Resolute Square

Trapped: The GOP Is Stuck With Trump

They think they can ditch him, but the GOP is stuck with Trump.
Credit: Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons
Published:November 17, 2022

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The last week in American politics has been almost unspeakably delightful. It is a phase we call “The Finding Out” after the Republican party’s sordid, degrading affair with Donald Trump, his personality cult, and the collection of nationalists, populists, weirdos, conspiracy loons, skells, and authoritarian trash who comprise the “intellectual” wing of MAGA.

Today, the swaggering, dick-swinging media spin (which most of the political media in this country swallowed hook, line, and sinker and then leaped into the GOP boat and offered to filet themselves) is a smoking ruin. They were very, very confidently predicting a Red Wave. Some even bragged the numbers would rival 2010 or 1994, with massive Republican victories resetting the political map for a generation. 

No, really. I know you might think this sounds petty but watching the absolute agony of the Republican party I worked in for almost 30 years writhe in humiliation, fear, and regret is the most delicious vista imaginable. Even now, I’m staring down into the Valley of Schadenfreude, overlooking the beautiful Lake of MAGA Tears and inhaling the sweet smoke of incinerated personal and corporate billions of dollars that went to dead-enders better suited for an asylum than office.

Mitch McConnell’s dream of a majority died in Las Vegas like a degenerate gambler. Even if he had taken the Senate, he’s lost control; the MAGA cohort is now a functional opposition that will cockblock his deal-making with more moderate Senators. SINO (Speaker in Name Only) Kevin McCarthy is dead but too stupid to lie down and let the vultures do their work. Margorie Taylor Greene runs the House GOP, not Kevin, and his vaunted Luntz Leftovers(™) Commitment to America will appear as “But What About Hunter Biden’s Laptop, Parts I-VII.”

Billions, and I mean billions of dollars, were given to the Republican campaign committees this year. Billions, with a b. Rick Scott, Mitch McConnell, and their lackeys went through lobbyist and wealthy donor’s bank accounts with a flamethrower after failing to place more electable, McConnell-friendly candidates in a dozen Senate races. Trust me, Herschel Walker was not their first choice, nor were Don Bolduc, Dr. Oz, Blake Masters, or the rest. By the end, McConnell and Company were pouring money into red state races as a firebreak. They spent heavily on J.D. Vance to…hold a seat in a deep red state. Great ROI, fellas.

Many of the Democratic House seats high on the GOP hit list -- Abigail Spanberger, Elissa Slotkin, and others held on. Most of the GOP wins were direct effects of partisan redistricting, not messaging. Republicans did make pickups in blue states. (I suspect the political monocultures of New York and California have atrophied their political muscles.)

The Red Wave was the Red Ripple, and now the GOP is staring Trump’s return in the face and engaging in an orgy of self-flagellation and panic.

All I can say is we warned you. Yeah, us. The assholes. The men and women who wouldn’t break and bow to Trump. 

We warned you almost eight goddamn years ago what he would do. We warned you that this integration with the nationalists and authoritarians was doomed. We warned you that letting the crazies, the conspiracy theorists, and the ripshit lunatics into the ship's bridge would lead you onto the rocks. We warned you that when Josh Holmes said, “If you can replicate his draw amongst rural, working-class voters without the insanity, you have a permanent governing majority,” he missed the essential point. The insanity of Trump and his imitators is central to the MAGA movement. It’s definitional. 

And it’s poison.

If I died tomorrow, I’d leave one political legacy, an immutable, implacable, indisputable rule: Everything Trump Touches Dies. It’s not always instant, but it is always inevitable. 

Today, intelligent, capable people are trapped with the worst, most dangerous, most unelectable elements of their party base and see the doom coming. This little “let’s get past Trump” spasm is as desperate as it is ineffective. 

They’re living #ETTD, and the nightmare is far from over. 

Aside from death, there are only two scenarios: In the first case, Trump will dominate the Republican primary for 2024 and further transform the old GOP into the MAGA Troll Party, losing more and more winnable races. The second scenario is whispered in Washington restaurants before the coffee and dessert come. In that nightmare, Trump runs as a third-party candidate to continue his massively profitable campaign con job, making it nearly impossible for the GOP nominee to win the White House. 

They’re trying to say, “It’s time to move past Trump,” just loud enough to be heard but not loud enough to be heard in Mar-a-Lago. They are prisoners of a vengeful machine based on constant terrorization. They’re a herd, but Trump will pick them off one at a time, pushing the rest back into submission. 

But the greatest delight. The sweetest agony. The most beautiful turn of the story is among the anti-anti-trump Republicans. Many of them in the legacy gentry media of the Republican world were never in favor of Trump but once he took office, they feared that if they exposed themselves to his wrath, the drop off in sales of their cruise ship tickets would plummet them over the cliff of bankruptcy on which they’ve teetered for so long.

They are the kings and queens of the construction we’ve all heard before: I don’t like Trump but his policies… I don’t like Trump but at least we got Kavanaugh… I don’t like Trump but there is something to this theory of global elites eating children in the basement of Washington Pizza restaurant. I don’t like Trump's hand jobs of the far right racist cohort of the party, but there aren’t really that many of them are there?

In 2021 they flooded the zone for Glenn Youngkin. They thought Youngkin could navigate between the Scylla of Trump and Maga, and the Charybdis of reality. They thought this clean, private equity, fleece-vest-super-wealthy-suburban-dad was the future of the Republican party. That’s the same Glenn Youngkin who this week proposed a history curriculum for Virginia that strikes Martin Luther King from the program, and who last week was eagerly campaigning for Kari Lake (R-Batshit, Arizona).

But the biggest fantasy of the Republican world is that they finally bred the correct mutant strain of Trumpism, authoritarianism, and cute family in the form of Ron DeSantis.

Allow me a moment to detonate that dream. First off, in person, Ron DeSantis is a strange no-eye-contact oddball. Is he smart? At least academically, but smart and electable aren’t an overlapping Venn diagram. Is he a great candidate? Get the fuck out of here. A conservative governor with infinite financial resources at his disposal running in a conservative state against a spent-force three-time loser hated by both his old party and his new party? 

Winning Florida isn’t the flex DeSantis and his stans think it is.

There was a key moment that ensured Donald Trump would re-enter the 2024 race, and it came courtesy of Charlie Crist. There was a moment in the one debate between DeSantis and Crist where Charlie knocked Ron back hard. DeSantis stood there for a noticeably long pause before he could respond. Trump saw that. He processed that. He knew and assessed the weaknesses of DeSantis on the debate stage and in the media space, where he is the unquestionable master. He smelled blood. DeSantis of 2024 is the Jeb Bush of 2016; inevitable, beloved of the money people and the conservative intellectual class…until he’s not. 

Finally, Republicans are pinning their hopes on Rupert Murdoch putting Trump down. Think again. Fox will watch its revenue drip drip drip into the hands of networks like Newsmax, OAN, and a host of other smaller players willing to shoot that IV of agitporn into the veins of MAGA voters. They’ll come back to Trump. Rupert is in this as a business, not a crusade. Mark it down.

This fevered and furious moment of denunciation and condemnation of Trump is a sight to behold. But it’s a sight that will vanish. It’s a mirage, an illusion. The Republican party base knows Trump. Conditioned by a massive MAGA media complex, a steady Facebook propaganda effort, The Apprentice, and eight years of excuses for his every excess, failure, and eccentricity, the outrage from the center-right today is like static to them. They like his cruelty. They want chaos. They like the hideous aspects of his character. Why settle for Diet Trump when the sugary, full-calorie version is available?

These struggle sessions in the MAGA Cultural Revolution won’t end with Hogan, Youngkin, or even DeSantis; they’re stuck with Trump, no matter how much they twist and turn. The Washington cadres of professional conservatives, gentry conservative media outlets (and even a few anti-Trump SuperPACS) would desperately love to go home to the old GOP. They really, really want to be back “in the room” and shape the party’s ideas and policies. They are bound to fail utterly and irrevocably. 

They think they’re done with Trump. Trump is far from done with them.