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The Theory of A.T. (After Trump)

Three theories of what the post-Trump GOP will look like.
July 22, 2020
The Theory of A.T. (After Trump)
U.S. President Donald Trump walks to the White House residence after exiting Marine one on South Lawn of the White House on July 15, 2020 in Washington, DC. The President traveled to the Atlanta, Georgia area to visit the UPS Hapeville Airport Hub and deliver remarks on infrastructure. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

1. Three Theories

There are basically three theories about what happens to the Republican party after Trump.

Theory #1 is that everything goes back to normal. The GOP reverts to being the party of the Chamber of Commerce and AEI and suburban country clubs across the land. Lower taxes, smaller government, and robust internationalism return as the party’s guide stars. Nobody really talks about Trump. Instead, they fulminate about those dastardly folks at the Lincoln Project and how awful Joe Biden is and they act as if the last four years never happened.

Theory #2 is that there’s a big internal fight between Republicans who want to go back to normal-ish—maybe with some modifications; maybe trying to form a new fusionism with some populist elements—and Republicans who want to keep pressing forward into the Glorious Trumpian Future of nationalism and identity politics.

If you believe in Theory #2, then you probably should not expect a war over Trump himself. Because there will not be any sort of market for Republicans who argue that Trump was a failure and that lessons ought to be learned from his failure. Instead, both sides will use a version of the argument that “real Trumpism has never been tried.” Both will try to claim the mantle of Trump. Both will insist that Trump was done in by unfair treatment by the media and Democrats and insufficiently loyal Republicans. Both will hold Trump up as an icon to be venerated and use his visage to try to further their ideas of what the party should be.

Theory #3 is that Trump is forever. As you know, this is where I have my chips.

Trump claims that he won the election and was cheated out of the White House. No Republicans make more than a demonstration of contradicting him. Most Republicans actively affirm his claim.

Trump continues to tweet about politics on an hourly basis, and many elected Republicans take their marching orders from him. The direction of the party continues to emanate from the person of Trump and fixates on grievances and the culture war.

Trump remains coy about running in 2024, saying things like, “A lot of people say I would win in a landslide if I ran again. We will see!” And when he says this, no elected Republicans will speak out to oppose the idea. In this view, the 2024 Republican primary race is only a shadow campaign in case Trump declines to run again.

In that world, the best strategy is for ambitious Republicans is to keep lashing themselves to Trump, tighter and tighter. Because they know that they can’t beat him heads up, so their best hope is to be seen as his most loyal son should he decides to pass on 2024. (And should he also decline to try to gift the nomination to Don Jr.)

You will note that none of these pathways involves Republicans rejecting the Trump era and/or blaming Donald Trump for the destruction of the Republican party.

We have a data point from this morning with reports that when the House Republican conference met, members were very mad at Liz Cheney. Because Cheney has been supportive of . . . Anthony Fauci.

I’m not sure which theory this data point is most supportive of. But I can sure tell you what theory it contravenes.

2. The Battle of Portland

This piece by Robert Evans is the most comprehensive tick-tock of the situation in Portland that I’ve seen. It combines deep local knowledge with on-the-ground reporting and the picture it paints is deeply . . . well, “disconcerting” isn’t really the right word.

Let’s just say it’s bad. Real bad.

The Evans piece is detailed enough that I don’t want to try to sum it up. You should read the whole thing. But if you really just want a thumbnail view, it goes something like this:

There have been some peaceful protests in Portland, but many of the protests have been laced with low-grade violence and criminality. Several of the protests have been on the level of real-deal riots. And the law enforcement response to these events has been not entirely, but mostly, an exercise in escalation. In several instances law enforcement officers seem to have outright broken the law themselves.

There’s a distinct Gangs of New York vibe, except that only one side is armed and only one side is sustaining real injuries.

Okay, that’s the thumbnail. Now I want to zero in on a couple of vignettes from Evans’s excellent piece:

On June 11th, a federal judge in Portland issued a two-week restraining order on the use of tear gas. This was a partial granting of the request of a local activist group, Don’t Shoot Portland. Under the terms of the “ban,” Portland police were only able to use gas as a “life-saving measure.” This ban came with a loophole, however. Riots are assumed to be life-threatening situations, and so the PPB increasingly started making riot declarations to justify their use of tear gas.In one five-day period, from June 30th to July 4th, the PPB declared three riots. The justifications for this were often questionable. For example: the rally on June 30th was a march of about three hundred people that ended at the Portland Police Association headquarters. The PPA is Portland’s local police union. It is a private entity, but the city seems to deploy significant resources to protect it.

By the time the marchers arrived at the PPA building in North Portland, it was surrounded by a riot line, with numerous police vehicles and riot troopers waiting in reserve. The state troopers who guarded the front of the building wore no identifying numbers or name tags. Within minutes of the crowd’s arrival, the police declared an unlawful assembly and demanded the crowd disperse. They justified this by citing “criminal activity” in the crowd, but what that meant was unclear.

Within an hour, and with no clear justification, the PPB declared a riot and began firing tear gas into both the crowd and the neighborhood around them. . . .

A few weeks later, on July 14th, a second march again formed up around the Portland Police Association headquarters. On this occasion the riot declaration was made after a police officer slapped the phone out of an activists hand and sent it careening into the window of the PPA building. It broke a window, which the PPB used as justification to declare a riot and deploy tear gas. . . .

Portland Police have also been taken to court for their treatment of local journalists. They have regularly targeted press during demonstrations, with the worst night so far being the first protest at the Portland Police Association. Three reporters were arrested within the span of a few minutes: Cory Elia, Lesley McLam and Justin Yau.

Video taken by Elia shows that his encounter started when he walked past an officer he recognized, John Bartlett, and mentioned his name while livestreaming. Officer Bartlett knocked Elia’s phone out of his hands. Several minutes later, a group of officers grabbed Elia, tossed him to the ground and arrested him. He was charged with two counts of assaulting a police officer.

I filmed Elia’s arrest and saw no sign of any resistance. You can judge for yourself here.

Justin Yau was arrested the same night for filming an arrest himself. He was also charged with felony riot. Lesley McLam also initially faced felony charges, but the District Attorney rejected these charges. These arrests came after weeks in which Portland police assaulted a number of local journalists. Sergio Olmos was shoved repeatedly by police on the night of June 6th. Cory Elia was thrown into a wall and kicked while on the ground the same night. Reporter Donovan Farley was assaulted on June 7th while attempting to film an arrest. Officers beat him on the legs with truncheons and maced him as he tried to leave.

This brings me to a point that often gets lost when we talk about police dealing with civil unrest.

Sometimes protestors are peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights.

Sometimes protestors are breaking the law and putting people in danger.

But no matter what sort of protestors you’re dealing with, we should demand that the police be professional Every. Single. Time.

There is no equivalence between bad behavior on the part of private citizens and bad behavior on the part of law enforcement officers.


For starters, because the law enforcement guys are being paid to be there.

It’s literally their job. And they’re paid not by some faceless evil billionaire, but by us. The taxpayers.

The police are public servants. They knew that when they took the job. And if they don’t like it—I’m sure being a cop is sometimes unpleasant—they can find other jobs.

Like, go become a firefighter. You know who loves firefighters? Everyone. When you’re a firefighter, no one ever questions whether or not you’re upholding the Constitution.

But the big reason we can’t allow police misconduct is philosophical.

A police officer does not go about his business according to his own passions. He is an agent of society, who has been given an awesome amount of power by the people in order to enforce the laws that the people, through their elected representatives, made together.

A protestor can be an aggro jerk. A protestor can act criminally. A police officer doesn’t have that luxury. Because that’s the price of being entrusted with power as a paid agent of the state.

It is not acceptable to say, “Well look at those protestors in Portland. They weren’t a bunch of Mother Teresas. Of course the cops were going to go nuts.”

Because that’s not how policing is supposed to work. People who work in law enforcement are professionals doing a job. And like any other professional, their commitment is to the job über alles.

Look: Have you ever been on a plane and seen some passenger be unpleasant and abusive to the crew?

Does that mean that if the pilot crashed the plane in retaliation people would say, “Well, sure what he did wasn’t good. But what do you expect? That jerk in 13-C was asking for it.”

We should expect at least the same level of professionalism from armed agents of the state as we do from commercial airline pilots.

3. Devil Rays

While the rest of America was preoccupied with the Dodgers’ payroll and the Astros’ cheating, Tampa has the best of the new-jack unis, the most exciting rookie (Wander Franco), and a pitching staff that may have hacked the new data-driven hitting regime. Tom Verducci has the story:

The Rays are the Antiques Roadshow of baseball. They find Picassos in attics, Tiffany lamps in basements and pitchers with outlier stuff in the dumpsters of other organizations.

In Fairbanks they saw not just velocity but also near-perfect backspin on his four-seamer, which they and other smart clubs know is the proven antidote against the launch-angle hitting revolution. To get Fairbanks they traded Nick Solak, a promising hitter without great defensive value.

Since joining the Rays, Fairbanks has improved his stuff even more, thanks to the wizardry of pitching coach Kyle Snyder and process and analytics coach Jonathan Erlichman, a former math major and club hockey player at Princeton.

“Our guys do a tremendous job looking for the guys they acquire as far as special, special stuff,” Rays manager Kevin Cash says. “[Fairbanks] is right at the top of the list. You don’t see many guys with that high average (velocity) and the type of carry that he gets and have the ability to land a really, really quality breaking ball.

“He’s basically Diego Castillo. He four-seams it. Diego sinks it. Both throw their breaking ball, which is nasty, at any time.”

In less than a year with the Rays, Fairbanks, 26, has learned this much about the organization when it comes to pitching: “They’re ahead of the curve. I would say they set the curve for pretty much everything. This staff I would say probably has the best collective stuff in baseball.”

Allow me to be more definitive: From pitchers one through 15, the Rays have the best pure stuff in baseball.

A short baseball season plays to their strength. A short training period and 15-man pitching staffs will further devalue length from starting pitchers. Workloads will be spread among more arms. No team is better prepared for this kind of baseball than the Rays, who not only prefer this style but also have the most elite arms to exploit it.

Read the whole thing.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.