Donald Trump (R-Mar-a-Lago) Is the Republican Party Now
All it took for Republicans to fall back in line is the threat of death-by-primary, since for so many of them, political death is more frightening than the real thing.
Republicans, it’s 11 p.m.: Do you know where your party is?
Donald Trump didn’t make off with the silverware when he checked out. Instead he took the GOP with him, as if the White House were one of his hotels and the party consisted of miniature bottles of shampoo and shower gel. So much for whispers that his impeachment would give the establishment a chance to purge him. Instead, repeating the 2017 mistake when the “adults” kept waiting for Trump to pivot to being presidential, they realized too late that they had created a monster beyond their control.
History is repeating itself. For a while, it looked like there would be a post-election battle for the soul of the party but the party folded with hardly a skirmish. Any Republican with the idea of opening up daylight between themselves and Trump, or building their own following, listen up: Trump may have lost the election, but he hasn't lost the party.
Don’t look for Trump (R-Mar-a-Lago) to pivot to being ex-presidential either. There will be no good works, no writing, or paintings, no trips to hellholes to recover hostages, no laying low letting the new president he’s yet to acknowledge be president. These past few weeks of silence were observed and endured on advice of counsel. The minute the impeachment trial ended, a purge began not of Trump from the party but by Trump of the party—of anyone who doesn’t accept that he remains their Dear Leader.
Bygones are called that because the culprit wishes them gone: the loss of the House, the Senate, and the White House, the siege of the Capitol, his love for the very special people who did the sacking, his refusal still to give up the lie he won. He’s moved on and so has anyone who wants to run unencumbered by a Trump primary in 2022.
The speed with which the party has fallen in line makes it clear how rare people like Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who refused to “find” the votes Trump demanded, and Sen. Bill Cassidy, who’s not retiring yet voted to convict, are. Most would do anything not to be Mike Pence, who would have stopped the electoral vote count if he’d had the authority to. When it was clear he couldn’t, and Proud Boys with a mock noose showed up, he was hustled away to safety but left to die politically by a president he stood a heartbeat away from for four years.
All it took for Republicans to fall back in line is the threat of death-by-primary, since for so many of them, political death is more frightening than the real thing. That explains the otherwise unfathomable behavior of Sen. Lindsey Graham, who serves the citizens of South Carolina when he can spare time from his first calling of serving Trump. Graham broke away ever so briefly, when the stench of pepper spray and perhaps the memory of a Senate that included John McCain, drove him to declare “enough is enough.” But it wasn’t. Graham came back for more and Trump took him in, the brevity of his rebuke and the speed of his repentance saving Graham from harsher punishment, plus it’s pleasant to have someone eager to play golf with a known abuser of Mulligans.
Even though Trump’s craziness cost Graham his cherished chairmanship of Senate Judiciary—he falls asleep replaying his fiery tirade against Democrats in the cause of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation—he quickly realized he’ll only regain the post with Trump’s help as he saw the party quickly shift back to its pre-riot contours: Liz Cheney, who voted to impeach, faring worse than QAnon acolyte Marjorie Taylor Green; 140 representatives, including leader Kevin McCarthy, voting to stop the count, 43 Senators siding with Trump on impeachment. Although Trump is promiscuous, for now it’s move over Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, just back from Cancun, and let Lindsey take it from here.
And there was a void for Graham to fill, created when Trump summarily canceled the highest-ranking Republican in Washington in brutally personal terms. Mitch McConnell, who keeps his own counsel to a fault, broke character to give a sermon on the floor holding Trump morally responsible for what unfolded that January day.
The only way what McConnell did makes sense is as a triumph of conscience over career that will give him comfort on his death bed even though it will haunt him in his pursuit of his burning earthly desire to reclaim the Senate majority and his position as its leader. Graham, in his new guise as de facto minority leader, went on Hannity to scold McConnell for hurting the party, urging him to accept Trump as the party’s “most dominant figure,” warning, “We don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of taking back the majority without him.”
It took the death of Rush Limbaugh for Trump to return to Fox for his first formal interview in weeks. Before there were MAGAniacs, there were Dittoheads and before the ride down the escalator, there was Limbaugh, blurring the line between entertainment and politics, in tirades and trolls that Tucker and Laura and Sean would emulate to Trump’s benefit. A eulogy being a terrible thing to waste, Trump squeezed in what he may remember most about Rushbo and what made it worth giving him the Medal of Freedom. A man getting his life in dying order nonetheless had time to tell you that he thought we won, Trump recalled. And so, Trump couldn’t resist adding, do I.
Republicans who still haven’t learned the lesson of the Trump era should take heed from an unmistakable metaphor for the fate of your party under the man from Mar-a-Lago. On Tuesday, the Trump Plaza Atlantic City was destroyed before a crowd that paid $10 to watch a huge cloud consume the New Jersey beach. Trump didn’t supply the 3,000 sticks of dynamite but he still blew it up by running it into the ground as he’s done everything from his businesses to his marriages to his presidency. Republicans, before it’s blown to smithereens, do whatever it takes to get your party back.