The frat boy politics of the Republican Party may end in unseemly collapse — or national disaster

Republicans
(Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen)

U.S. Senate and House members attend President Donald J. Trump address Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020 in the East Room of the White House, where the President responded to being acquitted in the U.S. Senate Impeachment Trial.

Joe Biden is thinking about the complexities of racial and social justice in America, vaccinating the population against COVID-19, combatting domestic terrorism, rebuilding the country's infrastructure, bringing back jobs and climate change. Donald Trump is thinking about money and revenge—and maybe about why his pal Vladimir Putin has all the luck.

Can you imagine how the Former Guy felt when he heard last week's news that his man-crush, Russian President Putin, just signed a law allowing him to run for two additional terms? Given the largely meaningless nature of elections over there, the legislation could keep Vlad in office until 2036, when he'll be 83.

Boy, Trump may have thought, how come he gets to do that and not me? I constantly have to lie about the election results, keep bellyaching that I won, and foment an attempted coup d'etat at the US Capitol. None of which worked. Let me tell you, it's exhausting! Now watch this putt...

Nonetheless, based on his great election fraud lie, all that prevarication does keep the Trump coffers filled with campaign dollars -- cash that's still being collected by the hour from the readily bamboozled. There's some $85 million in his Save America PAC, according to one of his advisors. Legally, much of it can be used for whatever Ol' Punkinhead feels like.

That's a good thing for Trump, because his much-vaunted business acumen continues to come back to nip him in the butt. Not only are his taxes and most of his other corporate records being ever more closely scrutinized for criminal activity by New York State Attorney General Tish James and Manhattan DA Cy Vance, but Dan Alexander at Forbes magazine reports, "From the time he entered the White House in January 2017 to his departure a few months ago, Donald Trump's fortune fell by nearly a third, from $3.5 billion to $2.4 billion. The S&P 500, meanwhile, increased 70%." You'll recall that he refused to divest his portfolio when he became president. As a result, "Trump bogged down his presidency with ethics issues for years, while also missing a chance to cash in on a market boom he helped propel.

If he had sold everything on Day 1, paid the maximum capital-gains taxes on the sales, then put the proceeds into a conflict-free fund tracking the S&P 500, Trump would have ended his presidency an estimated $1.6 billion richer than he is today.

The man's a financial genius. Just ask him. Or better yet, ask what remains of the Republican Party which, as per veteran GOP fundraiser Fred Zeidman, is being roiled by "a tremendous complication" – the controlling influence of Trump and his demand to continue leading the Republicans. "He's already proven that he wants to have a major say or keep control of the party," Zeidman told The New York Times, "and he's already shown every sign that he's going to primary everybody that has not been supportive of him. He complicates everything so much."

Saturday night, Trump went off his prepared remarks for a Republican National Committee donor dinner at his Mar-a-Lago resort and delivered one of his notorious rants, still insisting he won the November election and profanely going after everyone from Biden and "Barack Hussein Obama," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Dr. Anthony Fauci to his supposed allies former Vice President Mike Pence, Georgia governor Brian Kemp, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – "a dumb son of a bitch" -- and McConnell's wife, Trump's former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. Trump claimed that her appointment was a quid pro quo, a favor to insure Mitch's loyalty. Perhaps it was the most honest thing he said all night.

The man's crazier than a junkyard rat and yet the faithful still kneel before him. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll finds that 60 percent of Republicans continue to believe that Trump won the election – and 50 percent of them believe Trump's new big lie that the January 6 insurrection was actually a peaceful demonstration of love and respect, spoiled only when some nasty antifa infiltrators turned it violent.

Oh, for a simpler, saner time – and I don't mean that white American idyll that never was, a rightwing fever dream in which all is falsely remembered as sunshine, jellybeans and petroleum products burnt without a care. Rather, as columnist Frida Ghitis notes, "It wasn't very long ago that the country had two reality-based, generally centrist parties. Democrats and Republicans, with different philosophies, debated the merits of their ideas, in search of a workable compromise.

But then, bit by bit, the GOP started veering in a different direction. By the time Trump became president, the maximalist, nativist, conspiracy-driven, scandal-manufacturing, hate-stoking wing was already ascendant, propelled by the engines of Fox News and other far-right provocateurs. Trump's victory was the coup that toppled the old GOP and turned it into the extremist MAGA machine.

And now, what's left? A handful of old-fashioned, conservative Republicans in Congress and their supporters who apparently still believe in some semblance of democracy and the republic that gave their party its name. But they're overwhelmed by a crowd of fanatics and sycophants: men and women, in Frida Ghitis' words, busily "promoting the delegitimization of America's duly elected president, people who are endorsing or refusing to rectify dangerous lies."

You know who they are: Cruz, Hawley, Graham, Jordan, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, et al. They include, of course, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, "rewarded by recklessness," to use campaign strategist Rick Wilson's phrase, and as of this moment still standing, despite more and more evidence of his misogyny and possible abusive behavior, sexual and otherwise.

Like so many among these ranks, Trump fanboy Gaetz is one of the smarmy, privileged, attenuated frat boys who refuse to believe that rules and norms apply to them – much like the man who was their president and would be forever more if the rest of us become indifferent and lower our guard. Gaetz cares about his job title only as far as it gets him booked on talk shows and the lecture circuit – so far, he has failed to sponsor a single piece of significant legislation.

In his new memoir, former Republican House Speaker John Boehner describes these types of Republican rabblerousers as "the chaos caucus," not caring about the country but only about their power base and appearances on Fox News and right wing talk radio: "They didn't really want legislative victories," Boehner writes. "They wanted wedge issues and conspiracies and crusades."

Not that Boehner is blameless. He and so many Republican colleagues let themselves be bullied, then acquiesced to our current dilemma, yielding to those pledged to lunacy and a lemming-like fealty to a president as bereft of thought and feeling as they are. You see the results: a shattered party not of ideas and programs, but only insults and bogus intrigues. No wonder the Biden infrastructure proposals infuriate them; they have nothing to offer in return. (Remember Trump's Infrastructure Week, always imminent but never occurring over the whole four years of his presidency?)

They fear any and all success during Biden's first term. Think back to 1993, when now anti-Trumpist conservative Bill Kristol advised Republicans to shun any healthcare plan from Bill and Hillary Clinton. In a memo—Kristol was then head of the Project for the Republican Future—he warned his colleagues, "It will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests. And it will at the same time strike a punishing blow against Republican claims to defend the middle class by restraining government."

Substitute the name Biden for Clinton and any of Biden's proposals for Clinton's failed healthcare plan and you see what today's GOP strategy is—a replay of Kristol's fears now made deeper and more paranoiac by the lowest common denominators who have taken control of the party. Their anger at Biden's early successes and their fury at the popularity of his proposed programs—even among many self-described Republican voters – have sent them 'round the bend.

Instead of opposition that in past years may sometimes have been based on actual conservative principles, all that really matters to them now is the personal power and campaign money that come from "winning." Mitch McConnell's risible warning to corporations last week that they should "stay out of politics" was a demonstration of just how frantic their party has become.

(McConnell, who relies on corporate dollars, backed away from his statement the very next day. It's worth noting that he made it in reaction to the opposition of many businesses—including Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola—to Georgia's new voter suppression laws. Pained by the increasing voting power of Black, indigenous and people of color, rather than strategize as to how to win them over with ideas, the GOP has determined to stamp out their voices wherever possible, thus acknowledging just how feeble their party's ideology has become.)

Add to this mix a steady drumbeat of rabid, often ad hominem attacks on Democrats and those of different races, genders and creeds, characterized by a mad inclination toward nihilism and anarchy, that encourages such rightwing violence as January 6. Counterterrorism experts warn that this could bring the country down. A recent report from the Director of National Intelligence finds that domestic violent extremist (DVEs) "pose an elevated threat." Daniel Block, executive editor of The Washington Monthly, notes, "Unlike in the 1990s, when right-wing extremism was overwhelmingly disavowed by national Republicans, the modern GOP actively courts the far right."

Ever confrontational, with their rank brand of child-like bullying, a bad habit made worse by the words and deeds of their ex-president, in the end, Republicans are flailing and lashing out. At this point in time, West Virginia's Democratic Senator Joe Manchin is only fooling himself if he truly believes bipartisanship within this Congress is possible.

He makes a mistake in thinking these men and women are redeemable. They're not. But we can build and strengthen support from others with constructive change like much of what the Biden administration is proposing. We can end the filibuster to pass a program of legislation unlike anything since Lyndon Johnson's Great Society and FDR's New Deal.

We've seen there is danger in the GOP's flailing; a lot of collateral, fatal damage can result. The party may be about to die like a harpooned whale, lashing out and dragging too many beneath the waves with it.

As the saying goes, when you stand for nothing, you'll fall for anything. Republican leadership still clings to their #1 False Prophet, living in fear that Trump and his followers might turn on them and support opponents that he'll endorse if incumbents fail to toe the increasingly thin line that bends toward bloodshed and despair.

In November, we voted him out, kept control of the House and now hold a narrow lead in the Senate. But it was too close a call. To return him to the top office, Republicans will do anything—anything except come up with good, constructive ideas. Don't drop your guard: we cannot let him and his cult back in.

Michael Winship is the Schumann Senior Writing Fellow for Common Dreams. Previously, he was the Emmy Award-winning senior writer for Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, a past senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos, and former president of the Writers Guild of America East. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship

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