For those who pay more than lip service to democracy, and thus realize both its value and fragility, one barometric question this year has been whether the Republican Party will come to its senses regarding Donald Trump and Trumpism.
Over the last half-decade, it was disquieting to watch as one of our main political parties succumbed to the empty-headed allure of authoritarianism. But as white working-class voters fell under Trump’s sway, so too did the elected officials of the GOP. That, even though Trump honored the party’s purported principles of fiscal discipline, free trade, free markets, the rule of law, and US-led internationalism mostly in the breach.
It came as absolutely no surprise that after Trump was handily defeated by Democratic nominee Joe Biden, he charged the election had been stolen. After all, he had previously proclaimed that election fraud was the only way he could lose. Further, when he lost the popular vote in 2016, he averred without evidence that “tremendous cheating” had deprived him of such a victory.
Lying has always been first nature to Trump. Still, it was disconcerting to see how many Republicans echoed or enabled his preposterous stolen-election claims.
In arenas still constrained by accountability, those who made Trumpian electoral assertions have suffered consequences or been rendered ridiculous. From Rudy Giuliani on down, the legal weasels on Trump’s scheme-team have been rebuked and sanctioned by judges and courts for their baseless claims. From Fox News to NewsMax to the American Thinker, right-wing propaganda outlets have been compelled at legal sword point to retract their evidence-free assertions about voting-machine fraud.
In other circumstances, ridicule has been the rebuke. My Pillow and Big Lie salesman Mike Lindell made himself a laughingstock by hosting a three-day symposium that even his own experts conceded established exactly nothing. Nothing, that is, beyond this axiom: You can take a pillow of impressionable foam from beneath a nutty noggin, but you can’t remove the fluffy foam from inside a pixilated pitchman’s kooky cranium.
We still don’t know when, what, or where the comedy-of-errors manhandling of the Maricopa County, Ariz., presidential ballots will conclude, because that “audit,” initially projected to take one to two months, has dragged on like the trial of Warren Hastings. Here’s a safe bet, however: The ridiculousness of its conclusions will rival Lindell’s.
And yet, even against that backdrop of buffoonery, with the exception of a few — Adam Kinzinger, Liz Cheney, Mitt Romney, et al. — most federal GOP officeholders are still keeping their heads and voices low rather than confronting Trump’s never-ending nonsense.
Still, we have seen two laudatory developments in recent days. Speaking on the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, former president George W. Bush drew an unmistakable comparison between foreign terrorism and the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters, calling them “children of the same foul spirit.”
“If the requirement in today’s politics for getting your support is to say a bunch of things that aren’t true, no thank you,” he said. “If it requires bending to the will of any one person, rather than advocating ideas for the good of all people, then count me out. No man, no woman, no matter what office they’ve held or wealth they’ve acquired, are worthy of blind faith or obedience.”
Christie aimed two more arrows in the direction of Trump, his camp, and his enablers: “We need to renounce the conspiracy theorists and the truth deniers, the ones who know better and the ones who are just plain nuts.” He added: “Pretending we won when we lost is a waste of time and energy and credibility.”
Now, Christie may too often be an abrasive bully, but he’s spot-on about Trump. The former New Jersey Republican governor has also made it clear that he wants to run for president again, regardless of who else does. That means that if Trump does attempt a comeback, he may face a primary contest with an erstwhile ally ready to confront him on his electoral lies.
Those hoping for a GOP return to normality can also find some cause for optimism in a new CNN poll. Although many Republicans still welcome Trump as a guiding party force, only 51 percent think he should be the 2024 nominee, with 49 percent saying someone else should head the ticket. No stranglehold, that.
No, that doesn’t signal a rejection of Trumpist authoritarianism. But it does offer some hope that despite the densely packed populist soil of the current Republican Party, reality is starting to seep in.