Wednesday, May 26, 2021

<b>May 23, 2021</b>

<u>The formerly Grand Old Party,/U.

      In a way, the decline if the Republican Party is not surprising, as there are ample signs of the decline of the nation generally. There is no sense of common purpose; we are unable to work together; the country is descending into tribalism.  As David Brooks put it in a recent column, “Could today’s version of America have been able to win World War II? It hardly seems possible. That victory required national cohesion, voluntary sacrifice for the common good and trust in institutions and each other.”1  That no longer describes us.  Perhaps, then, the collapse of the GOP is part of a more general picture; even so, it is stunning.

      Donald Trump was a failure as President, and is a serial liar.  He is, to use his term, a loser, and is so  desperate to hide that from others and from himself that he concocted his crowning lie, that the 2020 presidential election somehow was stolen.  That story has no foundation in fact, and is not even entirely new; it recycles in more extreme form his excuse for not winning the popular vote in 2016.  Nevertheless, the Party has rallied around.  Its pathetic fealty to Trump was demonstrated by stripping Liz Cheney of her leadership post for speaking the embarrassing truth too often.   

      In following and praising Trump, Republicans have adopted his signature characteristic: lying.  They  no longer make any pretense of consistency or plausibility.  Kevin McCarthy said “I don’t think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election” even though his leader and Republicans across the country do just that.  Matching him in ignoring reality, and adding a bit of gallows humor, Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) described the mob storming the Capitol building as making “a normal tourist visit.”

      Another example of the shamelessness and irrationality of those genuflecting before Trump is that many of his ardent supporters trashed him in the past, including Liz Cheney’s replacement Elise Stefanik and even Kellyanne Conway, Counselor to the President.  A variation is denunciation by a loyalist, followed by return to the fold.  Examples are remarks after the January 6 insurrection by Kevin McCarthy (“The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters”) and Mitch McConnell: (“Former President Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty.)”

      Republican strategy assumes that the base have short memories and can’t tell fact from fiction. Republican lesders must hope so, as the truth would defeat them.  When Kellyanne Conway spoke of alternative facts, she was trying to explain away one of Trump’s fantasies but, as it turned out, she was describing the new political reality.  Daniel Patrick Moynihan is said to have declared that “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” Republicans want both and need the latter.

      The Party has no actual program, other than opposing everything Biden wants to do while screaming “socialism!” It has no message to the people that will win votes on the merits because, to the extent it has a political philosophy, it is helping the rich and powerful.  True, Republicans have a slogan: maximize freedom, but “freedom,” to them, always was something of a con, usually amounting to opposing regulations and taxes, in other words serving selfishness.  Now it often seems to contain a death wish: opposing masks and distancing in the face of a pandemic, opposing climate-control measures in the face of potentially fatal global warming, opposing gun control in the face of a flood of shootings.

      Despite all that, can the Republicans recapture Congress next year?  There are predictions that it is a certainty.2  Redistricting apparently will favor red states, but more will be needed. Lacking a meaningful message, the GOP pins its hope of winning the next election on two ploys.  First, knowing that it must have the votes of Trump’s supposed base — the MAGA crowd, driven by cultural resentments — it will continue to idolize, fawn over, lick the boots of their leader. Second, it will rig the election — there’s irony — by gerrymandering and vote suppression. Even after that, the Party will need independent votes.  Will those appear?   

      An article in The Washington Post suggested that they may not. Without providing any detail, The Post, referring to “a party retreat in April,” reported this:

When staff from the National Republican Congressional Committee rose to explain the party’s latest polling in core battleground districts, they left out a key finding about Trump’s weakness . . . .  Trump’s unfavorable ratings were 15 points higher than his favorable ones in the core districts, according to the full polling results, which were later obtained by The Washington Post. Nearly twice as many voters had a strongly unfavorable view of the former president as had a strongly favorable one.3  

That result is generally consistent with national polls, which show Trump’s favorability rating falling.

      In addition, the Party is coming apart at the seams, and many voters may choose to follow the dissenters. Liz Cheney is not alone in criticizing fellow Republicans, nor is Trump her only target. Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene managed to find a parallel between Speaker Pelosi's decision to require members of the House to wear masks on the chamber floor and the Holocaust; Rep. Cheney denounced that as “evil lunacy,” Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.) condemned Greene’s comment as “beyond reprehensible.”  Rep. Adam Kinzinger has said “I do think Kevin [McCarthy] has failed to tell the truth to the Republicans and to the American people” about the events of January 6. 

      Reps Cheney and Kinzinger voted in January to impeach Trump, along with eight other Republicans, the most in history to support impeaching a president of the same party.4  At the trial in the Senate, seven Republicans voted to convict Trump, shattering the record for the most votes to convict by a president’s party.  (The previous record was one, set in Trump’s first impeachment trial)5 

      Many prominent Republicans have broken with Trump.  One of the most significant is Michael Steele, former Chairman of the Party, emblem of the establishment. (“I am an American, a conservative and a Republican, in that order. And I am voting for Joe Biden on Nov. 3.”)  Several Republicans spoke at the Democratic Convention, Never Trumpers abound, and many Republican election officials have refused to go along with the big lie.  The Maricopa, Arizona Board of Supervisors — four of the five members are Republicans — has denounced the absurd “audit” of that county’s votes.  All of this not only reveals the weakness of the Party but provides encouragement and cover to Republican voters who may be tempted to desert. If Trump continues to trash prominent Republicans such as Pence and McConnell, there might even be some high-level defections, not from the Party or the anti-Biden agenda, but from the Trump-MAGA-election lies wing.

      None of this guarantees that the Democrats will win next year, and they have problems of their own to solve. They need to hammer on the sins and folly of the opposition, but also must convince ordinary folk, who were once the heart of the Party, that it understands them and that it’s on their side.


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