Saturday, August 20, 2022


Mitch McConnell is worried that his candidates in the midterms won't win the Senate for the GOP. Jonathan Chait thinks McConnell himself is to blame:
Having driven out [Liz Cheney,] the one member of their party who fought back against Donald Trump’s election lies, Republicans find themselves mystified that election liars are taking over. What is fascinating is that the party’s mainstream wing sees no connection between these two things at all.

... When Trump refused to concede defeat, McConnell went along, saying, “A few legal inquiries from the president do not exactly spell the end of the republic.” For a few days during and after the insurrection, Republicans were prepared to make a break with Trump, but quickly reconsidered. One week after the insurrection, on January 13, Axios reported that McConnell still leaned toward impeaching Trump, but his allies were “divided whether to do it with one quick kill via impeachment, or let him slowly fade away.”

... The party Establishment decided to treat Trump’s coup as a minor detail they could put to the side. Confronting the insurrection would open a damaging schism within the party. They expected the party to work together in an authoritarian-led coalition.

... one completely foreseeable consequence of the party’s decision to cede the argument over 2020 to Trump is that it has allowed Trump to retain his influence.

... If Republican voters believe the 2020 election was stolen, of course they are going to demand their party nominate candidates who will stop it. Why would they even consider “moving on” from a historical crime so profound?
I'm not in the habit of defending Mitch McConnell or the rest of the GOP establishment, but they were right: Confronting the insurrection would have opened a damaging schism within the party. The notion that Republican voters would simply shrug and accept a Senate conviction in Trump's impeachment trial, especially if the Senate declared him ineligible to run for office again, is ludicrous.

What's happening to Republicans now is the culmination of a Republican strategy that goes back decades, to a period well before Trump entered politics. Starting in the late twentieth century, Republicans decided that their best path to power was demonizing their political enemies -- Democrats mostly, but also "RINOs" -- at every opportunity. They eventually mastered the art of gerrymandering, maximizing not only the number of Republican House districts in America but also constructing those districts so that few would be truly competitive under any circumstances. That meant that they could win House seats without appealing to moderates. All they needed to do was throw the reddest of red meat at the base.

At the same time, they ceded control of their messaging to Fox News, talk radio, right-wing megachurch preachers, and conspiratorialist websites. They went all in on compromise-averse extremism.

This is a fine strategy if you've constructed a lot of House districts with 57% Republican registration. In those districts, hard-right demagoguery is the right messaging strategy. But it doesn't work well for candidates running across entire purple states.

At this point, Republican voters are addicted to extremism. That's why most of them can't quit Trump, and why the ones who have expressed a willingness to quit him have shifted their allegiance to another authoritarian extremist, Ron DeSantis. The party continues to pursue extremism, often in ways that don't reference Trump. DeSantis and others have declared war on "wokeness," critical race theory, and trans people. Republicans on the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Fox News can't quite commit to abandoning Trump, while its top star, Tucker Carlson, openly embraces white nationalism and Viktor Orban's fascism.

Maybe McConnell could have headed this off by voting to convict Trump in the second impeachment trial and urging his senators to do the same. If Trump had been convicted, ,aybe GOP voters would have licked their wounds and gone on to nominate a collection of Lisa Murkowski clones.

But I doubt it. I think voter outrage and right-wing media rabble-rousing would have driven McConnell from his leadership job. A backlash like the one against George W. Bush's pursuit of immigration reform would have punished pro-conviction Republicans and pushed the party right back in Trump's direction, even if he'd been banned from electoral politics. Republicans voters are intolerant of moderation and compromise. They can't be talked down. The only way we'll ever neutralize them is to outvote them.

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