Thursday, October 27, 2022


New York Times opinion columnist Katherine Miller almost gets it, about a year late:
... what if we’ve already reached the post-Trump era?

Consider the case of Glenn Youngkin, Virginia’s former private equity co-C.E.O. governor with a sunshine demeanor, and Kari Lake, Arizona’s Republican nominee for governor, a wild proponent of Donald Trump’s claims that the election was stolen from him.... Mr. Youngkin campaigned for her last week, across several events.... there was no clash. It wasn’t one of those awkward, painful episodes in which a more traditional Republican makes an explicit transaction with a party dominated by Mr. Trump. Everything was smooth and cohesive — a joint case about the Republican Party of today.

Looking at this pair one way, you could see Donald Trump’s endless influence over the Republican Party. But if you zoomed out ... neither Mr. Youngkin nor Ms. Lake had much to do with anything that happened nationally between June 2015 and January 2021.

This observation ... coexists with another possibility: that Mr. Trump could be fading politically at the same time that his core support is hardening.... When people talk about a post-Trump era, there’s usually a subtext that it would involve a clean break and his permanent exit from political life. If we are entering a post-Trump period, though, rather than Mr. Trump being something to get past, he could remain a major factor in politics but no longer the sole reference point around which each development moves.
This is a long way of saying that maybe Trump really isn't on the verge of vanishing from the scene, either through a gradual slide into irrelevance or because he's vanquished by someone like Brave Liz Cheney wielding Excalibur. He might be retaining some relevance while not being the only relevant Republican.

And, well, duh. Of course that's what's happening. It's been happening since the spring of 2021, in plain sight.

While smart people told us that the GOP was a mentally healthy party suffering from a mania that was entirely a side effect of a drug called Trumpism, Fox News hosts and opportunistic GOP candidates like Glenn Youngkin were obsessing over the twin specters of critical race theory and trans students in schools, even as Republicans nationwide took the magical thinking of Trump's COVID denialism and honed it until it was a weaponized theory of disease that denied any societal responsibility to prevent or limit contagion -- if you care about trying to stop the spread of a deadly disease, you're a communist who hates freedom. Toss in hysteria about the border (an old Trump favorite, but also one of the GOP's greatest hits going back to the pre-Trump era) and about crime (the modern GOP's first #1 rhetorical hit, from the 1960s) and you've got the Republican Party of 2022. Of course it's Trumpist -- and of course it's much more than Trumpist. It's evolving, adding new and old songs to the set list, even as Trump's #1 concern -- himself, and the election he insists was stolen from him -- remains a central source of energy and grievance.

Miller grasps this obvious point, which she presents as a striking insight:
So much in the political conversation still centers on the prospective choices of Mr. Trump and people’s responses to them, as if we were forever in the loop of the period when Mr. Trump’s prominence still felt surreal. But time has passed, and people’s lives have continued — and things have already changed. Arguably, you can see this in some conservatives’ intense focus on restricting trans health care or avoiding Covid recommendations, two issues that have outpaced Mr. Trump’s promotion of them, even if he opened the portal to their prominence.
"Arguably, you can see this"? You could see this a year and a half ago! Or at least you could if you weren't fixated on the notion that Trump is the only thing wrong with the Republican Party, as most mainstream media pundits have been for quite a while now.

And despite all this, Miller still can't let go of the notion that the GOP is either purely Trump-driven or not:
Mr. Trump has become predictable in a certain way: You can usually anticipate what his reaction will be to things and what he’ll demand from people, no matter how staggering and corrosive. What happens if a party that orbited him starts to detach from him a little bit and becomes, therefore, even more unpredictable? ...

And in politics more broadly, it might still come to pass that Mr. Trump rolls through a presidential primary and straight into 2024, ushering in an eternal Trump era. But you can also imagine, in a party that has reshaped itself to Mr. Trump, his own obsession with the past puts him at a disadvantage with people who, unlike him, can discard it when they want.
A Republican Party that "starts to detach from" Trump is what we've had since 2021, and it's not "unpredictable" at all -- if you want to predict what its politicians are going to say and do, just watch Fox and you'll know. But that party is entirely compatible with a Trump who "rolls through a presidential primary and straight into 2024." The result of that wouldn't be "an eternal Trump era" to the exclusion of post-Trump ideas. Lake and Youngkin and Christopher Rufo and Marjorie Taylor Greene will still explore new vistas of shit-stirring, riling up base anger as a means of holding on to power. The Republican Supreme Court will continue to issue more highly corrosive rulings. The party will simultaneously belong to Trump and his successors and emulators, just the way it has since 2021, for the foreseeable future -- obviously.

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