From the moment Trump began his rise, like excrement to the surface of a septic tank, there has been an eagerness to proclaim him “over.” First the wise old Republican Party Establishment was going to knock him out in a “contested convention” in the summer of 2016, remember that? Then it was the “grab-them-by-the-pussy” recording. Then it was “faithless electors.” Then it was his praise for the Nazis in Charlottesville and any number of other disasters and horrors during his presidency that were going to make the Republican Party “turn on him.” Surely COVID would do it, no? No; he received fourteen million more votes in 2020 than in 2016. You still read, ad nauseam, that there is a “battle for the soul of the Republican Party. “ Nope. That ended before it began, in the spring of 2016. The storied party of Lincoln, of Teddy Roosevelt, of Eisenhower and Reagan, surrendered to all-conquering fascism as easily as France in May 1940, and now snuggles happily in its thrall. This morning’s preliminary results show the designated Trumpist champion with 66 percent of the vote in the primary for Wyoming’s sole congressional seat, and incumbent Republican Liz Cheney with a miserable 29 percent that was inflated by a few lonely Democrats switching their registration to back her.
Cheney’s mistake was to imagine there was still something that could be salvaged in the Grand Old Party. But for more than four years until January 6, 2021, she was as solidly pro-Trump as they come. The blood on the floor of the Capitol was finally too much for her, and her heroism since then deserves every bit of the praise that has been heaped on it. Her case is not unlike that of the late Senator John McCain, who held out for five years of unimaginable torture at the hands of Vietnamese Communists but surrendered his honor to Trump in 2016 because the Party was everything. Before his death in 2018, he had turned against the Maximum Mountebank, but it was too late, too late. Imagine him on January 6, 2021, being physically restrained from confronting the putschists and then trying in vain to convince his fellow Republican senators not to declare Biden’s victory illegitimate, and to impeach Trump. Had he lived that long, he would have died a broken man.
Any feeble explanation for Cheney’s landslide loss that leans on Wyoming being a “deep-red state” is false, because in state after state, whether “red” or “purple” or “blue,” the Republican electorate has made loyalty to Trump a condition of its favor. Take Maryland, a heavily Democratic state that had nonetheless elected and re-elected the self-proclaimed Reaganite Republican Larry Hogan governor. As he readies himself for his own possible tilt at the windmill of the presidential nomination, Maryland Republicans had a choice between his lieutenant governor, who offered a chance to keep the Maryland governor’s mansion in GOP hands, and a slavering MAGA follower. They chose the latter. Even in the celebrated cases where Republican voters have ignored the Very Stable Genius’s orders to vote against incumbents against whom he holds a grudge, it has mostly been because they understand his interests better than he does, grasping, for example, that Georgia Governor Brian Kemp is a faithful servant of MAGA who is trying every trick in the book to cement Republican control of the state, even though he wouldn’t follow Trump’s commands to overturn the 2020 election results.
Don’t count even on Trump’s death to break the spell, as if Republican voters are the fur-hatted guards in “The Wizard of Oz” and will blink their eyes and turn and soft and cuddly the moment someone throws a bucket of water on the Wicked Witch of the West and she melts before their eyes. Incidentally, that brilliant fantasy is a perfect metaphor for how Americans then and now are wont to see dictatorships: the poor, victimized populace suffering helplessly at the hands of an all-powerful ruler and state. The much more complex and troubling reality of such regimes always eludes us, with disastrous results in places like Vietnam and Iraq. And now in America itself.