I’ve had a couple of open tabs in my browser for the past few days, both of them related to the idea that we no longer have two normal political parties. We have the Democrats, warts and all, and we have the Republicans, which have become the cult of Donald Trump. For example, here is Nancy LeTourneau commenting on the Peter Strzok hearings last week:
As I watched the tail end of the Strzok hearing yesterday, I began to wonder if there was going to be a single Republican on either of the committees involved who would approach the questioning from some angle other than to attack the FBI agent as a way to suggest that the Russia investigation was nothing more than a hoax cooked up by the biased “deep state.” As far as I can tell, not one of the 40+ of them did. Every one of them accepted the role of being a Trump enabler.
Congressional hearing are always partisan, but normally both sides play from hymn books that are at least written in the same key. Not this time, though. If you watched an edited clip of only the Republican questioners, you would conclude that the topic of the session was the FBI’s witch hunt against Donald Trump. They talked of nothing else. Jonathan Bernstein ponders what damage this might do to Republicans:
At the very least, we might hope that a House majority that regularly engages in such abuse might hurt its overall reputation powerfully enough that the misdeeds become a factor in midterm elections. But even that seems unlikely; approval or disapproval of the president is likely to be a far more important factor in vote choice.
Bottom line? The Republican Party is deeply dysfunctional and suffers minimal or no electoral penalties as a result. And there doesn’t seem to be any obvious solution to get the party back on track as a group of responsible and effective conservatives. In the meantime, we should do what we can to protect our other governing institutions when necessary. But as long as the Republicans act irresponsibly, the rest of us will constantly be pushed into impossible choices between empowering them and (if possible) limiting their damage by crippling the institutions they control. As I said: It’s deeply depressing.
After Trump’s meeting with Putin on Monday, the same dynamic played out. The president, naturally, gave no interviews to normal media outlets. Instead he spoke to Fox News, in particular to Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity. Fox viewers came away with basically no idea that Trump had embarrassed himself and the country by kowtowing to Putin. Carlson and Hannity were all smiles, talking only about the “phony” investigation and the “witch hunt” and the fact that there was “no collusion.” Lou Dobbs chimed in too, with a bit of added lickspittle for good measure. It was, for all practical purposes, an alternate universe over in Fox land. I gather that Neil Cavuto offered a mild dissent, but that was it. I’m sure he’ll be whipped back into line soon enough.
So what’s my point? It got a bit mangled, I’m afraid. But it’s this: What matters isn’t Trump, it’s the Trump bubble. How did it get so big? It’s one thing for Trump to have a core base that believes everything he says, but it’s quite another for every Republican in Congress and every Repbulican voter to be part of the cult too. And yet, that’s pretty much where we are. There’s a small—very small—dissident movement on the right, but for the most part everyone who IDs as even moderate Republican is 100 percent behind Trump. Do they agree with him? Are they afraid of him? Do they just hate liberals and don’t care what he says?
I don’t know. But forget about Trump himself for a moment. The real problem we face is a Republican Party that’s nearly unaninous in its cultlike attachment to a man who’s an obvious fraud—and possibly far worse. How did this happen? And what do we do about it?