There is widespread acceptance outside the MAGA cult that the Republican party has ceased to be a political party in any accepted sense. Even within the MAGA movement, there are those who have contempt for the Republican party, seeing it as part of the establishment that is not fully accepting of serial sex abuser Donald Trump (SSAT). The rot did not begin with SSAT’s takeover of the party, though. The rot started earlier, and John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin has his running mate in 2008, and the way she was embraced by so many, was the first serious sign that it had ceased to be a serious party. But the surest indication that a political party has gone seriously off the rails is when a demagogue with no serious policy agenda but instead spouts a series of grievances is seen as a savior and becomes its unquestioned leader, leaving it as just a hollow shell. The brutal ouster on Kevin McCarthy as speaker, someone who tried to have it both ways as a establishment figure as well as a MAGA cult member, was seen as the stripping away of final veneer of any political credibility.
Politico had an interesting roundup of opinions from academics and journalists about how it went so horribly wrong for the Republican party and what needs to be done to make it into a party again. I picked out just a few of the many contributions and the gist of the things they said.
Geoffrey Kabaservice, director of political studies at the Niskanen Center in Washington, D.C., leads off.
“A grown-up Republican Party — even a deeply conservative one — would accept the rule of law, the norms of liberal democracy, and the legitimacy of the opposing party. It would seek to represent all Americans and would prioritize winning converts over destroying heretics. It would be a governing party, understanding full well that governing is impossible without negotiation and compromise. It would accept America’s responsibility to uphold the post-World War II global order. Its leadership would seek to address the real needs and problems of its working-class base while resisting the conspiracy theories, demagoguery and temptations toward political violence to which populism is all too susceptible.
Unfortunately, that’s not the Republican Party we have. Instead, we have a party that prefers temper tantrums to governing, fantasies about stolen elections to the hard work of appealing to swing voters. It would rather destroy the federal bureaucracy than use it to implement conservative policies. Increasingly it poses a threat to national stability and world order. Kevin McCarthy did little to resist the feral direction of his party and much to indulge it. The next speaker will either find the courage to stand against this Republican nihilism or be consumed by it in turn.”
Joanne Freeman, professor of American history and of American studies at Yale University, says that the problem is not due to an extreme faction, since there seems to be unity among it for its dysfunctional role.
“More noteworthy is the willingness — even eagerness — of some Republicans to abandon democratic standards, norms and practices. This isn’t an ethereal matter of a broken spirit or wrong-headed ideals. It’s a brass-tacks reality, a strategy in motion throughout the nation: election denial, contested voting rights, denouncing any and all opposition as illicit and un-American. For the most part, fellow Republicans have allowed this extremism to flourish unopposed.
But it’s not an extreme faction of the Republican Party at fault, at least, not alone. The party’s unity is the problem, its shared focus on ends (uncontested rule) over means (democratic practices). Norms and rules be damned, they feel entitled to maintaining power. This isn’t democracy. It’s the heartbeat of authoritarianism.”
Norman Ornstein, emeritus scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, says that SSAT did not start the rot but was an accelerant.
“Donald Trump was in some ways a logical extension of the nihilistic, radical politics that emerged in the two decades before his emergence as a presidential candidate and president. But he was an accelerant, not the cause. The GOP transformation into a radical cult was there before he became its leader, and was itself shaped and incited by the rise of tribal media and social media, and advanced by gerrymandering and other political tools that insulated a minority in the country from the consequences of their radical statements and actions. McCarthy paid the price — but we will all pay a heavier price with an ungovernable House dominated by a lunatic fringe that is now at the center of the GOP.”
Jeff Greenfield, a network television analyst and author, says that the fact that there is no behavior by SSAT that is seen as beyond the pale, is a dismaying sign.
“One fact that has dominated Republican thinking for eight years now defines the behavior of the party: There is virtually no behavior, however repellent, however malicious, that will trigger a political cost, because the beating heart of the Republican base will not care.
It began, of course, with Trump. In 2016, in the wake of his graceless, sometimes ugly behavior — mocking a disabled reporter, bragging of sexual harassment — four of the last five GOP presidential nominees refused to endorse him. That should have been the precursor to a resounding repudiation; instead, Trump got a larger share of the GOP vote than John McCain or Mitt Romney. “
In one of his segments, Seth Meyers also looked at the dysfunction.