BY MAX BOOT
“We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” That famous, if probably apocryphal, quote from the Vietnam War describes how I feel about the Republican Party. We have to destroy the party in order to save it.
As a lifelong Republican until Nov. 9, 2016 — and as a foreign policy adviser to three Republican presidential candidates — it gives me no joy to write those words. It’s true that the party had long-standing problems — conspiracy-mongering, racism, hostility toward science — that Donald Trump was able to exploit. But he has also exacerbated all of those maladies, just as he made the coronavirus outbreak much worse than it needed to be.
I have watched with incredulity the GOP’s descent into collective madness. Many Republicans I know began by holding their noses and voting for Trump because of judges and taxes and their hatred of Hillary Clinton. Now the whole Republican Party seems to inhabit the Fox News Cinematic Universe, an alternative reality where President Barack Obama spied on Trump and Joe Biden is a socialist who will let “anarchists” and “arsonists” run riot.
The party has even become infected by the lunatic QAnon cult, whose followers believe Trump’s opponents were blood-drinking, Satan-worshipping pedophiles. In one recent poll, half of Trump supporters said top Democrats were involved in child sex trafficking. Georgia’s Senate primary offered a disturbing snapshot of the state of the party: Rep. Douglas A. Collins promotes his endorsement from two convicted felons (former Trump advisers Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos) while Sen. Kelly Loeffler touts her support from Marjorie Taylor Greene, a soon-to-be House member who questioned whether the Pentagon was really attacked on 9/11.
The same trickle-down craziness is evident in Republican mishandling of the coronavirus. Trump had given up trying to control the pandemic, mocked masks and promoted conspiracy theories such as his claim that death counts are inflated because “doctors get more money and hospitals get more money” if they say people died of COVID-19. This specious allegation is faithfully echoed by Republicans such as Sen. Joni Ernst, of Iowa. Red states are paying a devastating price for pandemic denialism: North Dakota has the lowest rate of mask-wearing in the country and the highest COVID-19 death rate per capita in the world.
Trump gave permission for Republican bigots to come out into the open — to replace dog whistles with wolf whistles. Sen. David Perdue (R.-Ga.) mocked Sen. Kamala Harris’s Indian first name. Madison Cawthorn, a House nominee in North Carolina, proudly visited Hitler’s lair and created a website attacking a journalist for having worked “for non-white males, like Cory Booker, who aims to ruin white males running for office.” Laura Loomer, a Republican candidate for a House seat from Florida, calls herself “a proud Islamophobe” and cheered the deaths of 2,000 refugees crossing the Mediterranean (“Good. Here’s to 2,000 more”).
The longer Trump stayed in office, and the more damage he did — the more loyal Republicans become. “Axios on HBO” found that, among 178 congressional Republicans who have been in office since Trump began his run for president, 42 percent criticized him after the “Access Hollywood” tape was released in 2016. Only 12 percent criticized him for the attack on peaceful demonstrators and Bible photo-op this year.
Republicans flattered Trump the way Trump flattered Kim Jong Un. Ken Cuccinelli, acting deputy secretary of homeland security, tweeted that Trump is the “greatest SCOTUS [Supreme Court] President since the founding era (at least), and possibly of all time,” and that his “Nobel Peace Prize for Mideast peace” is a “sure thing.” Internet memes depict the portly president as a superhero.
Trump had no second-term agenda, and the party had no platform other than supporting him. Even the editor of National Review — supposedly the intellectual leader of conservatism — suggested that the primary reason to vote for Trump was to extend a middle finger to his critics. This is sheer nihilism. By next year, fewer than 1 in 6 House Republicans will have been in office during George W. Bush’s presidency. Trumpism is their reality now.
The V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden just released a study showing that in four years the GOP has been transformed into an autocratic party that has much in common with the Fidesz Party in Hungary, the Law and Justice party in Poland, and the Justice and Development Party in Turkey.
America needs a sane center-right party. It doesn’t need an extremist party that undermines democracy, caters to White grievances, and rejects science and reason. The only way Republicans will come to their senses is if they see that the path they are on leads to electoral oblivion. That’s why, even though I’m not a Democrat, I voted straight-ticket Democratic on Nov. 3 — and will for as long as necessary to make Republicans come to their senses. The GOP needs to be detoxified and de-Trumpified.