For a few years now, I have posited that the “old” Republican Party cannot be revived, that the current MAGA Republican Party is not worth sustaining and that sane Republicans (ranging from Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah to Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson to Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois) have no reasonable hope to rescue their party.
The latest Suffolk University-USA Today poll confirms those conclusions. “By double digits, 46%-27%, those surveyed say they would abandon the GOP and join the Trump party if the former president decided to create one,” USA Today reports. Additionally, they are under the ludicrous and false impression that the Jan. 6 insurrection was the doing of antifa (58 percent) rather than the disgraced former president’s followers (28 percent). It comes as no surprise that nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of the MAGA Republican Party think that President Biden was not legitimately elected.
To make matters worse, Trump voters said they wanted him to run for president again in 2024 — by a margin of 59 percent to 29 percent. If he were to run, 76 percent said they’d support him for the nomination, and 85 percent would vote for him in a general election.
And finally, Fox News is no longer nutty enough for many of them. (Disclosure: I am an MSNBC contributor.) In a USA Today-Suffolk poll in October 2016, 58 percent of Trump voters said Fox News was their most trusted news source. In this latest poll, that number has dropped to 34 percent.
A few observations are in order. First, these people have been thoroughly brainwashed by right-wing media. Second, the cult is self-reinforcing. (The cult leader lost? The enemies cheated. The cult leader messed up on covid-19? The death toll is exaggerated.) Now that they are heading for even crazier “news” outlets, the notion that we are going to reason with such voters is preposterous.
Third, we must recognize that the rational approach to government, even the delivery of much-needed government benefits, is irrelevant to the MAGA crowd. What matters is that the ex-president is fighting a racial and cultural war to protect them. Theirs is a White Christian movement brimming with resentment and suspicion; these are not people you can win over with great policy ideas.
And finally, the MAGA people are not going to decamp from the GOP; they now have the instruments of party control. It is the narrow stratum of reality-based Republicans who need to leave if they cannot live with a racist, anti-democratic, anti-truth majority.
What then happens to those who will not drink the MAGA Kool-Aid? Some will lose in primaries. Many will retire. Aside from a few brave souls such as Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Kinzinger, the vast majority of elected Republicans have already made peace with the wackos, lying to themselves and to the voters (epitomized by the canard that “impeachment was unconstitutional”) when they want to save face.
The responsible Republicans who remain — think of the seven senators who voted to convict, although two are soon to retire — have two avenues. They can remain technically within the party but act independently; we saw this in the December covid-relief deal and during impeachment. Alternatively, as the party shrinks and its chances of holding majorities in Congress and winning the White House decline, these sensible Republicans can decide to formally leave the party.
Just as Sens. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Angus King (Maine) are independents but caucus with Democrats, these dealmaking Republicans can decide to align themselves with one party or another. Alternatively, some could become Democrats. (Isn’t Sen. Susan Collins of Maine to the left of Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia?) In some states or regions, they might run under a different party’s banner, such as the Conservative Party in New York.
For the foreseeable future, the GOP is a cult of personality headed by a vicious, dangerous authoritarian. Those with a conscience and love of democracy still in the party need to end the denial. They need to figure out how and when to separate themselves from a party that embraces, as my colleague Michael Gerson correctly concluded, “American fascism” based on white supremacy, irrationality, ignorance, xenophobia, antisemitism, violence, and “anger and dehumanization.”
Until then, let’s all agree: An anti-Trump Republican is fast becoming an oxymoron.