Rarely has a political party more deserved the destruction the Republican Party may be about to suffer at the hands of President Trump’s former strategist, ideological guru and onetime puppeteer Steve Bannon. It was obvious during the earliest days of the campaign that Trump never intended to be either the leader or the protector of the Republican Party. He had contempt for the party. For one thing, it was a proven loser. For another, it crumpled like stick figures under his steamroller. Who could respect people who fell so easily, and so willingly?
Party leaders were especially contemptible in Trump’s eyes. They couldn’t even see what he was doing to them, or if they did, they were too cowardly to stop him. He had contempt for them when they tried to distance themselves from his racist, sexist and all around antisocial behavior. But he had even more contempt for them when they nevertheless came crawling back to him, again and again, pledging their fealty. He knew they came back not because they approved of him but because they feared him and the political following he commanded. He had stolen the hearts of their constituents, and therefore he owned them. He would use them as needed, and dispose of them when he could, knowing they could do nothing about it. “I saw them at Munich,” Hitler said of his British and French counterparts, whom he dubbed “little worms.”
Now the conquest is in full swing. Trump and Bannon put on a little Kabuki play for us this year. After a few months, it became clear that Bannon had become a lightning rod in the White House, the target of endless sniping from disgruntled Republicans and fellow staffers, unable to get anything done in the sludge of the Washington bureaucracy. He was hamstrung. And so they decided he could do more for Trump on the outside. Trump would play the constrained madman, surrounded and controlled by the “adults,” occasionally letting his true feelings be known to his throngs. Meanwhile Bannon would play the gonzo political maestro on the outside, running Trumpists in primaries to knock off establishment types, even hardcore conservative ones. Trump could even pretend to support the establishment’s choice, but his voters would know better. The result would be a rout. Some establishment Republicans would lose, either in the primary or the general; others would be afraid to run for reelection; others would try to suck up to Bannon in the hopes of persuading him not to unleash the hounds; all would try to mimic Trump. And it didn’t matter which path they took: These would all be victories for Trump.
This is what is happening now. It is the Trumpian Anschluss, the peaceful takeover of a party too craven to fight back. Republican leaders cry, “You’re helping the Democrats win!” But that doesn’t matter to Bannon and Trump. For one thing, it may not even be true, for who can be sure that a thoroughly Trumpist Republican Party won’t be able to defeat a Democratic Party apparently bent on nominating unelectable candidates on the left? But either way, Bannon and Trump undoubtedly believe it is more important to turn the party into Trump’s personal vehicle, to drive out the resisters, the finger-waggers, the losers, the proud scions of the responsible establishment who could not stop Trump and apparently cannot legislate their way out of a paper bag.
Should we have rooted for Republican leaders to fight back? Sure. And we did. The party would be worth saving if it contained even a dozen women and men of courage. But of course if it did contain such people, it wouldn’t need saving. Today the definition of a brave Republican is someone who is not running for reelection. So rooting for them is no longer an answer. The best thing for the country may be to let the party go. Let it become the party of Trump and Bannon, and as fast as possible. Let the 35 percent of the country who believe Trump is a suitable president, or who hate Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama so much that they would elect Mussolini to the White House, have their party.
The rest of Republican voters should leave the party until it earns back the right to their support. They should change their registration and start voting for Democratic moderates and centrists, as some Republicans did in Virginia recently, to give them a leg up in their fight against the party’s left wing. A third party of “good Republicans” is a fantasy. This is a two-party country. To defeat one, you have to support the other, either directly or indirectly. Right now the country’s best hope is for a moderate Democratic Party that speaks for that sizable majority of Americans who recognize the peril of seven more years of Trump in the White House. Bannon is doing his part to make that happen. It’s time for Republican voters who care about this country to do theirs.