This GOP Needs a Serious Dose of Truth and Reconciliation
Now that Trumpism has metastasized from fringe ideology to near-total hegemony, it is unclear whether anything of the old Republican Party remains to be salvaged.
Republicans grappling with the fallout of this week’s failed right-wing insurrection at the Capitol and a sweeping loss of federal power face an immediate and existential question: Can the Grand Old Party be saved? In its current, Trumpified form, the answer is clearly no. The only way forward is by expelling every last vestige of Trump’s corrosive legacy.
That was made clear enough by Donald Trump Jr., of all people, speaking to the ‘Stop the Steal’ rally that would eventually blossom into full-blown insurrection. “This gathering should send a message,” he shouted. “This isn’t their Republican Party anymore. This is Donald Trump’s party!”
Junior was right for once. Blinded by their desire for power and driven ever further right by media outlets that capitalized on the fanaticism of far-right conspiracy theorists, the GOP mortgaged itself to the Trump family. Now Trump has slapped eviction notices on everything that once resembled Republican values, and sent an army of strongarm goons to intimidate elected officials he views as insufficiently submissive.
Even as the Republican Party opened the doors to Trumpism after the president’s upset 2016 victory, leaders like Mitch McConnell were confident in the durability of Republican power. They enjoyed unified control of Washington, a vast, open field of judicial appointments ripe for reshaping in the Federalist Society’s warped conservative image, and a president who promised the faithful a new Golden Age of ideological dominance surpassing anything delivered during the Reagan or Bush years.
Today the GOP is in full collapse, stripped of the Senate majority after Trump declared war on Georgia Republicans and cost the party two of its safest seats, and sent packing from the White House by a Democratic nominee Trump spent years dismissing as a doddering incompetent. Trump, ostensibly the GOP leader, regards most of his Capitol Hill counterparts with open disdain and often fantasizes about defeating those who’ve been insufficiently loyal to him in future Senate primaries. More than half of rank-and-file Republicans view loyalty to Trump—not to conservatism or country—as the measure of a ‘good Republican.’
Nowhere is Trump’s capture of the GOP more apparent than in congressional Republicans’ mumble-mouthed response to the violent act of terrorism visited on the Capitol complex by thousands of pro-Trump extremists. Despite a public call for removing a clearly unwell Trump via the 25th Amendment by Rep. Adam Kinzinger on Thursday, lawmakers remain too intimidated by Trump’s hold on the party to put their names behind calls for his removal.
Even Senate Republicans who acknowledge Trump’s authoritarian descent are mainly playing for time. In remarks Thursday morning, Senator Lindsey Graham casually argued Trump’s fomenting of insurrection didn’t merit immediate removal. Better, Graham pleaded, to give Trump another chance to turn his act around in the final two weeks of his shambolic tinpot presidency.
The unavoidable first step toward a recovery would be for senior Republicans to place accountability where it belongs: with Donald Trump, yes, but also on the toxic network of conspiracy-peddling QAnon cranks Trump has tirelessly platformed and championed. There is no miasma of uncertainty around who is responsible for Insurrection Day. Unfortunately for American democracy, Republicans have as yet shown little willingness to accept the ongoing danger of this ruinous Trumpian hurricane.
Yes, Mitt Romney talked about “an insurrection incited by the president of the United States” when the Senate finally returned and certified Joe Biden’s electoral victory, but most of his fellow Republicans just condemned the violence of the insurrection without ever explicitly scolding Trump or the thousands of paramilitary supporters who were still milling around Washington.
Whether old-guard Republicans like McConnell are prepared to accept it, this week’s events cast an even harsher light on an ideologically barren, organizationally shattered GOP. What Americans saw Wednesday was the unveiling of the Republican Party’s truest face, an uncontrolled and unmanageable mass of violent white conspiracy theorists who interpret America’s promise of representation as applying specifically and exclusively to themselves.
That was no surprise. Romney and former Rep. Justin Amash have consistently warned that the GOP’s four-year effort to harness and redirect the wildfire of Trumpism to its own ends would result in political and moral ruin. Now that Trumpism has metastasized from fringe ideology to near-total hegemony, it is unclear whether anything of the old Republican Party remains to be salvaged. In that case, the future of America’s conservative movement depends on leaders courageous and moral enough to make a full, public, unapologetic break with Trumpism—and the GOP as it exists today.
Trump might defend his wanton criminality by saying that one can only buy people who are willing to be bought. In the case of the GOP, driven to the point of self-parody by its increasingly frantic efforts to deny Democrats even the slightest legislative victory, Trump found desperate people eager to sell.
The GOP can’t begin to reckon with its sad reality without a serious effort at truth and reconciliation. Until the GOP is ready to acknowledge the blast crater Trump left on their party and our shared nation, there can be no real effort to build a “post-Trump Republican Party,” as some hopeful never-Trumpers dream. If Republican leaders want to prevent another, more deadly attack against the American government, they’ll need to fix themselves first.