This article was published in Dutch in de Standaard (Belgium) and the NRC (Netherlands)
Don’t write off the Republican Party yet. The Republicans may be responsible for Trump and all the damage he has done, the American tendency towards amnesia and forgiveness for sinners, big and small, guarantees this party a long and healthy future. In about eight years, the Republicans will occupy the White House again, and meanwhile they rule at the state level, where they can happily continue gerrymandering, restricting suffrage and fighting the right to abortion.
A two-party system does not lend itself for split offs or a final settlement with one of the two parties. Has not happened since the Whigs disappeared, in 1854. If there is any correction at all it will not amount to much and it will take place within the party. White racists and evangelical zealots, groups with considerable overlap (“Jesus saves” was prominently displayed on the steps of the Capitol), are too important parts of the Republican constituency to expect them to be sidetracked. They may lay low, temporarily, but they remain the voter groups that are easy to mobilize with a story of perceived hurt and threats to their privileges.
The so-called traditional Wall Street Republicans fancy themselves as true conservatives, but in reality they are merely opportunists. They never hesitated to hook their wagon to groups that enabled them to pursue their interests. Reagan did it, George W. Bush did it, and the Trump era provided an excellent illustration. These Republicans thought Trump was a vulgar New York peddler, not in their league, but they happily pocketed the tax cuts and deregulation. Be assured, their opportunism is there, as ever. There will be no break up of the party, that would serve nobody’s interest.
American politics always is more about people than about ideology. Voters elect someone they trust or reject someone they distrust. Hillary was an easy target. Negative campaigning pays off when there are only two candidates, ask Mike Dukakis or John Kerry. In 2024, when Kamala Harris is the Democratic candidate – whether nominated or not as sitting president – the sluices of racism, misogyny and so-called anti-communism will open again. Simply, Republicans as we know them. With a reasonable chance of success. It worked before, it will work again.
Historical perspective helps. The canard that the Democrats will turn America socialist dates back to the 1930s, the years of the New Deal. It always works for the right, it always works for Republicans, it even worked this year to smear the rather colorless and visionless Joe Biden. It will continue to work. A large group of voters in the middle, not necessarily racist or evangelical and certainly not pro-Wall Street, can still be persuaded with this ki8nd of campaign not to vote Democratic under any circumstances. The Republicans will go for it, as they always do. After all, this party scored 73 million voters two months ago, and if there had been no corona virus, we could now look forward to another four years of Trump.
Maybe some politicians will suffer from their Trump past. But I wouldn’t put money on it. Anti-democratic senators like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley will simply be re-elected. Their Texas and Missouri voters are not going to break with them. These guys are ready for 2024. Former UN ambassador Nikki Haley also remains an attractive presidential candidate, despite her sucking up to Trump when it is convenient. She was careful this week not to hold Trump responsible for the violence on Capitol Hill. Will she suffer from the Trump legacy? I don’t think so. She will walk away from it.
Haley is McConnell’s trump card, so tho say. McConnell is all about power. The future was unfolding as the attack on the Capitol was taking place. In Florida there was a meeting of the organizational top of the Republican Party, the Republican National Committee (RNC). The RNC president, a Trump acolyte, was reelected. Those in attendance praised the president, even after Capitol Hill. Not a critical word to be heard. This is the bureaucratic side of how Trump has conquered the party. Keep an eye on these people: if the top of the RNC is replaced, that will be the start of the adjustment. It will happen, conveniently and opportunistic. Don’t expect a revolution.
After all, last week 147 deputies and 8 senators voted against the election results and thus against democracy. Don’t count on them being held to account. An interesting question is whether the Trump supporters who, in part, have no faith in democracy, will bother or be able to organize. It you distrust democracy apolitical party is not your home. More likely is some bundling may happen through zealous nutcase groups, right-wing militias and ad hoc internet combinations. The Republicans will happily exploit them but they will not be an autonomous factor in the party.
It may sound paradoxical and disappointing, but the attack on the Capitol was great for the GOP. Now the enablers have a relatively easy way to take their distance from Trump. McConnell, having lost his leadership position, was quick to jump.
But let’s not forget they supported Trump for four years and only broke away after the elections that he almost won and after two months of lies and fraud, tolerated and supported by too many Republicans who knew better. The next two years they will proudly state their principled opposition when things went horribly wrong. Inevitably Mike Pence, the ultimate brown noser who only once refused to jump when Trump ordered him to, will be praised as a beacon of character and rectitude. Some appropriate modesty after four years that wrecked America and its reputation in the world? Don’t hold your breath.
As Mark Twain mused when newspapers repeatedly declared him dead: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” The Republican Party will lay low for a while, but reports of her death are greatly exaggerated. Watch out, they will be back. In four years, in eight years. Nothing unites Republicans more than the lust for power. They don’t have to have a program, no ideology, not even a populist leader. But beware, they’ll be back before you know it.