The Republicans need to separate the MAGA from the message. The Democrats are already doing this. While congressional Republicans pander to MAGA, which is now a racket for conspiracy theorists and the con artists who exploit them, the Biden administration is lifting Trump’s policies and stealing the Republicans’ thunder.
Trump’s ‘America First’ has become Biden’s ‘Made in America’. The Democrats now offer almost everything that Trump promised — and sometimes more. At home, infrastructure spending, rebuilding the industrial base and reshoring essential supply chains; plus subsidies for the wallet-sapping disaster that is Obamacare. Abroad, hostility towards China, skepticism towards Russia and revitalizing Nato; add the perverse pursuit of a deal, any deal, with Iran, and the not-unrelated dislike of Israel and its new friends in the Gulf. The fundamental difference between policies that install ‘fascist white-supremacism’ (Trump) and policies that install the end-state of ‘multiracial social justice’ (Biden) is one of tone.
This reversal of everything the Democrats have stood for in recent decades is impressively cynical, even for politicians. It is highly likely to succeed, too. Trump was an outsider within his own party — and he failed to legislate. But the Democrats are the natural party of government. Of course, it’s ludicrous to endure lectures on the most complex strategic and economic maneuver this country has undertaken since 1941 from a president who can’t remember what he had for breakfast without checking his cue cards. But it’s a smart electoral strategy.
In 2020, the Democrats worked out how to fling Trump’s secret sauce back into his face. They stigmatized a vote for Trump as downwardly mobile — and this time they peeled off just enough aspirational white suburbanites, women especially. The Democrats also promised a return to normality, the condition of life in which it’s possible to ignore politics. But politicians are always promising things they can’t deliver.
The Democrats are positioning themselves as the patrons of ordinary Americans. Meanwhile, the Republicans are positioning themselves on the crackpot fringe – except it’s not the fringe. It’s the Republican base that has lost its sense of reality — and the base that the party is playing to. The Republicans can galvanize the base and recover both houses of Congress in the midterms but they’ll lose in 2024 for the same reason. This is not a smart electoral strategy.
Nor is blocking an independent commission into the assault on the Capitol on January 6, as Senate Republicans did in late May. The base will forget that a Republican president and Republican representatives egged on a mob, but moderates and swing voters won’t. And the reddest of red caps will insist that the mob were driven by claims that last November’s election was stolen. Not bungled, as government agencies bungled the protection of the Capitol in what a Senate report calls a series of ‘critical breakdowns’ in security. Not mismanaged or corrupted, as electoral processes tend to be everywhere — and especially in big cities. But stolen, in an organized and elaborate conspiracy to overthrow American democracy.
Yes, the Paranoid Style has always been part of the American way. Yes, the Democrats also have their crazies and cover for them too. And yes, the Democrats also encourage mass delusion for electoral gain. But there are two important differences between the Democrats’ fantastical obsession with Russian meddling in 2016 and the Republican base’s fantastical obsessions today.
The first is scale. Russiagate was a single conspiracy theory. The MAGA mind is now trapped in interlocking fantasies. In mid-May, an Ipsos-Reuters poll found that 56 percent of Republicans believe the result of the November 2020 elections was determined by illegal voting and vote rigging. In late May, a PRRI poll found that 23 percent of Republicans ‘mostly or completely’ believe in the following three propositions: the QAnon theory that the ‘government, media and financial worlds’ of the US are controlled by a ‘group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global sex trafficking operation’; that a ‘storm’ is coming soon to ‘sweep away the elites in power and restore the rightful leaders’; and that ‘true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country’.
The second difference is the direction of the traffic. The Russiagate narrative was pushed top-down by the Clintonites and the elite coastal media. If you were a Democrat who didn’t subscribe to the New York Times or chew over every devastating aperçu from Rachel Maddow, you probably didn’t know the details and you probably didn’t need to. But the Republican conspiracy theories come from the bottom up. They are authentic and organic. They are what the MAGA base needs to believe. They are rubbish.
This is a popular movement — and it is holding the Republican party hostage. The politicians and Trump hangers-on who pander to MAGA for big clicks and small checks are not in control of it. The Democrats who pushed Russiagate did it to discredit Donald Trump and recover control of the permanent bureaucracy. The Republicans who support Q and ‘the Storm’ want to overthrow a state that they see as illegitimate. That, as much as criminality or idiocy, is what makes Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene a danger to democracy. In mid-June, Lara Trump advised people on the southern border to ‘arm up and get guns and be ready’ to ‘start taking matters into their own hands’.
So much for the party of business, fiscal sense and foreign-policy restraint. This is a tragedy, played as farce. It will take down first the party and then the country.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s July 2021 World edition.