top of page

Go, Go GOPocalypse!

In some very dangerous ways, Ron DeSantis is even worse than Trump. As progressives, we’re so accustomed to bagging on Trump that we have to start being careful to make sure we aren’t doing anything to help DeSantis get into the White House. I suspect he would be a lot more difficult for a Democratic candidate to take on in 2024— unless the dream scenario takes place, a third-party spoiler run by Trump, even if it’s a “bipartisan” ticket with Kyrsten Sinema or Tulsi Gabbard as Trump’s running-mate. Remember, of the $100-$150 million Trump fleeced the MAGA supporters for, he only spent $15 million on the midterm candidates he shoved down the GOP’s throat. Trump has an awful lot of money in that PAC for his own run even if he raised it promising to help Republican candidates.

Now, there are a lot of #NeverTrumpers around, most of whom are conservative Republicans— none of whom are allies of progressive Democrats, even if some of them work well with treacherous Blue Dogs and Third Way fake Dems. Let’s never assume that when we hear a conservative or read a conservative bashing Trump that they are allies or potential allies.

John Podhoretz, for example, is a talented polemicist and an influential #NeverTrumper. He is also the editor of Commentary, which was once a liberal magazine of Jewish intellectuals and has become, under his guidance, a right-wing bastion of Jewish neanderthals. Don’t forget, Podhoretz, a virulent war-monger, was a Reagan and Bush speech writer and wrote a book in 2004 called “Bush Country: How George W. Bush Became the First Great Leader of the 21st Century-- While Driving Liberals Insane.” The January issue of Commentary features an excellent anti-Trump screed he wrote GOPocalypse Now? You would probably like a GOPocalypse, right?— I would— but Podhoretz wants to prevent it. “The defeat of the Republican senatorial candidate Herschel Walker in a December runoff election in George,” he wrote, “closes the circle on the most decisive rejection of the influence of any individual politician in our lifetimes. That politician is not Herschel Walker but Donald Trump. The question that now faces the Republican Party is whether its toxic romance with Trump will poison the well for the GOP for a generation or whether it can, as they say in the literature of addiction and recovery, break the cycle of abuse and begin to heal.”

What happened in Georgia from Election Night in November 2020 until the runoff Walker lost in December 2022 was the perfect distillation of what happened across the country during the same period inside the party Trump has commandeered for his own personal use. Once the election results on November 8, 2020, showed Trump had lost to Joe Biden in Georgia by 12,000 votes, he began to create a narrative according to which the state’s electors had been stolen from him by Democratic chicanery through illicit early and mail-in ballots.
That narrative had the effect of convincing gullible Republican voters choked by disappointment and still sick with love for Trump that there was no way the January 2021 runoff to decide the state’s two Senate races could possibly be fair. As a result, nearly 500,000 voters who had come out for the general election in November stayed home when the runoff came around. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution study found that “the most precipitous declines occurred among Republican voters.” The falloff was steepest in places, like Valdosta County, where Trump had held rallies nominally in support of the Republican Senate candidates, in which he spent his time railing against the supposedly monstrous injustice that had been done him.
In the November 2020 general election, incumbent Republican senator David Perdue led Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff by 1.8 points. In the January 2021 runoff, Perdue lost by almost 2 points, a nearly 4 percent shift toward the Democrats. The evidence was plain: Trump had single-handedly depressed GOP turnout and thereby cost Republicans control of the Senate. This proved to be an utterly calamitous turn of events for conservative governance, since it gave Joe Biden and the Democrats the means and ability to pass $6 trillion in new spending between January 2021 and November 2022.
Trump’s destructive behavior on this score alone should have been enough to demonstrate to rational Republicans that he had become nothing but poison— but it wasn’t, for various reasons. And Trump was hardly done with Georgia. In fact, the extent to which Trump would play a key role in the 2022 midterm elections became horrifyingly clear early in 2021 through his continuing interest, or perhaps his obsession, with the Peach State.
First, Trump was determined to see the sitting Republican governor and secretary of state go down to defeat in the 2022 primaries as punishment for foiling his ludicrous conspiracy scheme to “find” 11,000 ballots that could have flipped the state’s electoral votes into his column. (Not that it would have mattered; if Georgia had become a Trump state, Biden would still have won the Electoral College, 290–248.)
Second, he capriciously and vaingloriously decided he wanted Herschel Walker— a 60-year-old man who had never run for anything but had played for Trump’s team in the United States Football League in the mid-1980s after winning the Heisman Trophy at the University of Georgia— to be the Republican candidate for senator.
And how did that all turn out?
When it came to punishing Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Trump proved to be a paper tiger. He recruited David Perdue— the man who lost his Senate seat due to Trump’s feckless assaults on the electoral system— to run against Kemp in the May 2022 primary. The result: Kemp beat Perdue by an astounding 51 points. At the same time, the Renfield-like Representative Jody Hice, who gave up a safe House seat to do his master’s bidding and try to unseat Raffensperger, lost the primary by 20 points.
In that same primary, Walker ran for the Senate seat in Georgia all but unopposed. Even though nearly everyone in Republican politics thought Walker’s candidacy was a terrible idea, it would have been a declaration of war against Trump if Mitch McConnell or anyone else had dared suggest there might be better choices than Walker in the crucial and winnable Georgia Senate race. And so, by October 2021, McConnell was offering a warm endorsement of Walker, who had once claimed to have multiple personalities. “Herschel is the only one who can unite the party, defeat Senator Warnock, and help us take back the Senate,” McConnell said.
Every clause of that sentence proved to be wrong. The person who “united the party” was not Walker but Kemp, who won reelection by 8 points on Election Night as Walker was running a point behind his rival, Raphael Warnock. Walker did not “defeat Senator Warnock.” The Democrat not only ended Election Night in November with a one-point lead; he won the runoff by three.
Nor did Republicans “take back the Senate,” though in this case you can’t actually blame Walker’s nightmare of a candidacy. By the time the Georgia runoff had taken place, Republicans could not have taken back the Senate in any case because other Trump-endorsed candidates had already blown that chance for McConnell in November— despite running in the most favorable political environment for the GOP in 42 years. That’s not to say Walker’s defeat was meaningless. It has ensured Democrats will have enough power with their one-seat majority to end the Senate filibuster at will. Great work!
So that’s what Trump did in Georgia.
…All in all, in the House, there were seven seats the GOP would have won in a normal midterm election that went to the Democrats due to wild and cracked candidates whose sole reason for being there at all was their fealty to Trump’s election denialism.
The broader point is this: Because Trump refused to accept his defeat, and refused to leave the stage, and continued to bigfoot the GOP in pursuit of his own personal agenda, he was every bit the subject of the 2022 election that he had been in 2020, when he lost by 7 million votes and 74 electors, and in 2018, when the GOP lost 40 seats in the House. As a result, the 2022 elections were nationalized not against the sitting president, Joe Biden, and his appalling record (excepting Ukraine) but against the former president and his appalling behavior.
Biden’s great insight as a presidential candidate was to run as the least crazy person in the race, whether he was doing so against Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren or whether he was working to oust Trump. By remaining at the center of the American political discussion, Trump allowed Biden and the Democrats to run pretty much the same race in 2022 that they ran in 2020— despite a record of fecklessness, national humiliation, and parlous economic choices.
It worked then. It worked now. And it will work again, if need be.
What, then, can be done?
To understand where to go from here, we need to visualize Trump’s support as a series of concentric circles. The red-hot center is made up of the people he once said would not care if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue. People have taken to calling it the “Republican base,” but it isn’t. It’s the Trump base, and it’s a new political force— overwhelmingly male, overwhelmingly rural, almost entirely outside the country’s education-industrial complex, and relatively voiceless until Trump came along to speak for it.
The next circle, which is by definition larger, is the traditional Republican base. Until Trump came along, it was issue-driven: pro-life, anti-immigration, extremely distrustful of big government, and supportive of strength when it comes to the military abroad, to ICE at the border, and to law enforcement close to home. These voters threw in their lot with Trump and allowed his personal obsessions to overwhelm them. During his presidency, the Republican base was thrilled by him, and the evidence of the past couple of years suggests it still views him with sympathy as a victim of the Deep State’s pursuit and the media’s would-be assassins.
While the Trump base believes with all its heart that the 2020 election was stolen, I suspect the Republican base is willing to go along with the idea because it believes that the Democrats and liberals are so perfidious, they would have stolen it if they could have— and so, even if they didn’t, they deserve the blame for wanting to.
These two bases do what bases do. They’re neck-deep in politics. They live it, breathe it, and they staff it. They make up the people who drum up support for candidates in contested primaries, and then they vote in them. Trump’s successful seduction allowed him to shift their usual approach in primaries away from promoting candidates they might think would be best for the causes they supported and more toward candidates whose primary focus was their passionate fealty to Trump.
These bases dominate the party’s internal decision-making. But they do not dominate its numbers. According to CNN’s Harry Enten, something like 22 million Republicans turned out to vote in the 2022 primaries. That’s 40 percent of the overall number of people who voted Republican in the general election (around 55 million). Who makes up the other 60 percent? That’s the Republican electorate, combined with independents who are Republican in all but name.
All things being equal, people in the Republican electorate will vote for a Republican every time. If they don’t, they will stay home. Or, in some extreme cases, they will refuse to vote for anyone even though they show up at the polls. That’s how Herschel Walker lost. On the same night that Brian Kemp got 53.4 percent of the vote in the Georgia governor’s race, Walker got 48.5 percent. Five percent of those who voted for Kemp would not vote for Walker, and only a relative handful split their vote and went for Warnock. Most left their selection blank or voted for the libertarian candidate (who got 2 percent).
That pool of non-base Republican voters, that 60 percent— they are the key to the Republican Party’s salvation. Motivating them, involving them, and using their commonsense approach to politics will be the challenge for Republicans who understand that moving beyond Trump is the only way to save their party.
This is the only way forward if the GOP is to contest on an even playing field for the hearts and minds of Americans who do not believe in the increasingly radical Democratic agenda but cannot stomach the Republican craziness. Addressing the subject of the Trump craziness head-on before Biden and the Democrats take full advantage of it for their own ends— this is the needle the GOP will have to thread.
…[Trump] has a rare ability to occupy the thoughts of those who hate him even more than those who love him— and, due in large measure to that hatred, to receive even more love from his fans since they are often driven by passionate detestation of the people who passionately detest Trump.
Trump has weaponized, and harnessed, and addicted people to, and himself become addicted to, the unparalleled attention he generates. For the better part of eight years, he has completely dominated our national conversation. That could have been of great use to him if he had had a larger set of policies to promote, but his dominance is not due to substance, and therefore its utility was limited merely to the garnering of attention itself. For him, issues and ideas are like cornstarch in an otherwise spicy but insubstantial soup, stirred into the pot to thicken it some.
That is why the grand intellectual project to build an agenda around him— call it “American Greatness,” or MAGA, or National Conservatism, or whatever portmanteau might be pleasing to you— has produced nothing of substance and is now fast descending into a low-comedy civil war fought with pop guns being waged on a narcissistic battlefield of small differences. However nobly intentioned it might have been, the effort was doomed to fail because you can’t build a foundation on quicksand.

He concluded that “Recent history suggests that when a political party appears to lose touch with the general population as it pursues the demands and interests of a less palatable minority, the long-term effects can be ruinous… The work that must be done to move the traditional Republican voter—who believes in limited government, free markets, social order, strength at home and abroad, enduring values, and American exceptionalism— from the periphery to the center of the political conversation must begin now if conservatives and the country’s conservative party are to stave off the GOPocalypse.” Don’t forget: we want it; he doesn’t.


1 Comment

Dec 16, 2022

nice dissertation on how to rehab (or to pretend to do so) the nazi party.

I doubt that the "base" has enough between the ears to understand any of this. They are reactionary creatures, who only "believe" what they are told to believe by their svengalis, and are totally ruled by their limbic brains. That's why trump worked in the first place (after teabaggers; after newt; after reagan; after nixon; after goldwater). They hate. trump appeals to and affirms their hate. and when you have no capacity to think, things like maga/q... are trivial to promote... and sometimes even appear out of the ether. each one is more insane than the last but is believed more fervently... you know…

bottom of page