Tuesday, October 24, 2023


In the comments to my last post, Jordan Orlando challenges my assertion that Donald Trump is the leader of the Republican Party:
The GOP doesn't have a leader. They have something else, something new: this fucking useless asshole who has somehow magically and permanently been affixed to the rudimentary foundational symbolism of their "movement."

He's not even a politician. He's a mascot; an avatar; a Mardi Gras "king;" a spokesmodel; a figurehead without an agenda or even the merest commitment to their priorities and agendae. He couldn't care less. He stands for, believes in, and understands nothing but himself and his appetites, which are somehow grotesque, petty and monstrous at the same time....

To be clear: yes, the GOP is forced to conduct themselves in ways that avoid crossing Trump or his gang of idiot voters will destroy them. But that's not "leadership" — it's (as I'm saying) not even politics. It's show business; it's wrestling and casinos and all the systematized commercial swill Trump embodies. There is, in fact, no leader, in terms of policy or commitment to voters' wills or budgets or anything real. There's just (as Steve points out in, I think, his one accurate conclusion) the manufactured loathing of Democrats that's the glue that ties GOP power structures to this idiot charlatan, this criminal con man, this rock-thrower.
But every day the GOP makes clear that it doesn't care about "policy ... or budgets or anything real." It's an entire party of "rock-throwers," and it's been heading in the direction since long before Trump took that escalator ride.

In The New York Times today, Rich Lowry, of all people, demonstrates an understanding of what the Republican Party is now:
Even before [Trump's] rise, Republicans were much more susceptible than Democrats to nonserious presidential candidates running to increase their profile for media gigs, book sales and the like. Mr. Trump was this type of candidate on a much larger scale, and ... happened to actually win.

One way to look at it is that the very successful model that the commentator Ann Coulter forged in the world of conservative media — generate controversy and never, ever apologize — came to be replicated by candidates and officeholders.

Both Vivek Ramaswamy and Matt Gaetz are creatures of politics for the sake of notoriety. It creates entirely different incentives from the traditional approach: Stoking outrage is good, blowing things up is useful, and it never pays to get caught doing the responsible thing.

At the congressional level, there was a related, although distinct phenomenon. With the rise of the Tea Party, the tendency of the right flank of the House Republican caucus to make the life of the party leadership miserable became more pronounced. This was especially true in spending fights. The pattern was that the right, associated with the House Freedom Caucus after its founding in 2015, would hold out a standard of impossible purity, and then when leaders inevitability failed to meet it, denounce them as weak and traitorous.

... some of these members consider the legislative process in and of itself corrupt, and refuse to participate even if they can increase the negotiating leverage of their own side or move spending deals marginally in their direction.

... There’s no dealing with the likes of [Matt] Gaetz because he’s operating on a different dimension from someone like [Kevin] McCarthy, a pragmatist and coalition-builder who is trying to move the ball incrementally. It’s the difference between politics as theater and politics as the art of the possible; politics as individual brand-building and politics as team sport.
Trump is an unserious entertainer, but, yes, he's the leader of a political party -- a party dominated by unserious entertainers. Oh, they'd enact policy in Washington if they had the supermajorities they have in many states, but it would be purely revanchist policy: punishing LGBT people and immigrants and educational institutions that teach the truth about America's racial history and cities that want to make their criminal justice systems more humane. None of it is meant to solve important problems; all of it is meant to demonstrate that Republicans hate the people their voters hate and are eager to kick them in the teeth. In Washington, where Republicans can't do any of this (yet), can't impeach and convict the president and other Democrats, and can't zero out the budgets of the FBI, the CIA, and other allegedly "woke" or "globalist" government agencies, they just talk about it endlessly, so it's clear that they hate whomever the voters hate.

There is one serious policy idea at the core of all this: the notion that rich people and large corporations, especially in the fossil fuels industry, should be lightly taxed and allowed to operate exactly as they please for the rest of recorded time. This is an agenda that very few voters actually support, so the Republican Party has historically distracted the electorate with hot-button issues such as guns and abortion. In the past, Republican politicians just needed to say was that they wouldn't let anyone take your guns and they believed in "life" -- they'd win the votes of suburban and exurban whites, and then they'd get to work making the rich richer. But massacres have changed gun politics and the Dobbs ruling has changed the politics of abortion -- so Republicans focus on demonizing the handful of interscholastic athletes in America who are trans, when they're not shipping immigrants to blue states on buses or conducting some other kind of Two Minutes' Hate. It gets them reelected, which is the point, but it's primarily theater. If that's the Republican Party now, it's no surprise that a showman is its leader.

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