catalytic moment.
I thought for sure the horrors at the Capitol would be a dealbreaker for even the most devoted of his sycophantic foot soldiers; that watching a capitol police officer beaten to death on the steps of Congress with flags bearing his name would have fully sickened them to the point of defection.
I was absolutely certain that as photos and the videos and the testimonies streamed in of officers being crushed and of heavily-armed men prowling the very seat of our government with nooses and zip ties-- that for perhaps only once in the last four years we would finally be of one mind and that they would declare it all fully unacceptable.
I thought to myself, “There is no way they will double-down on this or on him now.”
I was wrong.
What soon became clear and has been declared explicitly again in the impeachment trial, is that instead of being horrified and having their deadened hearts shaken alive in their chests by the terrorist attack on Congress, the only thing these Republican lawmakers are, seems to be disappointed that it was not more successful so they wouldn’t have to be inconvenienced by moral accountability at all.
They seemed bothered more by the demands of good people for justice than the lawless, murderous acts that made them necessary at all.
There is no grief for the dead, no contrition for the big lie they perpetuated, no sorrow for the physically and emotional wounded, no regret for their incendiary words and complicit cohorts-- there is only the steady, strident arrogance that tells us they are slipping deeper into the void.
I don’t require other people to agree with me on all matters of policy, to perfectly mirror my preferences, to ratify my every conviction. I don’t require full agreement with regard to theological or political worldview-- but I demand a base-level of morality in order to be in relationship with them and these people are not ready to consent to that.
January 6th should have been, for any human being with a fully functioning soul, a chilling ice water bath of reality, shocking even the most partisan of them awake from the slumber of their fierce tribalism.
It should have been the decisive pivot point for our nation, away from this cancerous, craven cult of personality and collective bloodlust for power-- and into a collaborative expression of our interdependence.
This should have been America’s second chance at life.
That it has become instead, a hill for this party to once again declare their undying allegiance to this man and to his movement and to an ugly, lumbering, violent march toward an ever-deepening bottom-- is the absolute most tragic reality of my lifetime.
The sanctity of life? Turns out not to be a concern.
Blue lives? Seems they don’t really matter.
The Constitution? Not particularly binding.
The Law? Irrelevant.
I want to believe in the goodness of all people, but right now I’ll have to settle for the goodness of some; of the 81 million plus who will simply not tolerate the horrors of January 6th and who will not abide the inhumanity of those who created, planned, supported, incited, and still defend it.
When some declare that no line is too far to cross-- the rest of us will be here to defend that line together.
Our shared humanity deserves it.
Which brings us back to the future of the Republican Party. I don't think a MAGA party is going to happen. I think the GOP already is a MAGA party with Trump in control of the grassroots if not the establishment and all the insiders. Yesterday, Reuters reported that dozens of former Republican officials from the party's establishment as talking about forming an anti-Trump conservative party, an alternative to the GOP. Tim Reid wrote that "Dozens of former Republican officials, who view the party as unwilling to stand up to former President Donald Trump and his attempts to undermine U.S. democracy, are in talks to form a center-right breakaway party... The early stage discussions include former elected Republicans, former officials in the Republican administrations of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Trump, ex-Republican ambassadors and Republican strategists, the people involved say. More than 120 of them held a Zoom call [hosted by Evan McMullin] last Friday to discuss the breakaway group, which would run on a platform of 'principled conservatism,' including adherence to the Constitution and the rule of law-- ideas those involved say have been trashed by Trump. The plan would be to run candidates in some races but also to endorse center-right candidates in others, be they Republicans, independents or Democrats... Names under consideration for a new party include the Integrity Party and the Center Right Party."
And that brings us right to Walter Shapiro's New Republic essay, The Entire Republican Party Is On Trial, which points out that during this Senate trial "the GOP is revealing just how soulless and spineless it really is."
We are watching an entire political party on trial just one month after the failed putsch at the Capitol. Beyond Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz and their ilk, how can retiring Republicans with reasonable reputations like Ohio’s Rob Portman and North Carolina’s Richard Burr live with themselves as they ignore the evidence of Trump’s determined efforts to overturn a free election?
It would be fascinating to know the thoughts that were going through Mitch McConnell’s cynical brain as he watched the Democratic presentation in his standard tight-lipped fashion. What may resonate with McConnell is not principle (good luck ever finding that in his mental makeup) but pure political self-interest. The Senate minority leader can probably picture Super PAC dollars flying out the window as corporate America shuns a Republican Party that has become an authoritarian cult. McConnell is also smart enough to know that the GOP will never win back the suburban, college-educated voters who opted for Joe Biden if it chooses to be the party that is proud of the Proud Boys.
The Democratic impeachment managers should have convinced anyone watching the proceedings from outside the Fox News bubble-- especially independent voters and wavering Republicans-- that January 6 was the logical culmination of four years of Trumpian tantrums. As House manager Ted Lieu put it in a particularly compelling argument, the attack on the Capitol occurred because “President Donald J. Trump ran out of non-violent options to maintain power.”
...In all likelihood, despite the eloquence of the House impeachment managers, they are playing mostly to the historical record. Maybe, just maybe, they might prick the conscience of another Senate Republican or two, the way that they reached Cassidy. But, in the end, what we will likely witness with the impeachment vote is the death spasm of the Republican Party and the end of America’s run as a two-party democracy.