Saturday, June 16, 2018
Spoiler Alert: The GOP Was Already A Cult BEFORE Trump Took Over
You've been hearing the word "cult" a lot lately. Pundits have been throwing it around like it's the flavor of the month at Baskin-Robbins. The latest example came courtesy of last Tuesday's South Carolina Republican primary, in which Mark Sanford got his lunch handed it to him after Donald Trump attacked him on Twitter. Sanford's crime? He had the temerity of being critical of the current occupant of the Oval Office, and in today's GOP that's a virtual death sentence.
In fact, if you look at the political landscape, the vast majority of Republicans are either fully supportive of Trump or they've decided to "retire." The former have sold their souls to preserve what's left of their tattered careers, while the latter have suddenly found the "courage" to speak out. Of course, it would've been far more courageous to stay and fight, but I'll get to that later on.
You see, here's the thing. As tempting as it might be to say that the Republican Party has become a cult and that Trump is to blame, I'm just not buying it. Oh, there's no doubt that he's employing every bullying tactic he utilized in his business life. Ask anyone who's ever crossed Trump and they'll tell you he never forgets or forgives a slight. Once you get on his shit list, there's no getting off it. He'll destroy you. That's why he loves men like Kim and Putin. They know how to deal with their opponents; though in Trump's case, there's this little thing called a system of justice that prevents him from actually burying his. But give the man time; I'm sure he'll try to come up with a fix for that road block too.
Sadly, the Republican Party has been a cult for quite some time. Remember, this was the party that gave us Ted Cruz and Louie Gohmert. But I'm getting ahead of myself here. To trace the origins of the current GOP we have to go all the way back to early 2009. That was the first year of the Obama Administration and it was also the year the Tea Party was born. It is no coincidence that they became a political force to be reckoned with right about the time the nation was swearing in its first black man as president.
The rhetoric heard at Tea Party rallies back then was no less offensive than what we heard at Trump's rallies throughout the 2016 campaign. We all recoiled at Trump calling Mexicans rapists, but how quickly we forget that it was Steve King of Iowa who back in 2013 referred to them as drug smugglers with calves the size of cantaloupes. A party that tolerates the former invites the latter.
After the 2010 midterms, which saw Republicans take over the House, the Tea Party moved swiftly to consolidate their grip over the GOP. One by one, the RINOs, as they became known, were challenged and defeated in primary after primary. Dick Lugar, who had been a part of Indiana politics since 1967 and had served as one of its senators since 1977, was upended by Tea Party favorite Richard Mourdoch in 2012, who then went onto lose to Democrat Joe Donnelly in the general. Lugar's crime was that he would occasionally reach across the aisle and seek bi-partisan compromises. The Tea Party was having none of that. Anyone caught "compromising" had to be purged from the ranks.
Prominent Republicans ike Olympia Snowe of Maine decided to retire rather than be a party to such nonsense. How ludicrous was this purge? It even claimed none other than Eric Cantor. Cantor, you'll recall, was the majority leader who screwed Speaker John Boehner to prevent him from signing the "Grand Bargain" with Obama. Apparently, Benedict Arnold wasn't conservative enough for the wing nuts on the right.
One by one, the "moderates" of the party were replaced by zealots who's loyalty was to a warped interpretation of a Constitution most of them had never read. Compromise was a four-letter word. Twice they almost defaulted on the nation's debt. Thanks to the aforementioned Cruz, they actually forced a shutdown of the government. Who can forget Ted's riveting rendition of Green Eggs and Ham on the floor of the Senate? It's a moment I'll cherish as long as I live.
All kidding aside, the GOP's insipid fall was shocking to behold. A full year before Trump even announced his run for the presidency, House Republicans had voted for the 48th time to repeal a healthcare law they had no replacement for, knowing full well that such a repeal would never see the light of day. If that isn't the definition of insanity, I don't know what is.
But it wasn't just the incessant pandering to its base that was the problem, it was the constant belittling and demeaning of government institutions that for generations had served the nation well. It was Ronald Reagan who famously coined the phrase "Government IS the problem." And he rode that theme all the way to the White House in 1980. Yet even Reagan was careful enough not to cross the line from critic to executioner. He knew he needed those very same government institutions to function properly if he was going to pass his agenda.
The Tea Party had no such qualms. To them, those institutions had become the enemy. They weren't interested in reforming government; they wanted to dismantle it, or "drown it in a bathtub," as Grover Norquist put it so "eloquently." From privatizing Social Security and Medicare to disenfranchising millions of African American voters to gerrymandering districts in swing states, the GOP had one goal in mind: to grab hold of the levers of government in such a way that no one or nothing could stand in their way.
And they were brilliant in their execution. In less than eight years they went from being on the verge of becoming a modern-day Whig Party to controlling both houses of Congress, the White House and almost two-thirds of the state legislatures and state houses. Not even Houdini was that good.
But now the party that bedded down with the devil is discovering what every first-year seminary student knows all too well: there's no bargaining with Satan. Once he has your soul, the game is over. The result is that a political party that was once home to liberal stalwarts like Jacob Javitz is now nothing more than a front for the most extremist, nativist elements in the country. It was no accident that they found a home in the GOP; and it was no accident that Trump, once he decided to toss his hat into the ring, picked the Republican Party as the vehicle for his populist "America first" message.
The Brexit vote in Britain foretold what would eventually happen here. Except nobody paid any attention; or if they did, they dismissed it as a one-off. Certainly Americans could never fall for such nonsense, we conned ourselves into believing. Turns out they not only fell for it, they jumped in with both feet. If you look at the breakdown of the vote totals in Britain they practically mirror those of the United States. The urban areas with more diverse populations supported a progressive agenda, while the more rural areas with predominantly white populations rejected that agenda.
Fear drives the Republican Party these days as sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Trump has completed the job the Tea Party started in '09. Yes, he's considerably more dangerous than the likes of a Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin, because unlike those dim bulbs, Trump actually knows a thing or two about marketing. He can manipulate with the best of them and he has cashed in on the opening afforded him by a political establishment too corrupt to care and too lazy to stop him.
Yes, there are a few brave souls still left in the GOP, and for the time being they can make some noise. The problem is that they won't be around much longer. Both Bob Corker and Jeff Flake's decision to not run for reelection, along with a dozen or more congressmen, means that Trump's coup will be complete in 2019. Had these people chosen to stay and fight they could've made a difference. Perhaps they would've been defeated in a primary; or perhaps they could've run as independents and paved the way for a Democratic wave that would've stopped Trump dead in his tracks. But the sad fact is they not only didn't stay and fight, they voted for Trump's agenda almost every time. Far from being courageous, they simply had enough political instincts to know it was time to call it a night.
And lastly, we come to the conservative pundits: the never Trumpers of the press corps, like Jennifer Rubin, David Frum, Bret Stephens, George Will, et al. It's been somewhat refreshing to read these people's various op-ed columns in the New York Times, Washington Post and Atlantic. And I can't imagine what it must be like seeing the party that you once looked up to being systematically destroyed from within like this. Will thinks they're more afraid than they are part of a cult. He may have a point, or he may simply be guilty of wishful thinking.
But whether Republicans are afraid or simply witting participants, the reality is this: not one of these never Trumpers took a stand against the GOP's outlandish conduct before il Duce became president. I remember reading Rubin's pieces during the Obama years and I invite you to go back and read them for yourself. She could've been a stand in on Mark Levin's radio program. The same goes for Will, who back in 2014 wrote an op-ed piece in which he challenged rape statistics and claimed that the reports of sexual assault on college campuses made "victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges." Yes, he wrote that and, yes, he's still employed at that same newspaper.
I'll give the benefit of the doubt to Frum, who at least had the courage to go after Rush Limbaugh and the far-right extremists who were gradually taking over the party. He also challenged the GOP's strategy over Obamacare, calling it a debacle. For his efforts, Frum was fired from the American Enterprise Institute. Hey Republicans, this is what battle scars look like.
If there is any hope at all it is that a good percentage of the candidates who are running on the Trump agenda, and with his full blessing mind you, are no better than the nincompoops who ran and lost in elections past. In fact, they're considerably worse. No matter what you may think of Todd Akin or Sharon Engle, they are nowhere near as deplorable as Corey Stewart. That's the problem with cults: the longer they're around, the sicker they become.
Yes, the GOP is a cult, and, yes, it is also the party of Trump. There's no denying that. But he wasn't the one who turned it into a cult. Like those hideous buildings that bear his name, all he did was buy the branding rights. And as with everything Trump, it's all about branding.