Sunday, December 06, 2020


In The New York Times, Peter Baker describes Donald Trump as a waning force:
The final days of the Trump presidency have taken on the stormy elements of a drama more common to history or literature than a modern White House. His rage and detached-from-reality refusal to concede defeat evoke images of a besieged overlord in some distant land defiantly clinging to power rather than going into exile or an erratic English monarch imposing his version of reality on his cowed court.
Even Trump's post-presidential power-brokering is seen as a burden on the GOP, which would rather do without it:
Although many Republicans would like to move on, he appears intent on forcing them to remain in thrall to his need for vindication and vilification even after his term expires.
At The Atlantic, Peter Nicholas imagines that a Republican Party that continues to be effectively led by Trump will fall into irrelevance.
... relying on Trump to run again could leave the party exposed. If he teases another campaign and backs out, the GOP will have sacrificed itself for him and blocked the rise of up-and-coming candidates for no reason at all....

Even before the election, heretics inside the Trump-branded GOP were quietly discussing ways to wean the party from a polarizing leader who stood a good chance of losing. “There are conversations among elected officials who recognize there’s no future with Trumpism. It’s a dead end,” Jeff Flake, the former Republican senator from Arizona, told me.

Sticking with Trump could undercut the GOP’s long-term relevance. The president lost, after all, by 7 million votes. While he made some inroads with Latino voters in a few battleground states, overall he won only about a third of this fast-growing constituency. And exit polls showed that Biden won six out of 10 voters under the age of 30.

No rule says that a political party must endure—ask the Whigs.
I hope this is right. I hope demographics will be the death knell of this party, although I've been hearing that for twenty years. I hope yoking the party to a greievance-obsessed conspiratorialist hatemonger who lost the popular vote in two straight elections is a party-killing mistake.

But in The Washington Post, historian Beverly Gage reminds us that the politician Trump resembles most these days, Joe McCarthy, didn't actually do long-term damage to his party. In fact, the GOP's comeback starting in 1968 -- which has continued to this day, with a brief interruption for Watergate -- began with McCarthy.
Though we now think of McCarthy as one of the most hated men in American politics, even in 1954 he retained a passionate base of support, with about a third of the public backing his anti-communist campaign. Once the Senate voted against him, the tale of how he had been victimized by a corrupt and self-interested Washington establishment helped fuel the far right’s grievance politics — and spark what would become the modern conservative movement. Far from bringing an end to McCarthyism, the 1954 Senate vote mainly pushed it out of Washington, and a new generation of right-wing activists took up his cause.

Something similar is likely to happen as Trump departs the Oval Office warning of elite conspiracies and rigged ballots, encouraging his base to see themselves as noble warriors against an illegitimate political order. While the Trump presidency will soon be over, the history of Trumpism is just beginning.
Ross Douthat's column today is worrisome. He tells us that Trump's conspiratorialism is connecting with people he'd never have expected to fall for it.
Anyone familiar with his career could have predicted that he would claim to have been cheated out of victory. Anyone watching how he wielded power (or, more often, didn’t) as president could have predicted that his efforts to challenge the election results would be embarrassing, ridiculous and dismissed with prejudice in court....

... But ... one feature of November did crack my jaded shell a bit: not his behavior or the system’s response, but the sheer scale of the belief among conservatives that the election was really stolen....

... what has struck me, especially, is how the belief in a stolen election has spread among people I wouldn’t have thought of as particularly Trumpy or super-partisan, who aren’t cable news junkies or intensely online, who didn’t even seem that invested in the election before it happened.

Others have taken note of the same phenomenon: At National Review, Michael Brendan Dougherty writes that “friends who I did not know were political are sending me little snippets of allegations of voter fraud and manipulation.” At The American Mind, the pseudonymous Californian Peachy Keenan describes watching a passel of lukewarm Trump-supporter moms in her Catholic parish suddenly “get MAGAfied” by election conspiracy theories. (As a fraud believer herself, she thinks that’s a good thing.)
Douthat never arrives at the real reason Trump's conspiracies feel plausible: They're a natural extention of the "voter fraud" scaremongering that's been utterly mainstream on the right since the George W. Bush era, when U.S. attorneys were fired for refusing to prosecute nonexistent election tampering. It's also consistent with the right-wing media's multiple demonization campaigns of the last several decades -- against supposed corruption and criminality in "Democrat cities," against the alleged subterranean evil of "illegal aliens," against purported globalist plots on the part of George Soros and other "elitists." We allowed all these narratives to spread unchecked; the current crop of Trump-skeptical Republicans never challenged them, and Democrats chose not to fight back against the narratives with any passion.

I hope we're through with Trump and Trumpism. I fear we've only begun the process of fighting it.

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