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The Republican Party Will Be Fine, Even If Trump Doesn't Fade Away

Kevin McCarthy's blaming the MAGA insurrection on "everybody" is just their first step towards softening the nation's memory of whose fault this really was.
The Republican Party Will Be Fine, Even If Trump Doesn't Fade Away
Image from: Wikimedia Commons

Jonathan Chait has written an astute column about the Republican crack-up that was supposed to be happening but now clearly isn't.

The heady predictions that the party would break free of the Trumpist grip already seem fanciful. If anybody is suffering repercussions for their response to Trump’s autogolpe, it is the Republicans who criticized it. Conservative Republicans are threatening to strip Liz Cheney of her leadership post after she voted to impeach Trump.... Adam Kinzinger, another pro-impeachment Republican, is facing censure. The Michigan Republican member of the state board of canvassers, who broke with his party to certify the state’s election results, is losing his job as a result of his refusal to go along with Trump’s lie. Fox News is firing journalists associated with its election call that Biden won Arizona.

Chait divides the party into three wings. The first is the Never Trump wing, which he describes as small. (I'd say it's nonexistent -- call yourself a Never Trumper and you're instantly blackballed by the party.) The second -- "a violent authoritarian wing" made up of pro-insurrectionists such as Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, as well as "the Proud Boys, Three Percenters, Oath Keepers, and in the media by various commentators on the Fox News evening lineup, OAN, and Newsmax" -- is, Chait says, "of roughly equal size." (I'd say it's much larger.)

And then there's the third group:

In the middle is what you might call “soft authoritarians.” This faction’s political representation is figures like [Mitch] McConnell and [Mike] Pence, and its views are expressed by organs like The Wall Street Journal editorial page and National Review. They have supported most of Trump’s abuses of power, firmly opposing impeachment, Congressional oversight, efforts to obtain Trump’s tax returns, or any other accountability mechanism. The soft authoritarians strongly believe in the principle of minority rule, as long as it is enforced through peaceful and legal channels like gerrymandering and vote suppression.

These people, Chait says, "were appalled at Trump’s use of a barbarous mob to beat up police officers and smash down the Capitol’s doors and windows," but they also know how popular Trump is with their voters. So in the upcoming impeachment trial, they'll vote to acquit Trump, arguing that it's pointless to punish him now that he's out of office.

The path of least resistance for the soft authoritarianism will be to oppose Trump’s conviction on technical grounds, and then hope he fades away quietly.

But I question the notion that everyone in the middle group genuinely blames Trump for the riot. The headline-grabbing part of House minority leader Kevin McCarthy's recent interview with Greta Van Susteren is that he blames "everybody across this country" for the riot. But look at the (somewhat garbled) transcript below and you'll see that he's not blaming the entire country -- he's blaming Democrats and left-leaners specifically, as if their occasional moments of aggression somehow exceeded the torrent of vitriol from President Trump and the rest of the right. And then at the end he suggests that Nancy Pelosi was uniquely responsible for the security breakdown at the Capitol on January 6, joining Lindsey Graham and others in glossing over the fact that Capitol Police oversight is the joint responsibility of the House and Senate, which means that if Pelosi was at fault for January 6, so was Mitch McConnell.

A couple of weeks from now, when we finally have an impeachment trial, I assume that Trump's defenders won't simply argue that the proceeding is moot -- I assume "It was all Pelosi's fault" will be one of their main arguments.

In the FiveThirtyEight polling average, Trump's job approval rating never got lower than 38.0% near the end, and it ticked up slightly, to 38.6%, by his last day in office. I assume that Republicans were happy to slow-walk the impeachment trial because they believe that memories of the riot are fading fast and Trump's popularity among Republicans will soon be close to what it was before the riot. If they can muddy the waters on blame, it won't matter what Trump does afterward -- they'll have saved him in a second impeachment trial, their base will like them again, and America will have moved on. (Republicans will, of course, have moved on to blaming Joe Biden for every problem in America.)

They won't need Trump to "fade away." They'll just need to make America ungovernable -- their usual move when a Democrat is in the White House, and one that has always given them huge midterm wins.

By sometime later this year, they won't even need to memory-hole the riot. Much of America will recall it as just one more wacky thing Trump did -- nothing to get worked up over now. The base's Trump worship will continue unabated, and the GOP will move on with or without him.

Republished with permission from No More Mister Nice Blog.

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