Tuesday, July 28, 2020


Bret Stephens imagines what the Republican Party will do if Donald Trump suffers a decisive loss in November.
The infighting will begin the moment Florida, North Carolina or any other must-win state for Trump is called for Joe Biden. It will pit two main camps against each other. On the right, it will be the What Were We Thinking? side of the party. On the further right, the Trump Didn’t Go Far Enough side. Think of it as a cage match between Marco Rubio and Tucker Carlson for the soul of the G.O.P.

Both sides will recognize that Trump was a uniquely incompetent executive who — as in his business dealings — always proved his own worst enemy, always squandered his luck, never learned from his mistakes, never grew in office. Both sides will want to wash their hands of the soon-to-be-former president, his obnoxious relatives, their intellectual vacuity and their self-dealing ways. And both will have to tread carefully around a wounded and bitter man who, like a minefield laid for some long-ago war, still has the power to kill anyone who missteps.

That’s where agreement ends. The What Were We Thinking? Republicans will want to hurry the party back to some version of what it was when Paul Ryan was its star. They’ll want to pretend that Trump never happened. They will organize a task force composed of former party worthies to write an election post-mortem, akin to what then-G.O.P. chair Reince Priebus did after 2012, emphasizing the need to repair relations with minorities, women and younger voters. They’ll talk up the virtues of Republicans as reformers and problem-solvers, not Know-Nothings and culture warriors.

The Didn’t Go Far Enough camp will make the opposite case. They’ll note that Trump never built the wall, never got U.S. troops out of the Middle East, never drained the swamp of Beltway corruption, ended NAFTA in name only, did Wall Street’s bidding at Main Street’s expense, and “owned the libs” on Twitter while losing the broader battle of ideas. This camp will seek a new champion: Trump plus a brain.

These are two deeply unattractive versions of the party of Lincoln, one feckless, the other fanatical. Even so, all who care about the health of American democracy should hold their noses and hope the feckless side prevails.
I used to believe that there'd be a Didn't Go Far Enough camp, and that it would prevail. Now I don't.

There's no doubt in my mind that the GOP will get worse. I'd love to believe that the Never Trumpers could succeed in their efforts to "burn it all down." It would be good for America if Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, and many of Trump's other enablers in the House and Senate went down to defeat. It would be helpful if a new Republican Party emerged that rejected Trumpism, white nationalism, and defiant ignorance.

But that won't happen. Even if Democrats sweep in 2020, the remaining Republicans will be Trumpist ultras. Fox News will still be built on a conflict narrative in which the greatest heroes are those who put up the maximum resistance to whatever the left, liberals, or even moderate Democrats want. So it will either be Trumpism without Trump or Trumpism with Trump (because he'll still tweet and still command respect from the vast majority of GOP voters, and he might even continue to hold rallies).

But won't he be perceived as, y'know, a loser? No. Stephens's mistake is to argue that Republican voters will agree that Trump lost because of something he did. But this is a party that still largely believes in a team of supervillains called the Deep State, which has spent four years on a project that makes D-Day or the moon landing look simple: defeating Trump by any means necessary. They believe George Soros, China, antifa, Black Lives Matter, John Bolton, Anthony Fauci, the U.S. military, the U.S. media, Joe Biden, the Portland Moms, Kathy Griffin, Twitter, Google, YouTube, and probably your local superarket with its mandatory mask policy are all part of a Conspiracy So Vast to crush Donald Trump at the polls. The virus was the bioweapon we needed. No loss, of whatever size, will persuade them that Trump bears any responsibility for his defeat. The fix was in.

And the mainstream media will probably confirm their beliefs. I believe this:

I believe it except that I don't think it will take a few years. I think this will be the conventional wisdom starting on Election Night, if not earlier. Here was the headline of a piece by Michael Kruse at Politico yesterday:

Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic is what’s principally sinking his approval ratings and chances at the ballot box, but it’s true as well that all but gone is so much of what fueled Trump’s bid four years back—the freewheeling ability to hopscotch the country, the long lines and the packed venues, the relentless trolling of his equally mobile rival. These tools he used to foment such fervor have been rendered moot....
When much of the right believes that the coronavirus was engineered in a Chinese laboratory -- possibly with Dr. Fauci's assistance -- and also believes (as does the president) that China could have easily prevented its global spread, no one will blame Trump for his loss. (Never mind the fact that Trump was trailing Joe Biden by considerable margins long before the pandemic began.

The mainstream press is also primed to shift to a "failed Biden presidency" narrative almost instantly after the election. In fact, it may already be happening. Again according to Politico, Biden's running mate selection process is already a failure:

The GOP won't need to change. It will still be pleasing to the base, and it will be increasingly appealing to mainstream opinion-shapers, who'll be content just to have Trump gone. (In this way, the MSM is likely to be more sympathetic to the remaining Trump enablers than the Lincoln Project is now.)

If Biden wins, Democrats need to be ready for these immediate efforts to put them on the defensive -- and we all need to be ready for a media campaign to rehabilitate the Republican Party without ever holding it accountable.

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