Sunday, December 11, 2022


Republicans don't do introspection.

Okay, sure, sometimes the official party admits that mistakes were made and commissions a study to try to determine why the previous election cycle or two didn't go as well as expected. But those studies are always ignored. Instead, Republicans just rebrand themselves and walk around beating their chests as if they've done nothing wrong. The lack of self-doubt makes ordinary Americans forget the party's recent failures. The mainstream media naively portrays the rebranded GOP as fresh and new. And the party recovers.

We know this is what happened after Democratic electoral victories in 2006 and 2008 -- Republicans who held "pizza summit" listening tours in 2009 were ignored, while the Tea Party became the hot new thing. Rank-and-file Republicans were thrilled, Fox News provided wall-to-wall coverage, and the mainstream media fell for the ruse that this Koch-funded uprising was grassroots and non-partisan.

It worked because even though Democrats had just taken Congress with significant majorities and had elected an appealing new president, those Democratic officeholders got bogged down trying to pass big bills, while the Tea Party seemed to have energy and popular appeal (assuming you believed that "popular" meant "popular with white people living far outside urban areas"). The reviled George W. Bush had barely left office, but his legacy as the leader of the Republican Party was instantly forgotten. The slate was wiped clean and the party was seen as reborn.

This seems to be happening again, although a bit awkwardly.

Republicans just had a bad electoral cycle, which they blame in large part on Donald Trump's handpicked candidates and his obsession with nonexistent election fraud in 2020. The party should be licking its wounds -- but Elon Musk just purchased Twitter and he's commissioned hack pseudo-journalists to write up the contents of cherry-picked internal company files so that they suggest a vast left-wing conspiracy to repress the right on social media. It's one nothingburger after another, but the worlds of media and politics can't look away -- and for good measure, here's Jeremy Peters in The New York Times arguing that you can't really tell whether Musk is a right-winger or not, the same reaction the mainstream press had to the Tea Party.

Fox is all over the story, amplifying it the way it amplified the Tea Party. And we know that both Musk and Rupert Murdoch are fans of Ron DeSantis, who regularly attacks Big Tech. So this is the rebranded GOP, right? Trump is as much an unperson as George W. Bush was in 2009, and Musk, Murdoch, and DeSantis are the new (or not so new) leaders?

But there's a complication: unlike Bush, Trump hasn't gone away, and most of what's showing up in the Musk reports on Twitter involves alleged mistreatment of him. Censorship of Hunter Biden's nudes prevented Trump from winning reelection! And then Twitter unfairly banned him just for demanding the overthrow of the government!

This complicates the rebranding, although Musk's use of Twitter as an instrument of revenge is certain to extend beyond Trump. (This morning Musk tweeted, "My pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci.") Beyond that, though, is this what voters care about? Obviously, it's what Republican voters care about. But the Tea Party could say it was focused on issues that matter to average Americans -- taxes, "big government." Do ordinary Americans really care about deplatforming and shadowbanning? Will they really want to relitigate the 2020 pandemic response in 2023?

Still, Musk has everyone looking. Republicans struggled in the midterms, but they're the party on offense, as usual.

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