Imagine waking up with a pounding headache, a stranger next to you, and Mike Tyson’s tiger in your bathroom. Now imagine if, instead of downing a pot of coffee and taking a hot shower, your hangover cure started with a shot of Jägermeister.
Congratulations, you’re now a Republican in 2021. After a drubbing in November followed by a violent and violently stupid insurrection attempt in January, they are doubling down on a proven loser. It’s just weird to have the guy who just LOST the presidency remain the party’s undisputed leader. In our lifetime, one-term presidents (not to mention losing nominees) have been pushed out the door faster than Milli Vanilli. In 1981, nobody was clamoring for more Jimmy Carter. But Republicans just can’t quit the former president—no matter how much grief he has caused them (and the nation). To paraphrase Homer Simpson’s toast to alcohol, they see Donald Trump as the cause of, and the solution to, all of the party’s problems.
Now, in case you still think the Trump era was a rollicking party that Republicans should want to savor, a recap is in order: After losing his re-election, Trump’s efforts to overturn that free and fair election earned him a second impeachment. Along the way, Trump meddled in the state of Georgia, sabotaging not one but two U.S. Senate runoff races and almost single-handedly costing Republicans control of the Senate in the process. The very next day, he incited an insurrection in the U.S. Capitol where (among other things) rioters beat cops with an American flag. And the response from Republicans was… let’s have some more of that!
I’m not kidding. Not even a little. And if you don’t understand how completely Trump has—despite his demonstrated failings—maintained complete control over the GOP, let’s start with the fact that, as Trump spokesman Jason Miller recently told The Washington Post, “Mar-a-Lago and Palm Beach are the center of the Republican universe right now.” It’s true. The Conservative Political Action Conference, aka CPAC, was just in Florida less than two months ago. And just last weekend, the Republicans converged there for their winter meeting.
Republicans aren’t just showing deference to Trump by trekking to his adopted home state. They are continuing to beg for his love while he abuses fellow Republicans who try to escape the cult. During CPAC, he attacked Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, Richard Burr, Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Pat Toomey. And during the Republican winter meeting, he attacked Mike Pence for not having the “courage” to support his coup and called Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell a “dumb son of a bitch.”
Those attacks elicited major Republican pushback. Kidding! Seriously, Florida Sen. Rick Scott presented Trump with a participation trophy, aka the inaugural “NRSC Champion for Freedom Award.” And, for reasons that escape me, Nikki Haley (who oscillates from furled-eyebrows Nikki to sycophant Nikki) declared she would back Trump if he runs in 2024.
We could explain away this behavior by saying that Republican politicians at the national level are still suffering from Stockholm syndrome. But this phenomenon is also playing out in numerous states (consider how Wyoming GOP’s censured Rep. Liz Cheney for her vote to impeach Trump). What is more, it is infecting the next generation of elected Republican officials.
In Ohio, we are witnessing a real race to the bottom. The entire race to replace establishment Republican Sen. Rob Portman is a contest to out-MAGA their competitors in (what looks to be) a crowded and highly competitive primary. As far as I can tell, there are at least five well-funded Republicans vying for the seat. The two who have garnered the most national attention are perennial candidate Josh Mandel and Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance.
Mandel recently posted a Twitter poll asking, “What triggers the establishment the most—when Constitutional Conservatives & Trump Warriors like me” where the most popular answer was (spoiler alert!): “Defend President Trump.” Vance has likewise drawn attention for Trumpy tweets praising Tucker Carlson and for saying of corporations who are publicly opposed to new voting laws: “Raise their taxes and do whatever else is necessary to fight these goons.”
It takes a goon to fight goons, in this downward spiral of negative thinking.
“Scroll through his Twitter feed,” wrote Never Trump writer Mona Charen, “and you will find retweets of Tucker Carlson, alarmist alerts about immigration, links to Vance’s appearances on the podcasts of Seb Gorka, Dinesh D’Souza, and the like, and even retweets of Mike Cernovich.” Did I mention that Peter Thiel recently gave $10 million to a super PAC supporting Vance?
Whether it’s Republicans schlepping to Florida to bend the knee, likely 2024 presidential candidates deferring to him, or a new crop of U.S. Senate candidates falling all over themselves (and, in one case, being escorted out of a hotel) for the chance to touch the hem of his garment, you have to ask yourself why, since nothing good comes for anyone else from getting anywhere near him.
Trump isn’t just the pounding headache that won’t go away— he’s a face tattoo you don’t learn about until seeing a mirror in the morning. And he’s what a GOP in denial is insisting is the only thing that could possibly make that headache, and that ink, somehow go away.
It’s still Trump’s party (and I’ll cry if I want to).