Yesterday, John Bolton's SuperPAC released a new poll purporting to show that even among Republican voters, Trump's grip is loosening and the party can't really be called a cult of personality. Politico reported that the poll shows that Trump’s 'very favorable' numbers among Republican voters dropped 19 points since a separate poll from a different pollster taken in October 2020. It also showed that 56 percent of self-identified Republican primary voters would support a candidate other than Trump in the 2024 primary... [BUT] While Trump’s 'very favorable' rating plummeted with Republicans compared to the October 2020 New York Times/Siena College Research Institute poll, his 'somewhat favorable' rating went up by 12 points. Combined, his total favorable rating dipped from 92 percent to 85 percent. And while a majority of voters may support a candidate other than Trump in the 2024 primary, 44 percent said they would back the former president-- a sizable haul of the electorate that would put him in prime position in a multiple-candidate contest. In fact, the poll tested a primary field featuring Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), Govs. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and Kristi Noem (R-SD), former vice president Mike Pence, and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, alongside Trump. While Trump got 44 percent of the vote, the next closest were DeSantis and Haley, each of whom got 9 percent."
Wait! What about rotund Jersey bridge-blocker Chris Christie! He must be worth at least 2% of the GOP vote, especially while infrastructure is a hot topic. In any case, what the poll confirms is the opposite of what Bolton was hoping: the GOP is nothing more than a degenerate cult of personality. And, as Max Boot, pointed out in his Washington Post column yesterday, the GOP is beyond salvation-- even without Trump.
Boot makes several points, first and foremost is that the fringe conspiracy theories from QAnon and other hucksters on the fringe of the right, are now dominant inside the Republican Party mainstream, which, he claims, "has embraced Trumpism without Trump. This is not really a set of policy preferences; the GOP in 2020 passed on a platform beyond allegiance to the Orange Emperor’s whims. It is more of a mindless, obnoxious attitude-- it’s all about 'owning the libs,' spreading conspiracy theories, and waging culture wars as a way to rile up the rabid base and keep the cash register ringing. Three of the major tenets of the Trumpified GOP have been on public view the past week-- if you can bear to watch.
Hostility to science: Watch the video [above] of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) yapping at Anthony Fauci, one of the nation’s leading infectious-disease experts, like an enraged chihuahua. "Dr. Fauci, when is the time?" Jordan kept asking. He wanted to know when it was “time to pull back on masking” and “physical distancing.” “When do Americans get their freedoms back? ... What is low enough? Give me a number.” Fauci tried to explain that restrictions could be lifted as infection rates got lower. But for Jordan, this had nothing to do with eliciting information-- it was all about showing his contempt for a leading scientist and demonstrating that he is much more exercised about prudent public health restrictions than about a virus that has already killed more than 567,000 Americans. It’s no surprise that vaccination rates are lower in counties that Trump won than in counties that voted for Biden.
Authoritarianism: The Big Lie has become Republican orthodoxy-- just like tax cuts and conservative judges. Polls show that 78 percent of Republicans don’t think Biden legitimately won and 51 percent say Congress “did not go far enough” to support “Trump’s efforts to overturn the election.” Little wonder that so many 2022 aspirants-- including leading Republican Senate candidates in Ohio, Alabama, Missouri and North Carolina-- are pushing the falsehood of the stolen election. The willingness to deny the election outcome-- and thereby to reject democracy itself-- has become the new litmus test for Republican primary voters.
This is by no means the whole of the GOP-- but the Trumpy wing is by far the most vocal, militant and important. The “mainstream,” by contrast, is weak, vacillating and uncertain. Former House speaker John A. Boehner is a case in point: He denounces the “crazies” who have taken over, but he admits that in 2020 he voted for Trump -- the leader of the crazies-- because “I thought that his policies, by and large, mirrored the policies that I believed in.”
As I’ve said before, this is a party that is beyond salvation. I just wish Republicans didn’t insist on proving that bleak judgment right with dismaying regularity.
Racism: Some of the most pro-Trump members of the House tried last week to start an America First Caucus. “White People First” is more like it: Their manifesto declared that “America is a nation with a border, and a culture, strengthened by a common respect for uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions. History has shown that societal trust and political unity are threatened when foreign citizens are imported en-masse into a country.” There was so much blowback that the America Firsters backed off. But, as my colleague Aaron Blake notes, the white supremacist “replacement theory”-- which claims that shadowy elites are importing people of color to replace native-born Whites-- has gained wide adherence in the GOP. It has been pushed recently by everyone from Fox News’s Tucker Carlson to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who recently wondered (there’s that question again!) if Democrats “want to remake the demographics of America to ensure-- that they stay in power forever.”
At the same time, Adam Serwer was explaining why-- and quite eloquently-- "Anglo Saxon" is what you say when "whites only" is too inclusive. Serwer wrote that the Anglo-Saxonism to which he was referring "has little to do with the Germanic peoples who settled in medieval England. Rather, it’s an archaic, pseudoscientific intellectual trend that gained popularity during the height of immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe to the United States, at the turn of the 20th century. Nativists needed a way to explain why these immigrants-- Polish, Russian, Greek, Italian, and Jewish-- were distinct from earlier generations, and why their presence posed a danger." Ahhh... the old right-wing populism of Know Nothing politics.
They settled on the idea that the original “native” American settlers were descended from “the tribes that met under the oak-trees of old Germany to make laws and choose chieftains,” as Francis Walker put it in The Atlantic in 1893, and that the new immigrants lacked the biological aptitude for democracy. Anglo-Saxon was a way to distinguish genteel old-money types, such as nativist Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, from members of inferior races who had names such as, well, McCarthy. The influential eugenicist Madison Grant insisted that the Irish possessed an “unstable temperament” and a “lack of coordinating and reasoning power.”
“By making the simple (and in fact traditional) assumption that northern European nationalities shared much of the Anglo-Saxon’s inherited traits, a racial nativist could now understand why immigration had just now become a problem,” the historian John Higham wrote in Strangers in the Land. “Also, the cultural remoteness of southern and eastern European ‘races’ suggested to him that the foreign danger involved much more than an inherited incapacity for self-government: the new immigration was racially impervious to the whole of American civilization!”
This belief that America’s “original” population was Anglo-Saxon, and that the American way of life was threatened by the presence not just of nonwhite people but of inferior, non-Anglo-Saxon (or “Nordic”) white people, shaped the racist immigration-restriction laws of the early 20th century. As historians have documented, it also influenced the ideology of Nazi Germany. Translated into law, it produced such horrifying artifacts as Virginia’s 1924 anti-miscegenation act, passed with the aid of the eugenicist Anglo-Saxon Clubs. The law required all babies to be classified as “white” or “colored” and made it a felony to “misrepresent” your racial background. The Nazi jurists studying American race laws in the 1930s thought such “one drop” rules were a bit too strict.
The Anglo-Saxon Clubs naturally denied any racist intent, as the historian Edwin Black writes in War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race. “‘One drop of negro blood makes the negro’ is no longer a theory based on race pride or color prejudice, but a logically induced, scientific fact,” the groups claimed, adding that their objective was to maintain “the supremacy of the white race in the United States of America, without racial prejudice or hatred.” Got that?
Despite McCarthy’s effort to distance the GOP from the America First Caucus document, it’s clear that prominent Trumpist officials and intellectuals, some of them descended from the very immigrant groups Anglo-Saxon was intended to vilify, agree with some of the presumptions of Anglo-Saxonism. The echo of the notion that, as Francis Walker wrote, non-Anglo-Saxons are biologically incapable of “self-care and self-government” can be heard regularly on outlets such as Fox News, where hosts like Tucker Carlson argue that Democrats wish to “replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World.” This is biological determinism, but it’s also simply false. The Republican Party is now led by the descendants of the people Walker decried as incapable of self-government, people with surnames like Giuliani and Pompeo, even as it launches these old calumnies at a new generation of immigrants.
The document outlining the priorities for the America First Caucus, a name with an equally odious pedigree, makes similar arguments. “An important distinction between post-1965 immigrants and previous waves of settlers is that previous cohorts were more educated, earned higher wages, and did not have an expansive welfare state to fall back on when they could not make it in America and thus did not stay in the country at the expense of the native-born,” the document reads.
This is utter fantasy. European immigrants at the turn of the century faced nothing like the restrictions that prospective immigrants face today, let alone the immense, militarized deportation machine Americans have come to accept. They were poor, uneducated, and didn’t even need to speak English to enter the country; a minuscule fraction were excluded. The distinction between immigration before and after 1965 is that in that year, the U.S. repealed restrictions based on race and ethnicity that almost entirely prevented immigration from Asian and Africa. The America First Caucus document’s falsehoods about post-1965 immigration echo Anglo-Saxonism’s pseudoscientific presumptions that recent immigrants are somehow qualitatively incapable of “self-care and self-government.”
The 2020 election showed that the Republican Party could embrace conservative positions, even on immigration, and still appeal to Latino voters. But the ideological predilections of Anglo-Saxonism definitionally exclude that part of the Republican base, sending a clear message that they and other voters of color are unwelcome in the party, and threatening those electoral gains. They replace a message of restriction, or even law and order, with one rooted in racial purity. McCarthy’s forceful condemnation of that message is one small example of how a more diverse base of voters can work as a check against bigotry within a political party, even if it’s only a single step in the right direction, against weak actors it takes little courage to condemn.