It is commonplace to hear and read about President Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party. And certainly there is lots of evidence that the GOP is animated these days by an unquestioning devotion to Trump and whatever his ideas may be at any given moment. But the problem is that Republicans are now becoming the party not of Trump but of Joseph McCarthy, the Wisconsin senator who in the 1950s accused the State Department of treason, called George Marshall — head of the Army during World War II, later secretary of state and defense — a traitor, and implied that the American government was being secretly run by the Kremlin.
The Republican Party today has become a vast repository of conspiracy theories, fake news, false accusations and paranoid fantasies.
Consider the most recent example. Trump has scared much of the country about a small group of Central Americans, fleeing poverty and violence, who are hoping to come to the U.S. border and apply for asylum. It’s perfectly reasonable to oppose letting them in, though it is cruel to demonize them constantly. But Republicans have not been content to oppose granting asylum. They have concocted facts out of thin air and invented conspiracies about who is behind this group of impoverished migrants.
Last week, one of the prominent hosts at Fox News, which is now the Pravda of the Republican Party, suggested that more than 100 Islamic State fighters had been caught “trying to use this caravan.” Trump, a devoted Fox News viewer, pounced on that claim, declaring that “unknown Middle Easterners” had joined the caravan. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) asked whether Democratic donor George Soros was funding this movement.
None of these claims has an iota of truth to it. But they are repeated and reinforced across the country. The notion that Soros is the dark mastermind behind all kinds of movements is now deeply lodged in the Republican Party — so much so that senior party leaders such as House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa repeat it almost reflexively. Rep. Steve King (Iowa) has accused Soros of backing a grand scheme to systematically introduce foreigners in order to replace “Americans” — in other words, whites — with “somebody else’s babies.”
The slurs against Soros are revealing. Let’s remember, Soros is one of the most successful businessmen in history, who made his money in as pure a form of capitalism as there is, reading and betting on the market. He has become one of the world’s leading philanthropists. His foundation has spent more than $14 billion to date, much of it to support anti-communists and human rights groups, first in Eastern Europe and then around the world. He has funded various liberal ideas as well, from prison reform to the legalization of marijuana, many of which are now in the mainstream.
So why the focus on him? He is not the only big funder of liberal causes and candidates. Soros is not a mysterious figure. He has given countless speeches and interviews and written many books and articles. His Open Society Foundations put all their grants in plain view, on their website. But Soros is a perfect bogeyman for conspiracy theorists. He is rich, powerful, grew up abroad, has a foreign accent and is Jewish.
Republicans are at pains to deny anti-Semitism as a motivation for demonizing Soros, but the problem is it is not just Soros they target. Many Republicans now speak often and openly of the dangers of “globalists” — but for some reason, these “globalists” tend to be Jewish financiers (Lloyd Blankfein, Gary Cohn, Janet Yellen and Soros). Given the ugly historical smears in this regard, one can only conclude that elements of the Republican Party are either clueless about anti-Semitism or actively encouraging it.
It doesn’t end there. In his riveting book “Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire,” Kurt Andersen describes the mountain of conspiracy theories spouted by Republicans these days — about the United Nations, vaccines, gun control and sharia law, among other topics. Based on zero evidence, in an age of science and technology, these ideas are now more widespread than ever before.
America has a history of paranoid politics, infused with the belief that there is some hidden conspiracy to betray the republic. But these forces used to be peripheral, voiced by marginal figures. When they seemed to be growing, as with the John Birch Society in the 1960s, mainstream conservatives such as William F. Buckley publicly and forcefully denounced them. Today senior Republicans emulate them. Trump has given a ringing endorsement to Alex Jones, the country’s most influential and extreme conspiracy theorist. “Your reputation is amazing,” Trump said in a 2015 interview with Jones. “I will not let you down.”
The Republican Party has many good people and good ideas. But none of them matters while it houses and feeds fantasies, conspiracies and paranoia, tinged with racism, bigotry and anti-Semitism. Republicans are now squarely the party of McCarthy, and until that cancer is excised, they should not be entrusted with power.