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What If Trump Is Trying To Break the GOP?

The future of the Republican party is an endless series of loyalty tests and Trump family vendettas. Good luck.
December 7, 2020
What If Trump Is Trying To Break the GOP?

It’s hard for Republicans to think straight these days. Stop the count, no, wait—do a recount. Elections are rigged and fraudulent. But the January 5 Georgia runoff will be legit, so GOP voters need to psyche up and turn out.

It’s all so confusing.

And in their confusion, Republicans seem not to have noticed the new dynamic which is emerging. The combination of the “Stop-the-Steal” ragers and the fear of the silent Republican establishment types are mothers milk to Trump.

Angry and afraid people fighting—over him—is the very top of his hierarchy of needs. It’s his version of self-actualization. And while he may be forced to give up the office of the presidency, he will not give up being at the center of this storm. Republicans don’t seem capable of understanding where this eventually leads. So let me spell it out for them:

Donald Trump is going to destroy their party.

Not because he wants to or even because he’s trying to. But because the destruction of the GOP will be required in order to fill his psychological needs.

Trump started his Saturday morning on a RINO hunt, tweeting about a Washington Post report revealing only 25 Republicans in Congress—of 249 queried—would admit that Joe Biden had won the election. His reaction:

In the afternoon he asked Georgia’s Republican governor to overturn the election which had already been certified in his state. Hours later Trump flew to Georgia for a rally that was supposed to be about boosting the two Republican Senate candidates, but was mostly about lying that he won Georgia. Trump insisted that he really did win Georgia, despite it being “rigged,” and warned about the runoff that “they’re going to try and rig this one, I’m sure.”

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who rebuffed Trump’s demands hours earlier, took a beating at the rally. Trump said that Kemp should be ashamed of himself and openly suggested that Rep. Doug Collins should primary him in two years.

Here’s the problem with living in Trump’s conspiracy world: There is no way for Trump partisans to get revenge against the shadowy forces who “stole” the election that Trump lost by a historic margin.

But now that Trump has demanded that specific elected officials break the law on his behalf, there will be a list of officeholders Trump’s people can mobilize against.

You can’t vote out Dominion. But you can go after Brian Kemp and Brad Raffensberger and Doug Ducey and any (and every) other Republican who refused to steal the election on Trump’s behalf.

And that’s where the anger that Trump is stoking in Republican voters is going to be channeled in the coming months. Because it’s literally the only place it can flow.

Rudy Giuliani has also put Republicans on notice, because while he won’t be taking the blame for the fruitless hunt for fake fraud, someone has to. Last week he raged on Twitter at Republican state legislators who he said have let America down by not trying to overturn their states election results.

Who does Giuliani mean when he says “Republicans”? That label doesn’t mean much these days. After all, Trump wasn’t a Republican before he ran for president.

Jared Kushner bragged to Bob Woodward, Trump “basically did a full hostile takeover of the Republican Party” because his resonance with voters was less about policy and more about “attitude.”

And that sounds about right. Which means that after the 2020 election, the definition of who is a “real” Republican will be made by simple binary answer: Were you with Trump in his attempt to steal a “rigged” election, or against him? Are you in, or out, of the Trump personality cult?

It’s amusing to watch conventional Republicans try to cling to the idea that Trumpism is about policy, or ideology, or something other than Donald Trump and his “attitude.” These people were happy to be complicit in Trumpism so long as they got their judges and nobody demanded that they break the law on Trump’s behalf. Now some of them find themselves up against the wall while guys like Ted Cruz look on nervously hoping that they can act butch enough that Trump won’t demand a loyalty test of them the way he has of Kemp and Ducey.

Meanwhile, Trump’s true believers—the sometimes drunk and always-viral misfit toys—have pledged to die for the cause of Trump’s fake fraud, called for martial law and suspension of the Constitution, and the shooting of a high ranking former Homeland Security official.

What Mitch McConnell and company don’t seem to understand is that this is the endgame: The MAGA cult no longer sees Democrats and the media as Enemy Number One. The Republicans who aren’t legally permitted to deny reality are now the big threat. And Trump is going to spend the next two—or four—years at war them.

As Trump pretends he’s running for president in 2024, he will batter the Republican party. A Politico story this week quoted a donor who said he would immediately contribute to Trump’s new PAC, and noted that most donors would feel pressure to do the same, just to avoid his wrath. Jon Thompson, a former Trump campaign aide was quoted saying “If he starts holding grudges against sitting officeholders and donors who decline to throw their support behind him, it is going to put Republicans in a bind.”


In the coming war Republicans wanting to win elections and hold power will do battle with Trumpkins who can’t win swing voters, but dominate primaries, fundraising, and the Parlersphere. Georgia won’t see the only toxic primary in 2022. Lara Trump could run against Rep. Mark Walker in North Carolina, and the fight to fill retiring Sen. Pat Toomey’s seat in Pennsylvania should be a doozy as 64 of the state’s Republican state legislators signed a letter this week to the state’s congressional delegation calling for them to dispute the 2020 election results in Congress.

This gives Democrats the upper hand in all those races, should Trumpkin candidates prevail in primaries. Republicans will no longer benefit from MAGA devotees Trump mobilized in 2016 and 2020—but notably not in 2018—while the party loses swing voters by fashioning Trump into an eternal victim of a “stolen” election. And all of this—every bit of it—was foreseeable.

As Jonathan V. Last wrote on October 8: “Go write this down: After November 3, the price of admission to GOP politics is going to be an insistence that, actually, Donald Trump did win the election and/or would have won if it hadn’t been stolen/rigged.”

Republicans will soon notice that Trump won’t give a hoot about judges, just fighting. Trump is telling aides and allies that he’s doing all of this because his supporters need to see him fighting a Biden victory. He will keep fighting Biden and the Democrats and the media but he will also pound any Republicans who do not bend the knee. Relentlessly. No policy or posture or line of propaganda will be pleasing enough to him. They can expect frequent put downs, pressure to flatter him and demands that they flout reality.

Without the bully pulpit and the power of the presidency Trump will bully harder.

Behavior and conduct within the Constitutional order is unacceptable to Trump. As Charlie Sykes asks: Will Vice President Mike Pence be attacked as a “cuck” if he attends Joe Biden’s inauguration? Almost certainly, yes. Which will mean that Pence will—again, almost certainly—decline to attend. Just another loyalty test to stay in the good graces of the cult leader.

Michael Gerson wrote about the danger Trump’s assault on democracy inspires:

“Trump is not merely claiming instances of election fraud. He is alleging that the American system of democratic government has failed, which implies a right to revolution. By demanding specific, unlawful acts to overturn results in a fair election, he is urging authoritarian solutions to his political problems.”

What awaits Trump, after the season of election fraud TV ends on January 20, is serious legal exposure. He will make sure the GOP pays a price at each twist and turn of his coming prosecutions for various and sundry crimes. From obstruction of justice, to tax fraud, and so much more. Trump’s legal morass will be a chronic story in the years to come. Republicans will be asked to comment on each sordid discovery and ruling, and anyone unwilling to zealously defy the facts and fight back will be punished.

He will imply a right to revolution.

Republicans will soon have to accept Trump isn’t actually trying to be president again, or lead or unite a party. He simply intends to dominate and there is never enough submission. The next few years for Trump will be all about scalps.

Republican scalps.

Correction, Deb. 8, 2020, 1:33p.m.: An earlier version of this article reported that 75 Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers sent a letter urging Congress to dispute the state’s presidential electors. This article has been updated to reflect that 11 of those signatories were included by mistake.

A.B. Stoddard

A.B. Stoddard is a columnist at The Bulwark. Previously, she was associate editor and columnist at RealClearPolitics.