Party of Conspiracy Theorists

Republicans have allowed their party to be taken over by liars and extremists.

American president Donald Trump makes an appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 24, 2017
American president Donald Trump makes an appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 24, 2017 (Michael Vadon)

Damon Linker wonders what’s worse: that Republicans believe the FBI was doing the bidding of the Democratic Party by using opposition research funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign to get a court order to approve surveillance of a Donald Trump campaign advisor, Carter Page — or that they are only pretending to believe it in order to whip the Republican electorate into a conspiracy-addled froth of indignation against the legitimacy of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation?

Conspiracy theory

What Republicans are trying to do is give President Trump an excuse to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Rosenstein — a Republican — approved an FBI application for surveillance of Page based in part on allegations made by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele in a dossier compiled for the Clinton campaign and in part on America’s own discovery that Russian spies had tried to recruit Page. (We know this from court documents submitted by the FBI to prosecute one of those Russian spies.) A judge approved the application.

Republicans in Congress, and their allies in the right-wing media, are falsely accusing Rosenstein of approving the wiretap solely on the basis of the Steele dossier and possibly with an eye to discrediting Trump.

Transformation

To Linker, it doesn’t matter if Republicans believe their own lies or not. Either way, the party’s transformation under the influence of conservative talk radio and Fox News is complete.

What was once a sober and serious center-right party is now an organization that actively spreads elaborate webs of lies and half-truths, schemes and plots about its political opponents […] for the sake of stirring up anger and undermining the capacity for self-criticism within the Republican electorate.

Rick Wilson argues much the same in The Daily Beast and Kurt Andersen in Slate.

James Fallows warned a year before the 2016 election that Republicans were going through a push to the extreme “unlike anything else that has happened in politics since at least the Goldwater era and probably since long before.”

Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein recognized as early as 2012 that the Republican Party had become an “insurgent outlier” in American politics: “scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

Jonathan Bernstein, a columnist for Bloomberg View, blamed mainstream Republicans for telling their voters there are easy solutions to complicated problems and that the normal frustrations of politics are the product of villains, collaborators and fellow travelers.

Mona Charen, a conservative columnist, blamed right-wing opinionmakers for ceaselessly promoting the false narrative that Republican leaders in Washington were betraying the “grassroots”.

Both were right.

Power shift

The fact that Trump could win the Republican nomination without the support of traditional party actors and supporters — local and state officials, Republican-friendly interest and lobby groups, center-right media — proved that power on the right had shifted from relatively moderate politicos to extremists.

David Frum, an official in the George W. Bush Administration and a Trump critic, put it succinctly when he said, “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us and now we are discovering we work for Fox.”

The only surprise is that so many Republicans have welcomed their new overlords.