The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump’s narcissism has become the GOP’s Achilles’ heel

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Capitol Hill on Monday. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

President Trump, days after losing the presidency by millions of votes and by a significant margin in the electoral college, still cannot admit he lost. There are a number of possible explanations for this. He may be such a raging narcissist that he simply cannot recognize failure and rejection. He may see the legal attacks as a money-raising venture (solicitations for the lawsuits in fine print reveal he can use the money to pay off campaign debt). He may see this as a financial strategy as he returns to the business world (no one wants to stay at Loser Trump’s hotels, but Martyr Trump has some brand appeal). As a political strategy, rejecting the election results keeps deluded supporters in a frenzy over a “stolen” election that was not stolen at all. (Have we found any shred of evidence of fraud or error that would change thousands of votes? Of course not.)

In any case, a range of conservatives — from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to talk-radio hosts to evangelical Christian patsies for Trump to potential 2024 Republican candidates — evidently think there is value in keeping up the pretense, which they know to be insane and anti-democratic. McConnell probably thinks it will juice up Georgia voters for the Senate runoff elections and stoke fundraising. The talk-radio jockeys and the rest of the unhinged right-wing media need new outrages to feed viewership. Trump-friendly evangelical Christian leaders have been selling white grievance for decades and likely see this as the latest reason to instill in their followers a sense of injustice, loss and anger. (It will also be fodder for arguments to intensify voter suppression based on the myth of rampant voter fraud.) And the 2024 contenders want to be seen as the heirs to the MAGA crowd, so they imitate Trump’s delusional refusal to accept the results.

The interesting question is not whether these people are behaving undemocratically, dishonestly and immorally; we know that to be the case. What we should be asking is why they are playing along with Trump. After losing a presidential election based almost entirely on conspiracies and white grievance, they seem determined to do it all over again.

McConnell might think Trump’s delusions feed the GOP base in Georgia. But didn’t Trump lose Georgia on the basis of a significant African American turnout and big shift in the suburbs? I suppose McConnell figures the Democratic base might not turn out in January (though his antics give them every reason to do so), but it really makes no sense to make Georgia’s Republican Senate nominees — who on Monday demanded the resignation of their state’s Republican secretary of state for unproven and nonspecific reasons — out to be irresponsible, unhinged obstructionists.

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Even more illogical is the devotion of 2024 Republican hopefuls to Trump’s martyr syndrome. Behind closed doors, as news reports suggest, Trump is already talking about a 2024 run. The last thing GOP Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Tom Cotton (Ark.) want is the zombie president hanging over their heads for the next four years, disparaging them and plotting to clobber them in a rematch of the 2016 primaries. They foolishly may believe they can build him up just enough to get street cred with the MAGA crowd without returning him to dominance in the party; the 2016 primary result shows they possess no such finesse. Build him up, and he’ll eat them alive, just as he did four years ago.

Moreover, even if one of the right-wing contenders gets past Trump in 2024, or if Trump decides not to run, why would these Republicans want to run as mini-Trumps? Trump lost in 2020. They need a new act, given that their predominantly White electorate is shrinking, that suburban voters and women are becoming overwhelmingly Democratic and that the millennial generation continues to outpace the baby boomers. What we learned in 2020 is that the reality-denying, white-resentment strategy turns off more voters than it turns out. It would seem far smarter to follow a handful of Republicans (e.g., Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine or Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse) who have stopped spinning Trump’s lies and started to project credibility.

The only conservatives with logical reasons to aid Trump are the right-wing media and money-grubbing evangelical Christian self-promoters. Outrage and fear are their business model. Fox News might have infuriated Trump by calling Arizona early and by continuing on the news side generally to rebut phony claims of fraud. However, the network’s revenue-generating prime-time lineup needs to perpetuate angry white derangement that keeps its viewers tuning in. (Disclosure: I am an MSNBC contributor.) Similarly, many evangelical Christians — especially those who keep voter databases and raise millions of dollars for conservative causes (rather than ministering to the most vulnerable) — are in the business of selling anger and fear, not saving souls.

In short, it might make sense for the right-wing media and religious rackets to promote Trump’s lies on the election, but it hardly makes sense for McConnell, as well as the Republicans who will seek the presidency in 2024 (or reelection to the Senate in 2022) to play along. Perhaps they will figure it out — especially if they wind up fumbling away two Georgia Senate seats.

Read more:

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Michael Gerson: The election is over, but there’s no end to Republican bad faith

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