The popular 1990s sitcom “Seinfeld” was often described as a television show “about nothing” — a characterization that could easily apply to the Republican Party today.
The party of Ronald Reagan — once a stalwart of fiscal conservatism, free trade and hawkish foreign policy — is now lost in a wilderness of its own making.
Over the past four years, Republicans who have supported and enabled President Donald Trump have been more interested in retaining their hold on power than standing up for any principles or coherent policies. With no one to stop him, Trump, the only US president who has been impeached twice, has completely remade the GOP in his own disgraceful and pathetic image.
After Trump supporters broke into the US Capitol last week in a desperate attempt to stop Congress from certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, 10 House Republicans, including Rep. Liz Cheney, broke ranks Wednesday to impeach Trump.
Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who whipped Senate Republicans into line and enabled Trump’s wild behavior, has indicated that he, too, has had enough. While it remains to be seen whether he will vote to convict Trump for inciting an insurrection, he believes impeachment might make it easier to get rid of Trump and oust Trumpism from the party, a source with knowledge of the matter told CNN.
Some Republicans have shown a willingness to press the reset button in attempt to remove the stain of Trump from their party, but there is no going back. For every Liz Cheney, there are more than a dozen elected GOP officials who are still committed to Trump.
Despite the fact that Republicans lost control of the House, Senate and White House during Trump’s term, all signs suggest he will continue to control the party as its de facto leader, weighing down the more traditional wing of the party from wresting back control.
Why are so many Republicans still sticking with Trump?
1. Physical fear. Longtime GOP strategist and Lincoln Project co-founder Rick Wilson told MSNBC’s Joy Reid that two Republican Congress members who voted against impeachment did so not out of principle, nor fealty to Trump — they voted against impeachment because they feared for their lives. “If I vote against (Trump), I will never know when they will kill my wife, or my kids or me,” said Wilson, quoting one House Republican. “They are terrified of the mob,” he added.
2. Party fear. It’s hard for outsiders to comprehend how thoroughly the GOP has been remade in the years since Trump announced his presidential bid in 2015. Just a few days after the Capitol was stormed, party members at the Republican National Committee Winter Meeting said they wanted Trump to “continue to play a leading role in the party.” Ronna McDaniel, Trump’s nominee for RNC chair, was reelected. While she condemned the attack on the Capitol, she, along with the other speakers, did not show any signs of holding Trump responsible.
3. Primary fear. After the 2010 census, Republicans delivered on a plan to win state legislatures and redraw federal congressional districts in their favor. It’s likely that this year’s redistricting process will only make red districts even redder.
As a result, many GOP House members are far more worried about losing their seats to a fellow Republican in a primary challenge than they are to losing to a Democrat in a general election. Moderate Republicans who are concerned about being outflanked by a challenger on the right may therefore fall in line with more outspoken and extreme Congress members to save their own skin.
Consider the following: While the public’s opinion of Trump has been remarkably consistent over the past four years, the political insurrectionists who invaded the US Capitol last week succeeded in dragging Trump’s standing to a staggering low. A recent Quinnipiac poll conducted after the attack shows that just 33% of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as President. Nevertheless, 71% of Republican voters say they still approve of Trump, according to Quinnipiac.
This presents an interesting conundrum for McConnell — how will he get a popular but toxic ex-President out of national politics and away from the Republican Party? One might expect McConnell to use the guise of an impeachment trial to force Trump out of politics and remove the threat of a 2024 presidential run. But we’re not holding our breath.
What is “The Party of Trump” in a post-Trump world? The answer is quite simple: It’s a party of dysfunction, at odds with itself. The GOP is now the party about nothing.