Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

Who Are These Republicans?

You can tell a lot about the state of the party by the people who are joining it, the people who are leaving it, and the people it’s pushing out.
October 7, 2020
Who Are These Republicans?
Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Kelly Loeffler looked like a standard-issue Republican when she was appointed senator from Georgia in December, 2019 following the resignation of the incumbent for health reasons. She came from a super-rich family (like plenty of Democrats as well), she was pro-gun, anti-immigration, and pro-business. Originally pro-choice, her position on abortion evolved in time for her to be accepted by pro-life gate keepers.

Once in Washington, D.C., though, Loeffler quickly got with the program. She described the impeachment of the president as a “circus” and lambasted Mitt Romney for even voting to call witnesses, whom she was sure would “slander @realDonald Trump.”

This is her most recent campaign ad:

It features a much-reused video clip of Donald Trump play-acting in professional wrestling. You may have seen it put to use in the past by Trump fans with the CNN logo superimposed on the defeated wrestler’s face. This one uses the image of the coronavirus. So Trump is wrestling the coronavirus to the floor, get it? In case that was too subtle, Loeffler tweeted: “COVID stood NO chance against @realDonaldTrump.”

She may tell herself that it’s all in good fun, but encouraging hero worship of Trump, particularly at a moment when he is literally endangering others’ lives, is nearly as reckless as he is. When she appeared, maskless and within inches of others, indoors at the White House announcement for Amy Coney Barrett, she not only endangered her own health and the health of her loved ones, she became a soldier in the disinformation war Trump is fighting to dissuade Americans from taking the threat seriously.

Only yesterday, Republicans were livid that President Barack Obama downplayed the threat from terrorism. I recall being appalled that no leading American statesman attended a Paris rally following the 2015 massacre at Charlie Hebdo headquarters, though European heads of state were there, along with Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu and even the Palestinian Authority’s Mahmoud Abbas. Attorney General Eric Holder was in Paris at the time, but skipped the march. Republicans fervently believed that failure to confront terrorist threats to the nation was malfeasance at best and betrayal at worst.

Yet now, to compensate for the inability of the current president to manage a two-car funeral, we are asked to believe that declining to confront the threat from a virus is neither malfeasance nor betrayal, but instead some sort of macho heroism. Tomi Lahren of Fox Nation tweeted that Joe Biden should carry a purse to go with his face mask. The fawning Rep. Matt Gaetz tweeted, “President Trump won’t have to recover from COVID. COVID will have to recover from President Trump.” And Fox News host Greg Gutfeld said this:

Maybe it’s a flaw of Trump . . . he didn’t hide from the virus. The reason he didn’t hide from the virus is he didn’t want America to hide from the virus. If he was going to ask America to get back to work, right? . . . So he took the risk, he got the virus, but he was doing it for us.

He suffered for our sins? Yep, that’s Trump all over.

Let me offer a few more flashbulb glimpses of the state of the GOP today. A quick glance at the Trump fans who gathered outside Walter Reed Hospital over the weekend revealed one holding a sign mentioning QAnon (there may well have been others), and another with a placard cheerily emblazoned “Super-spreader event.”

Flash: Greg Abbott, Republican governor of Texas, apparently repenting of several common sense measures to cope with coronavirus like expanding early voting, mandating masks in some places, and closing businesses, has now announced that he will limit the number of ballot drop boxes to one per county. Texas has 254 counties with an average of about 114,000 people in each. But, of course, they vary in size. The single ballot drop box in Loving County will only have to handle the county’s 169 residents. The box in Harris County, home to Houston, will have to accommodate 4.7 million. They better get a big box. And by the way, if Republicans in Texas are worried about too many people voting, it doesn’t bode well for the GOP nationally.

Flash: Sen. Ron Johnson, who has tested positive for coronavirus (along with Sens. Mike Lee and Thom Tillis), said he remains opposed to mask mandates because “while masks can reduce the risk of infection, they’re not a cure-all.” Also, he believes in “personal responsibility.” Ah, so presumably he should have some choice words for leaders like Donald Trump who fail to take responsibility for their actions and worse, heap scorn on those who do? And, just asking questions, is Johnson also opposed to food safety mandates, because while they decrease the incidence of poisoning, they’re not a cure-all?

Flash: Sen. Pat Toomey, one of the last semi-sincere conservatives, bows out. He never wavered from his free trade principles and opposed Trump’s revised NAFTA treaty because it flouted those principles. He voted against Trump’s spurious declaration of a national emergency at the border, and tiptoed up to criticizing Trump over the Ukraine extortion (“inappropriate”)  though he did vote to acquit him. He joins the 40 percent of elected Republicans in Washington who have resigned or retired since 2017.

Flash: The National Republican Congressional Committee has targeted a New Jersey freshman Democrat with ads aimed at linking him to what QAnon supporters believe is a Satanic, cannibalistic, child-abuse conspiracy backed by Hollywood and Democrats. The grounds? Rep. Tom Malinowski supposedly opposed expanding a sex offender registry. He denies this, but frankly, even if he had, it’s a totally reasonable position to adopt. I’ve written about the gross miscarriages of justice those registries can cause. There must be a rule of reason in their application. And while political ads often stray from the straight and narrow, the NRCC is descending into abhorrent incitement. The NRCC is not a fringe political action committee.  It’s the official campaign arm of the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives, and it now issues official statements that read like supermarket tabloids. “Rep. Tom Malinowski lobbied to protect sexual predators.”

If you like your irony white hot, consider that this is the party that gave its endorsement to a genuine child predator, Judge Roy Moore.

This GOP is inhospitable to conservatives (see former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan among many others), moderates (see John Kasich), and people of decency and courage (see Mitt Romney). Rather than purging its ranks of kooks and conspiracists, it welcomes and courts them. Rather than fight fair, it seeks to win by keeping people from the polls. America needs a sane, serious, humane, center-right party that aims to persuade, not to dominate. This GOP is not it.

Mona Charen

Mona Charen is Policy Editor of The Bulwark, a nationally syndicated columnist, and host of The Bulwark’s Beg to Differ podcast. She can be reached at [email protected].