Mighty temples collapse, empires disappear, ancient civilizations sink into the sea—and the moment of final judgment also comes for very frail creatures such as political parties.
All human things come to an end, and for the Republican Party, the Grand Old Party born in 1854, the last rites could be administered as early as Wednesday, January 6, 2021, although the disease that has been devouring it from the inside has been there for a long time.
In a way, the pessimism of the pundits seems premature: the party still controls the presidency, at least until January 20 when Trump’s term expires, and the Senate, where it has 50 senators against 48 for the Democrats. But these signs of vitality could be deceptive, like the smile of the terminally ill patient before the end.
After 1945, the party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt rested on a marriage of interests between two factions: on the one hand, the Wall Street-linked establishment, whose golden calf was, and still is, corporate tax cuts; on the other, a galaxy of religious groups, populist politicians and conspiracy theorists who saw anti-American plots and Soviet spies everywhere.
This marriage has lasted until today because the power of money brought in votes, and votes created careers: from 1948 to today, Republicans have won the presidential elections ten times, although they have almost always had to use anomalous candidates as standard-bearers: General Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956, Ronald Reagan, the actor, in 1980 and 1984, and Trump the wrecking ball in 2016.
The only time an actual banker, Nelson Rockefeller, attempted to win the nomination, back in 1964, he was met with boos at the convention.
Trump’s success in the 2016 primaries, rather than being the result of his undoubted histrionic abilities and his flair for issues that mobilized the electorate, such as immigration or job losses in the Midwest, was more the consequence of the mediocre performance of the candidates of the Wall Street wing of the party since 1992, with the successive defeats of Bush Sr., Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney.
For pure, hardline Republicans, it was a quarter-century of defeats or victories that hadn’t changed anything: however, Trump, in his arrogance, verbal violence and contempt for women, minorities, and foreigners, embodied the long-awaited populist candidate.
And Trump has gone far beyond what was expected: from day one, he has ruled like a whimsical and unpredictable monarch, seeking to ban all the world’s Muslims from the United States, to build a wall on the border with Mexico, to make as much money as possible by exploiting his office, to use his power in unheard-of ways.
The phone call made public by the Washington Post in which he asked Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” the votes he needed to overturn the result of the popular vote is only the last link in a chain of abuses and illegalities that have become intolerable even for the most cynical of Republicans: on Monday, Paul Ryan, the former Republican Speaker of the House, made a very strong statement against the attempts to subvert Joe Biden’s victory.
Nevertheless, on Wednesday, a large group of GOP representatives and senators will try to convince Congress not to accept the votes of Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, the four states where Biden won but with a difference of several thousands of votes.
The attempt is destined to fail, but this test of loyalty to the defeated president will have serious consequences, because it will certainly encourage Trump to remain active, creating a group of loyalists, leaning on a network of far-right media and threatening the “traitors” that he will use his influence to inflict his revenge in 2022 and 2024. For example, there is already talk in Washington about his daughter Ivanka running in the Senate primary against Marco Rubio in Florida.
Steven Schmidt, who ran John McCain’s presidential campaign against Obama in 2008, wrote on Twitter that “[January] 6th will commence a political civil war inside the GOP. The autocratic side will roll over the pro-democracy remnant of the GOP like the Wehrmacht did the Belgian Army in 1940. The ‘22 GOP primary season will be a blood letting. The 6th will be a loyalty test. The purge will follow.”
According to Schmidt, the party’s implosion is the inevitable result of four years of collaboration and complicity with Trump’s insanity, authoritarianism and incompetence. We’ll soon see if he’s right. A lot also depends on the outcome of the two Senate elections in Georgia on Tuesday, which will decide which party controls the chamber over the next two years. (Update: the two Democratic candidates are expected to win both Senate races.)
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