The bleak future of the Republican party

Jane Mayer is an excellent reporter for the New Yorker magazine who has been following the career of Mitch McConnell for a long time. She has a new article examining his recent moves that seem to involve a distancing from Trump. The headline says that McConnell has dumped Trump but that was written just after he spoke in the Senate on January 6th saying that the election results should not be overturned. Since then, McConnell has edged back to Trump again.

But Mayer’s description of the McConnell-Trump dynamic is interesting.

For four years, McConnell and others in the establishment wing of the Republican Party embraced the conceit that they could temper Trump’s behavior, exploit his popularity, and ignore the racist, violent, and corrupt forces he unleashed. Ornstein observed that McConnell, in a cynical bargain, “used Trump to accomplish his goals of packing the courts and getting tax cuts.” (Since 2016, the top corporate tax rate has been nearly halved, to twenty-one per cent.) In exchange for these gifts to the Party’s corporate backers, McConnell stayed largely silent in the face of Trump’s inflammatory lies and slurs—even though, according to insiders, he privately held the President in contempt. He covered for Trump’s political incompetence, eventually passing budgets and pandemic relief, despite Trump’s tantrums and government shutdowns. And he protected Trump from accountability during the first impeachment trial, in early 2020, announcing in advance that there was “zero chance” a Senate under his leadership would convict the President.

But any pretense that McConnell could maintain control over Trump or over the Party’s fate unravelled after the 2020 election. McConnell was caught between denouncing Trump’s lies and alienating his supporters, thereby risking the loss of the two Senate seats in the Georgia runoff. Faced with a choice between truth and self-interest, McConnell opted for the latter. “He knew he had to keep the team together for Georgia,” a former Trump Administration official close to McConnell’s circle told me. “For him, being Majority Leader was the whole ballgame. It’s hard to overstate. It’s pretty obvious that for McConnell one of the reasons he was so indulgent of Trump was Georgia.”

Several Republican advisers argued to me that McConnell had no reasonable choice. If he had confronted Trump before the Georgia runoff, they said, Trump would have launched a civil war within the Party, possibly even commanding his supporters not to vote. “It could have been worse,” the former Trump official said. “Trump could have attacked” the two Republican Senate candidates, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, or the National Republican Senate Campaign Committee. As one of the advisers put it, “McConnell was trying to keep the wheels on the train for a few more hours.”

The documentary program Frontline has put online the entire interview they had with Frank Luntz for the documentary Trump’s American Carnage that I discussed in an earlier post and it is pretty interesting, in an inside baseball kind of way. He talks about what discussions were going on inside the inner sanctums of the Republican party all during the Trump era right up to the present.

Here’s the full Luntz interview.

For those unfamiliar with Luntz, he is a Republican pollster whose specialty is using focus groups and polls to help Republicans find ways to sell their unpalatable message to voters by using carefully chosen language. He managed to sell things like getting rid of the inheritance tax (that only affected very rich people) by calling it a death tax that would hit ordinary people who wanted to leave a small legacy to their children. He helped generate opposition to Obamacare by claiming it would take away their health care and eliminate their choices. While I utterly loathe the policies he was paid to advance, I do have grudging respect for his skill in listening to voters and using his understanding of what they want to create messaging that persuaded people to support positions that went against their own interests. He is also plugged in to all the top people in the Republican leadership and has access to them and thus can speak authoritatively about what is going on inside the party.

Luntz says that the low voter turnout in Republican districts turned out to be the significant factor in the two Georgia senate losses. He points out that both Republicans had significant leads in the November 3rd election, with one of them almost winning outright, but then lost in the run-offs. Trump never had any interest in winning the Georgia senate run-off races and indeed deliberately sabotaged the Republican candidates because he simply could not stand the idea that other Republicans could win in a state where he lost. He says that if Trump had simply got off his fat ass (his words) playing golf in Florida and held a rally in deeply red Augusta, the Republicans would have won easily. He says that if Trump had just been silent, they would have won. But instead, he set about undermining the Republican candidates. He says that he attended Biden’s rallies and they were clearly designed to get out the Democratic votes while Trump’s rally seemed designed to suppress the Republican vote by claiming that the election was totally rigged.

There were some other interesting things that he said. He started out by saying that while he was a Republican pollster and likely will always be viewed as such, around 2015 he changed his perspective from trying to craft things to favor Republicans to being more accurate. One has to take such distancing with a grain of salt. He also said that Trump did not like him and recounted an anecdote where during a flight on Air Force One, Trump brought in all his senior people into the room in order to have them ridicule Luntz about a suggestion he made that would be more effective in selling his border wall. Trump was firmly convinced that his own slogan of ‘Build the wall!’ was the best, whatever focus groups and polling might say.

Luntz also says that Nancy Pelosi drives Trump crazy because the tactics he usually uses with women don’t seem to work with her and that she knows how to needle him and get under his skin.

He says that his research shows that 50% of Trump voters want him to continue to contest this election, 50% want him to run again in 2024, more than 70% believe that Trump won this election, many of them want him to start a new party, and that there is now a majority of Republicans who will never, ever trust an American election again. He says that he has never seen anything like it before but that this is the bind that the Republican leadership finds itself in. Even if they want to, they cannot distance themselves from Trump, even though the majority of the country has moved on and accepted the election results.

The Republican party has no choice but to be ‘loyal’ (i.e., subservient) to Trump in order to not alienate his voters, while Trump has absolutely no loyalty to the party, making it a textbook abusive relationship.


  1. Who Cares says

    The current Republican party reminds me of the Know Nothings. Similarly convinced that there is a massive conspiracy. And it fell apart once one of the leaders left taking away 2/3 of the people voting for them.
    Biggest difference is that the Republican party is better established and that knowing Trump he won’t form his own party (too much work) or fail to do so due to his personality.

  2. lanir says

    Nothing really stops them from chasing more moderate voters by taking less ridiculous positions. Having a message people might want to vote for in a democracy seems to be working okay mostly for the Democrats. It’s not like they have any core beliefs left to wrestle with at this point. They’ve already sold out every position they said they wanted to stand for.

  3. raven says

    The bleak future of the Republican party

    This seems to be more wishful thinking that reality.
    After the Trump disaster and 430,000 dead Americans from Covid-19 virus, the GOP is still just a few congressional votes behind the Democratic party. It is 222 to 212 House and 51 50 Senate, Democratic to GOP. They are still fully competitive in winning national political power.
    Paul Krugman has a good take

    By Paul Krugman | The New York Times
    | Jan. 29, 2021, 12:00 p.m.
    Here’s what we know about American politics: The Republican Party is stuck, probably irreversibly, in a doom loop of bizarro. If the Trump-incited Capitol insurrection didn’t snap the party back to sanity — and it didn’t — nothing will.

    What isn’t clear yet is who, exactly, will end up facing doom.
    Will it be the GOP as a significant political force? Or will it be America as we know it? Unfortunately, we don’t know the answer. It depends a lot on how successful Republicans will be in suppressing votes.

    We’ve all seen that the GOP has been getting steadily crazier since the 1990’s.
    They aren’t going to change. They will get worse, not better.

    It’s come down to them or us.
    We haven’t won in the long term. Despite Trump’s massive incompetence, 400,000 dead Americans, and the Capitol building attack, the GOP is still very strong.

    So who will ultimately win? Got me, I’ve been watching this for unfold for 30 or so years.

  4. consciousness razor says

    Call that “bleak” if you like, but I’ll have another please. As shocking as it may sound, 2020 just wasn’t bleak enough (for the GOP). Let’s do it again.

    Nothing really stops them from chasing more moderate voters by taking less ridiculous positions.

    But a large proportion of their voters take those ridiculous positions. That’s not nothing, and it’s what stops them. Pretty much everybody who’s even remotely “moderate” has wanted nothing to do with them for a long time now.

    At the same time, a relatively small number of big donors want something that’s still very corporate-friendly but is less obviously hateful and belligerent and so forth. But of course, merely having tons of money doesn’t translate into winning an election (not fairly, at any rate). So they need some people to show up on election days and actually vote for them, hence the need to appease the many non-moderate voters mentioned above who hold all sorts of ridiculous views. They can’t really have it both ways. It’s either the money or the voters.

    It’s hard to predict how things will go, but both Republicans and Democrats have learned a lot about how to make something out of being the minority party, particularly making lots of money from their richest donors. It wouldn’t be so easy for the Republicans to basically disregard the die-hard Trump supporters, but if they did, all it really means for the party is fewer of them in positions of power. Sounds bad for them, and it is. But it’s not such a major problem, considering how dominating they are now in nearly every part of our local/state/federal governments, even after taking into account their recent losses. They could still hold on to quite a bit of that power.

    So, they could still collect tons of donations from those who’d remain, since there will still be some who are outraged by the idea that Democrats have most of the power. I don’t know, but it seems like a pretty reasonable bet that they’ll be more interested in the money than they are in the voters. I mean, we are talking about a bunch of greedy sociopaths who don’t actually give a fuck about anybody, so they’re already mentally prepared to make that decision. Perhaps it’s just not the right time to reveal it to the rest of us, though.

  5. Reginald Selkirk says

    @2 lanir: Nothing really stops them from chasing more moderate voters by taking less ridiculous positions.

    Their failure to distance themselves from fascists and expel them from the party stands in the way. I, for one, will be telling all my friends that any politician running for office who is willing to list an (R) behind their name is OK with fascism, and if my friends vote for them, they can stop calling themselves my friends.

  6. flex says

    I had little respect for Luntz before and even less now after watching that show.

    He says he no longer identifies as republican, but is committed to reported the facts, but throughout the interview it is clear that his sympathies still lie with the republican party.

    He mentioning a few times that the democrats need to tone down the rhetoric while not mentioning the rhetoric from the republicans. Does the 2nd amendment solution ring a bell for you Luntz? I don’t recall democrats generally laughing about calling for assassination of their political opponents.

    He said that the democrats denied the validity of the elections of 2000 and 2016 and implying there was an equivalency for the republican reaction of 2020.

    He said that the congresscritters who continued to question the legitimacy of the electoral college vote were doing so out of respect for their constituents. When those votes were certified by the state governments, as the constitution requires. Only a faction of any states voters objected to the certification. If you represent your constituents, you represent all of them, not just the troublemakers who are giving you a fund-raising opportunity. Those congresscritters knew exactly what they were doing, they were pandering to the mob and using as an excuse a trumped-up falsehood that they helped create as an excuse to lie to their constituents. Who then believed that lie.

    And then he ended with saying that the democrats should just move on and forget about the incitement to a riot, calling it revenge.

    I don’t want revenge, I want justice.

    The fact that Luntz can’t seem to distinguish between revenge and justice is telling. It tells me that he is still thinking like a republican and not an American, regardless of his claim.

  7. sonofrojblake says

    “thinking like a republican and not an American”

    “No true Scotsman”. Republicans *are* Americans. In fact I’d go so far as to say it’s Republicans that most of us get in the RotW picture when we think of the typical American -- god-fearin’, gun-totin’, commie-hating and above all, stupid and proud of it. 70 million-plus voted Trump last November. They not Americans, somehow, now?

  8. Steve Cameron says

    The Intercept’s Deconstructed podcast has a really good interview today about how things aren’t so bleak for the GOP and the still very real threat of minority rule :

    Essentially, the Republicans are poised to take back the House in the midterms thanks to the census and gerrymandering unless certain steps are taken, including getting rid of, or at least limiting, the filibuster. That would enable Democrats to pass certain election reforms that comprise the HR1 and S1 bills that are currently pending.

  9. flex says


    I never said, or even meant to imply, he is not an American. I said he is thinking like a republican, i.e. he associates himself with that tribe of Americans. But at the end of the video he claims that he’s not a republican anymore, only an American. While the contents of the interview, his own words, say that he identifies with traditional republicans.

    Luntz criticizes people for not recognizing that what is heard means more than what is said. Luntz, throughout the interview, criticizes Trump and democrats. He does not criticize republicans, and always gives them the benefit of the doubt. He claims the congresscritters who voted against accepting the electoral college results were only voting their conscience, not that they might have had a financial stake in, or stoked the fears of, their constituent’s beliefs.

    If the republican party recovers from Trump mania, and returns to being the party as conceived by Mitch and the other traditional republicans, Luntz would rejoin in a heatbeat. He doesn’t think that will happen, but it was pretty clear in the interview where his loyalties lie.

    Much of the interview was Luntz denying he is a republican, and what will be heard by many people is that Luntz is no longer a republican. But I submit that if we look at who hires his services over the next 3-4 years, it will solely consist of republicans.

    Luntz is also an American. Those terms are not mutually exclusive.

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