A charitable explanation would be that respondents are pulling the pollster’s leg — or mouthing Trump’s illiberal rhetoric. It is also possible, we must admit, that Trump’s anti-democratic, anti-American views have now found a home in the GOP. Our democracy and our social fabric cannot survive with one major party permanently alienated from liberal democracy.
Trump has not yet destroyed the plethora of democratic institutions (the media, independent courts, etc.), but he may have succeeded in warping the mind-set of one of the two major political parties. It may be that for the foreseeable future, GOP loyalists no longer accept objective reality or tolerate a free press that criticizes its Great Leader. Unless you think Republicans will never win elections, that’s a threat to our liberal democracy.
If the GOP comes to resemble the nativist right-wing parties (e.g. Law and Justice in Poland, the National Front in France) and decides to double down on Trump’s assault on democratic norms, our politics will bear little resemblance to the optimistic, inclusive and confident democracy that is so distinctively American.
What is to be done? For those who think the GOP can be rescued, the defeat of Trump and the GOP majorities in both houses are necessary but not sufficient. A new generation may be required to articulate shared values and put forth an agenda that slows or reverses centrifugal forces pitting Americans against one another. A rehabilitated GOP would need to cease its aversion to objective truth and dump its attachment to conspiracy theories. It would need to drop an economic agenda that bears little resemblance to 21st-century experience. It could no longer ignore vast differences in wealth (that now manifest themselves even in disparate life expectancy rates) or wallow in nostalgia for a time when white males dominated nearly every aspect of life.
And if the base of the current Republican Party rejects such an undertaking, it will be up to the right and center-right opponents of Trump to forge new alliances and political structures. Huge GOP losses in November may be cathartic in anti-Trump circles, but so long as the only viable alternative to the Democratic Party is a dark, irrational and nativist ideology, we will be on shaky ground. Think of the midterms as an intervention or rehab — you have to break the patient down so that he can drop self-destructive habits and stand back up with new resilience and purpose.