Voters Have Good Reason To Be Disgusted With The GOP. How Can They Think They're Going To Win Again?
Today the NY Post ran a click-bait piece on Liz Cheney, who's about to lose her reelection in Wyoming, not ruling out a presidential run. What was interesting about the piece, though wasn't about her possibly running-- a joke-- but what she had to say about presidential wannabes like Ted Cruz, Rick Scott, Josh Hawley, Tom Cottom, Marco Rubio: "I think we have a huge number of interesting candidates, but I think that we’re going to be in a good position to be able to take the White House. I do think that some of our candidates who led the charge, particularly the senators who led the unconstitutional charge, not to certify the election, you know, in my view that’s disqualifying. I think that adherence to the Constitution, adherence to your oath has got to be at the top of the list. So, I think, you know that certainly will be a factor that I’m looking at and I think a number of voters will be looking at as they decide about ’24." Good luck with that in the GOP. Maybe she needs to start a new party.
Señor T today: "Liz Cheney is polling sooo low in Wyoming, and has sooo little support, even from the Wyoming Republican Party, that she is looking for a way out of her Congressional race. She’ll either be yet another lobbyist or maybe embarrass her family by running for President, in order to save face. This warmongering fool wants to stay in the Middle East and Afghanistan for another 19 years, but doesn’t consider the big picture-- Russia and China!"
Peter Wehner, a speech-writer for Reagan and both Bushes and an all-around right-wing operative for decades, is a Never-Trumper. In 2016, in a NY Times OpEd he asked if his party could find its way back to Lincoln. He wrote that for his entire adult life he had "listened to the invective leveled against the Republican Party by liberals: It is a party sustained by racist appeals, composed of haters and conspiracy nuts, indifferent to the plight of the poor and the weak, anti-woman. I have repeatedly denied those charges, publicly and forcefully. The broad indictment, the unfair generalizations, were caricature and calumny, the product of the fevered imagination of the left. Then along came Donald J. Trump, who seemed to embody every awful charge made against the Republican Party... [I]t is fair to say that there existed in the Republican Party repulsive elements, people who were attracted to racial and ethnic politics and moved by resentment and intolerance rather than a vision of the good. This group was larger than I ever imagined, and at important moments the Republican Party either overlooked them or played to them. Some may have been hoping to appeal to these elements while also containing and moderating them, to sand off the rough edges, to keep them within the coalition but not allow them to become dominant. But the opposite happened. The party guests took over the party." That was 5 years ago. And today?
Well, after Trump was defeated in November, Wehner warned that "Trump’s most enduring legacy [may be] a nihilistic political culture, one that is tribalistic, distrustful, and sometimes delusional, swimming in conspiracy theories"
Today, writing for The Atlantic, Wehner had another warning-- and not just about Trump: The GOP Is a Grave Threat to American Democracy. He, like many Republicans who had failed to see what the GOP really has been for decades, has hoped it "would snap back into its former shape. The GOP would distance itself from Trump and Trumpism, and become a normal party once again." He's certainly realized that that was a "dream [that] soon died." He's finally beginning to realize exactly what his party is, even if it will take some time for him to admit that it always-- at least in his lifetime-- has been. He now sees it "becoming more radicalized." Ummm... "more radicalized" than it is now, would be a very dangerous and violent fascism, an existential threat to the United States of America.
He wrote that the GOP brand is "barely disguised nativism, and its white identity politics are resonating with extremist groups. Slate’s Will Saletan, in an article cataloging recent developments, summarized things this way: 'The Republican base is thoroughly infected with sympathies for the insurrection.'" And he points out that the Trumpists are increasingly embracing QAnon nonsense, especially the stuff about a deep state pedophile ring run by top Democrats. And they don't see fringe sociopaths like Marjorie Taylor Greene as either fringe or a sociopath. More and more Republican voters identify with her and her ravings. They trust Newsmax and OAN and have convinced themselves that For "has gone too far left" (except Tucker Carlson). "Nearly two-thirds of Republicans believe that Trump won the election."
And then there's the rise of "whataboutism."
If compelling evidence is presented to MAGA supporters that what they’re being told by Greene or others is a lie, they don’t engage directly with the evidence. According to [Bulwark publisher Sarah] Longwell, “They say, ‘What about Ilhan Omar?’ They say, ‘What about [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez]?’” As Longwell puts it, “They’ve got these things down, which is ‘Whatever you just showed me about Marjorie Taylor Greene is irrelevant because Ilhan Omar, because AOC, and I know lots about that, and I can tell you all about it.’” Some focus-group participants report that they like how Greene “speaks her mind.”
Greene raised $3.2 million during the first quarter of 2021. That’s a staggering sum, especially for a freshman member of the House, and she told the world the lesson she has taken from it: “I stood my ground and never wavered in my belief in ‘America First’ policies and putting people over politicians! And I will NEVER back down! As a matter of fact, I’m just getting started.” The fact that Greene has been criticized for her views actually works to her advantage; she is tapping into the grievance culture, the “own the libs” mentality, that right now dominates the Republican Party.
“Right-wing media has primed people for two very clear reactions to avoiding any confrontation with the bad thing that’s going on, on their own side,” Longwell explained. “And that is to say, ‘What about the left? What about this example of Democrats?’—that’s No. 1. And No. 2, ‘Why does the media never talk about that?’ So the media is as much an enemy as Democrats, and they believe that they’re connected to each other in this way.”
The irony is that those complaining that the media never talk about Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are watching media that talk all the time about Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The news outlets that the MAGA faithful are tuning in to feature “essentially a constant attack on mainstream media that they see as corrupt and in bed with liberal Democrats, and so the entire narrative is that you are being lied to, not told things,” Longwell said. This plays into what was once a healthy skepticism on the right, a refusal to passively accept the narratives being told by elite media outlets. But that healthy skepticism has “jumped the shark,” according to Longwell, to where “it becomes an obsessive way” of thinking, “where you now live in a post-truth nihilism.”
Trump followers believe they are independent thinkers, unlike the rest of us, whom they view as sheep, people who are “just sleepwalking through life,” in Longwell’s phrase-- too naive, too compliant, too trusting. This explains how the effort to combat COVID-19 was derailed; much of MAGA world rejected what epidemiologists were saying, including about the efficacy of masks and vaccines, and turned the fight against the pandemic into a culture war between those they viewed as arrogant elitists and liberty-loving Americans. In this instance, living in an alternate reality-- a place where masks are mocked, hydroxychloroquine is said to be a COVID-19 cure, and calls to “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” are viewed as acts of patriotism-- had deadly consequences. So did Trump’s lie about the election, which led to the storming of the Capitol.
This is part of what Longwell refers to as a “poisonous information environment,” in which even less-than-enthusiastic Trump voters are disoriented by the flood of misinformation and disinformation. Longwell, in characterizing what focus-group participants have told her, puts it this way: “‘I just don’t know what to believe anymore. I don’t know what’s true.’”
Bear in mind that these people are often being sent links and Facebook postings that include false information—but because that information is sent by friends and individuals they trust, they tend to believe what they read, or at least be open to the conspiracy theories being peddled. And the widespread loss of trust in institutions and authority figures, which has been happening for decades, compounds the problem.
Longwell also offered insights into a phenomenon that both fascinates and concerns me: political tribalism. Too many behaviors and attitudes are now driven by very strong loyalty to political tribes or social groups, or by antipathy and hatred for those on the other side. Many Americans are coalescing around their mutual resentments and fears. Tribalism is intrinsic to human nature, but it’s growing more acute. Amy Chua, a Yale law professor, has written about how in America today, every group feels threatened. That is a prescription not just for misunderstanding, but for more political violence.
“You can see it,” Longwell told me. “Once everybody in the group kind of knows that they’re all Trump voters, and they all kind of dislike the left, they immediately identify with their in-group.” They start to bond with one another, she explained, reveling in their shared loathing of figures such as Omar and Ocasio-Cortez.
Often, what we think are public-policy debates are really about issues of core identity. This helps explain the unusual intensity surrounding politics these days.
Longwell laments what she refers to as the “symbiotic relationship” between Republican voters and politicians. The base is angry, radicalized, and prone to catastrophize; Republican politicians believe that stirring up the base is in their self-interest; and so Republican lawmakers, combined with the right-wing media ecosystem, inflame emotions even more.
Longwell holds the Trumpian political class more responsible than she does ordinary voters, though she doesn’t let voters off the hook. But she believes that the former know better and are acting more cynically, while she has some sympathy for many Republican voters. “They’re not bad people,” she insisted. “They’re just—they don’t know what to believe or they have been told a bunch of things that aren’t true.” And that confusion, she argued, has been unscrupulously exploited. “Broadly speaking, I think that there are a lot of people who are out to take advantage of the fact that people don’t quite know what to think.”
Many of those who are part of MAGA world are post-truth, subordinating reality to partisanship and ideology, but they are not, strictly speaking, relativists. Or to be more precise: They don’t believe they’re relativists; in fact, they would argue to their dying breath that they’re defending the truth. The problem is that the information sources on which they’re relying, and that they seek out, are built on falsehoods and lies. Many Trump supporters aren’t aware of this, and for complicated reasons many of them are, for now at least, content to live in a world detached from objective facts, from reality, from the way things really and truly are. And without agreement on what constitutes reality, we’re lost.
After Trump’s defeat in November, and especially after his effort to overturn the election results and the role he played in provoking an unprecedented attack on the citadel of American democracy, Republican leaders could have moved away from the indecency and corruption that defined the Trump era. In their different ways, Representatives Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, and Jaime Herrera Beutler and Senators Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, and Mitch McConnell have done so. “We really can’t become the party of a cult of personality,” Cheney recently warned. “It’s a really scary phenomenon we haven’t seen in this country before.” But even so, most others in the GOP chose to double down.
Having alienated college-educated suburban voters, many consequential Republicans decided their best bet is to keep their contracting coalition in a state of constant agitation and fear, combatants in a never-ending culture war, “embattled warriors making a last stand against the demise of everything,” as a friend of mine describes it. And that, in turn, requires them to feed the base even greater falsehoods.
That is where we are, at least for now, and it does no one any good-- least of all conservatives-- to pretend otherwise. We saw how well denial and wishful thinking worked out during the Trump presidency.
But where the GOP is now isn’t where it needs to stay. Any party, at any time, can take strides toward decency, honor, and American ideals. It is never too late to do good. But in the current climate, doing good requires some degree of courage, and sometimes courage is not enough to prevail.
...[R]ight now the Republican Party is a grave threat to American democracy-- not the only one, of course, but a grave one-- and unless and until Republicans summon the wit and the will to salvage the party, ruin will follow.
The best thing those who love the Republican Party can do for it is to speak the truth about it. In doing so, they might hold close to their heart a phrase from the great Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: “One word of truth shall outweigh the whole world.”
Maybe they can also examine what it is they ever loved about the Republican Party and why they loved the Republican Party. Because if they're honest, they going to not be happy about what they discover. The Democratic Party has its problems, but characters like Boebert Cawthorn and Taylor Greene-- not to mention Gaetz-- could have never grown up to be Democratic members of Congress. And there's every reason to believe that these three-- if not Gaetz, who will probably be in prison-- are likely going to be in Congress again next year.