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How Republicans Became the Party of Trump

A look back at the last four years.

Donald Trump Emmanuel Macron
Presidents Donald Trump of the United States and Emmanuel Macron of France speak in the Red Room of the White House in Washington DC, April 24, 2018 (White House/D. Myles Cullen)

I don’t think I will ever get used to hearing once-sensible Republicans singing Donald Trump’s praises.

Four years ago, the likes of Nikki Haley, Rand Paul, Tim Scott and Scott Walker knew that Trump was a bully without ideas; a would-be strongman with an unhealthy admiration for Vladimir Putin; a failed tycoon who didn’t grasp the basic principles of economics; and a thrice-married philanderer who had clearly never read a Bible.

Four years later, with the economy in free fall, America’s reputation in tatters, multiple former Trump campaign officials in prison and 180,000 Americans dead as a result of coronavirus, they’re telling the Republican National Convention that Trump is the only thing standing between them and the abyss.

How did this happen?

  • Jacksonian Americans Have Found Their Caesar: Movement conservatives resisted Trump in 2016, but he appealed to a segment of the American right that had been on the losing side of every major argument in the preceding twenty years, from the culture wars about feminism and gay rights to free trade and immigration. For these “Jacksonian” Americans, named after the populist seventh president of the United States, Barack Obama’s presidency encapsulated the demise of the country they knew: a black man elected to end wars and provide universal health insurance would have been unthinkable a generation earlier. Read more
  • Never Trust These Vichy Republicans Again: In addition to the true believers, there were conservatives who put ratings, sales and career over principle. They threw their support behind Trump even though it meant reneging on everything they once believed. Republicans voters listened to Chris Christie, Ann Coulter, Newt Gingrich, Sean Hannity, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin and Jeff Sessions, not John McCain, Mitt Romney and the editors of National Review, who warned against Trump. With the exception of Hannity, who still does his best Joseph Goebbels impression on Fox News every night, all of these “Vichy Republicans” have been betrayed by Trump. Read more
  • Mussolini on Fifth Avenue: Say “fascism” and people hear Adolf Hitler. Conservatives are unlikely to take such warnings seriously anyway when lefties have accused every Republican presidential candidate since Barry Goldwater of being a crypto-fascist. Trump is no Hitler, but he does have things in common with lesser dictators, from his valorization of victimhood to hypermasculinity and an obsession with fitness to treating violence as a legitimate form of political action. Read more
  • Liberal America Unwittingly Radicalized Trumpland: Republicans are responsible for Trump, but the left didn’t help by urging white Americans “to take stock of their whiteness” and disparaging concerns about globalization and immigration as racist. This alienated status-quo conservatives and pushed economically insecure workers into the arms of a demagogue. Read more
  • Conservatives Need to Rethink Whose Side They’re On: If the left needed to rethink its strategy following Trump’s election, so did center-right Republicans who opposed him during the primaries. Too many made their peace with the new president and fell back into the habit of criticizing the left. That was a mistake. The political debate under Trump wasn’t going to be about regulation, taxes and the size of government. It would be about defending the rule of law from those who proposed to use the state as an instrument of their personal will and prevent a descent into kleptocracy. Some have made common cause with the center-left to defeat the extremists on either side. Let’s hope this center can hold. Read more
  • Republicans Think Democrats Are Worse Than Russia: Trump campaign officials met former Russian spies to get “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Trump fired the director of the FBI, James Comey, when he wouldn’t end the Russia investigation. Republicans didn’t care. The only thing worse than treason are Democrats. Read more
  • Republicans Stick with Trump Through Scandals. Why? The Russia investigation, tell-all books by former staffers, payoffs to porn stars and apologies for white supremacists did put a dent in Trump’s popularity, but pro-Trump media outlets and politicians remained more popular on the right than Trump skeptics, giving Republicans little incentive to turn on the president. Read more
  • Donald Trump’s Strategy of Tension: Trump has done nothing for the majority of Americans, who worry about their health care and their jobs. So he stokes fear and threatens violence in order to center the political debate on divisive questions of personal identity rather than on potentially unifying themes of material advancement. Republicans pretend the country is under siege from immigrants without and fifth columnists within. The media are the enemy of the people. Democrats are sellouts to globalist elites. Only Trump will keep you safe. Read more
  • Republicans Are Destroying Institutions to Save Their Party: Having successfully undermined their voters’ confidence in the media and science, Republicans in the age of Trump have called into question the trustworthiness of the Justice Department, the FBI and the courts in order to protect the president — and themselves. Fearful of losing a culture war to minorities, millennials, college-educated and secular Democrats, Republicans are willing to burn down the institutions of the republic in a last-ditch attempt to hold on to their fleeting political power. Après Trump, le déluge. Read more