Trump is on his way out, Trumpism is Here to Stay
McConnell et al backing Trump's absurd election claims is about something much bigger than sensitivity to a bruised ego.
Donald Trump lost. Eventually he will be shuffled out of the White House and into the dustbin of history (and maybe a Federal Penitentiary). It doesn’t matter how many bizarre tweets he sends or press conferences that Giuliani holds in the shadow of adult bookstores. The American people have spoken. By one of the largest popular vote margins in recent history they voted to send Donald Trump packing. The result may have taken several days to reveal itself, but the race wasn’t close.
But in the days since Joe Biden was declared the winner, it has become crystal clear — while Trump may be on his way out, Trumpism is here to stay.
The reaction to Trump’s loss from Republicans up and down the ballot shows there will be no soul-searching, no recalibration, and no return to normal. Republicans seem destined to double down and hope a less stupid Trumpist leader gets better results in 2022 and 2024.
Trump contesting the results and making himself feel better with fever dreams of imaginary fraud was to be expected and can be discounted as the natural result of a sad, insecure loser. But the response to Trump’s loss by the rest of the Republican is very notable — and frankly, quite concerning.
Very few elected Republicans have congratulated Biden or acknowledged his victory. Mitch McConnell even went to the floor of the Senate to back up Trump’s refusal to concede. In his speech, McConnell claimed that victory couldn’t be determined until all the votes were counted. Naturally, these comments came immediately after McConnell’s photo op with newly elected Senate Republicans who won races where all of the votes were not yet counted.
Senator Susan Collins went the furthest by calling Biden the “apparent winner,” which is a very specific (and on brand) way for her to be slightly less terrible than her fellow Republicans, yet still quite terrible.
It is critical to recognize that the response from the Republicans is about more than sensitivity to Trump’s bruised ego or fear of triggering the hate mongers on Fox News. It is a specific calculation that the best politics for Republicans is to tap into the same message and strategy that buoyed Trump. This reality has consequences for the upcoming elections in Georgia, the early days of the Biden presidency and progressive politics over the long term.
What is Trumpism
It is bizarre to associate a political philosophy with Trump — a man devoid of values, ideas, and any sort of consistent belief structure. Racism and Narcissism are the only “ism-s” usually associated with the soon be ex-President. Trumpism isn’t a political philosophy so much as an approach to politics that fuses the anti-democratic instincts of McConnell, the plutocratic policies of Paul Ryan, and the White nationalist message of Breitbart.
I often define Trumpism as a billionaire-funded, racial grievance and misinformation fueled plan to implement minority rule in America. Trump’s racism, his authoritarianism, and his willingness to hand key decisions over to lobbyists and donors are features not bugs.
The bad news is that Trumpism and Republicanism are now synonymous.
Why Trumpism is Here to Stay
Inside Washington, the private narrative about Republicans and Trump has always been very different from their public fealty. Republican politicians and their aides often tell reporters some version of the following story:
Donald Trump is a dangerous idiot. His every tweet makes us cringe, but he appoints conservative judges and cuts taxes for corporations. We can’t wait for him to be gone, but we can’t say anything while he is here. We are all one tweet away from being run out of the party. After Trump, things can return to normal.
This narrative helped Republicans feel better about themselves. It helped reporters cling to their preferred “both sides” narrative. It allowed the doyens of D.C. to believe normalcy was around the corner.
As comforting as that notion may have been to the people that needed to be comforted, it was complete and utter bullshit.
While I am sure no one wants to be attacked by the Presidential Twitter account, Republican silence over the last few years had little to do with fear of Trump. While they may disagree with some of his rhetoric and his general idiocy, Republicans have embraced Trump because they agree with the direction he took their party. They agree with the political strategy that undergirds Trumpism and the racism and misogyny were not deal breakers.
Even though they made some inadvertent gains with some non-white voters last Tuesday, Republicans continue to represent a shrinking, conservative, mostly white minority in a country with a growing progressive, diverse majority. This reality governs every decision they make and has forced them into a two-pronged strategy — racially divisive, conspiracy-laden rhetoric to fire up the base and the rigging of democracy to restrict the political power of the majority. The former is already playing itself out in the Georgia runoffs.
Robert Costa of the Washington Post reported out the political calculus behind McConnell’s decision to back Trump’s departure from reality.
This is very revealing about how Republicans will think about politics going forward. Georgia is not some deep red state on the MAGA map. It’s a state Joe Biden won just last week. A near majority of Georgians preferred Joe Biden, yet the Republicans think the best way to win two Senate races is to spread misinformation and tell Georgians their votes didn’t count and their voices shouldn’t be heard. Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, who are running in the runoff, also refused to acknowledge reality and sent a letter calling for the resignation of Georgia’s REPUBLICAN Secretary of State for somehow allowing someone other than Donald Trump to win. They would rather indulge absurd conspiracy theories than run on any sort of a policy agenda.
Republicans responded to Democratic wins in 2008 and 2012 with massive efforts to reduce the political power of people of color with voter suppression laws, gerrymandering and rigged courts. And they will do it again.
Trumpism has taken hold in the Republican Party because it is the only way to hold together the two warring wings of the party — a globalist Wall Street and corporate donor class and nativist voter base. If those factions splinter the whole thing falls apart.
This is why Republicans have not gone down the easier and less morally repugnant path of simply adopting an agenda that appealed to a majority of Americans. Doing so would mean abandoning the plutocratic policies that generate the donations from the billionaires and corporations that keep the party afloat.
And I wouldn’t hold my breath for them to change course. The Republicans have won the popular vote only once since 1996 and they have only gotten worse with every loss.
What it All Means
I do not want to diminish the massive import of defeating Donald Trump — he was a unique and existential threat to America and the world. The massive eruption of joy across the globe at his defeat perfectly symbolized the danger he presented. But the lingering presence of Trumpism and the dangerous post-election conduct of the Republican Party means there is more work to be done. It means we can take nothing for granted. We cannot assume our democracy will fix itself. We cannot count on Republicans to come around or offer a helping hand in undoing the damage.
Good old fashioned politics defeated Donald Trump and good old fashioned politics is what will remove Trumpism root and branch from America. Volunteering, engaging, organizing and fighting like hell is the only way to heal the soul of the nation. That work begins with the Georgia runoffs in January, because taking the Senate will give us the power to make change and send a message that there is price to pay for adopting Trumpism.
There is a big and important discussion to be had within the party about how to best take on Trumpism, but the first step is recognizing that it will outlast Trump.