Five years ago, Donald Trump seized control of the Republican Party by attacking conservative icons, insulting former GOP presidents and disregarding Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment that warned against criticizing other party members. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Jon Meacham told me at the time that Trump was like a hijacker taking control of an airplane while the passengers cheered him on.

Now that flying machine is disintegrating in the air, much like the United Airlines flight that scattered engine parts across Colorado this past weekend. Fortunately, that passenger plane landed safely. I suspect there will be no happy ending for the party of Trump.

The damage inflicted on Republicans since 2016 cannot be overstated. Even before his disastrous handling of the pandemic, Trump’s impulsiveness, ignorance, racist screeds and gratuitous personal attacks offended enough suburban Republicans and swing voters nationwide to cause disastrous election results for the party in the 2018 midterms. In 2018 and 2019, Democrats won gubernatorial races in the bright-red states of Kansas, Louisiana and Kentucky.

Trump’s subsequent loss of the White House in 2020 was made worse for Republicans by his manic promotion of numerous conspiracy theories, all pointing to widespread voter fraud as the cause for Joe Biden’s victory. Trump’s lawyers then spent the next two months having those conspiracy theories tossed out by more than 60 courts, many of those controlled by Trump-appointed judges. And still the failed president pushes the Big Lie, hoping to undermine more Americans’ faith in democracy while keeping his cult-like followers in a constant state of delusion.

It has proved to be all too easy for Trump.

Seventy-three percent of Trump voters surveyed by Suffolk University/USA Today believe Biden was not legitimately elected president. Fifty-eight percent blame antifa for the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, despite law enforcement officials saying left-wing agitators had nothing to do with the attack. Even House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) found himself shouting at Trump during a phone call after the president blamed antifa for the riots. According to a Republican lawmaker familiar with the call, McCarthy barked, “Who the [expletive] do you think you’re talking to?” The GOP House leader reportedly asked Trump to order his rioters to stand down. The then-commander in chief, however, failed to do so, causing the attacks to continue for hours before the president of the United States finally told the rioters to leave the Capitol.

That Republicans ever saw Donald Trump as their ticket to a governing majority is damning enough. The fact that 76 percent of Trump supporters would vote for him again in 2024, according to the Suffolk/USA Today poll — even after he lost the White House and surrendered Congress to Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) — proves again how destructive their obsession is with this political loser.

They now spend their days doing little more than seeking out political sinners. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and others face censure by party officials for criticizing the demagogue who inspired the Jan. 6 attacks. Even as the party tumbles ever closer to Earth, GOP apparatchiks race up and down the aisles hunting for heretics instead of finding someone on board who can actually land their plane.

Democrats love the madness of it all. They know it was Trump who made it possible for Pelosi to become speaker of the House yet again. They know it was Trump’s idiocy during the Georgia runoffs that made Schumer the Senate majority leader and put Bernie Sanders in charge of the Senate Budget Committee. It was Trump who offended enough suburban voters to elect Democrats to both Senate seats in Arizona and Georgia, and allowed Senate Democrats to begin filling federal court vacancies with liberals.

Because of Trump, Democrats own all the levers of power in Washington. After years of legislative gridlock, Biden’s party can pass whatever it wants, should it choose unilaterally to do away with the legislative filibuster. And unlike Trump, Biden will not be content to govern by meaningless gesture or mean tweet. Instead, expect the new administration to put vaccines into the arms of millions of Americans, pass the most expansive relief package in U.S. history and reverse Trump’s most damaging policies. Biden will do it all while benefiting politically from the stark contrast between his presidency and that of his unhinged predecessor.

As Biden’s approval rating rises toward the upper 50s, Trump’s Republican Party plummets ever closer to catastrophe. And yet, even as their plane disintegrates, Trump’s passengers keep celebrating every wrong move, every wrong turn and every pilot error that will seal their party’s fate.

As Sen. Lindsey O. Graham said at the start of this long, disastrous trip, “If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed.” The South Carolina Republican was right back then. The only question now is why Graham and so many of his fellow passengers continue to cheer on their hapless hijacker.

The U.S. is more politically polarized than ever. The Post’s Kate Woodsome asks experts what drives political sectarianism — and what we can do about it. (Kate Woodsome, Danielle Kunitz, Joy Yi/The Washington Post)

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