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Who Owns the Republican Party Now?

Normal Republicans may not understand how their party has changed. But the racists and the cranks do.
July 3, 2020
Who Owns the Republican Party Now?
Obviously, no one can possibly guess who this gentleman will be voting for in November. It's a mystery! ( ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

1. Coincidence

Here are some things that happened this week:

  • The president of the United States went to the mattresses to stop military bases named in honor of Confederate soldiers from being renamed.
  • One of the president’s fiercest keyboard warriors was outed for having trafficked in full-blown, KKK-style racism.
  • The president’s official campaign store started selling a t-shirt with a logo design that apes the official symbol of the Nazi party.

This last item is not a joke, by the way. Have a gander:

You could excuse any one of these as random happenstance. Two of them and you might say it was just coincidence.

But all three? In one week? If that’s not enemy action, I don’t know what is.

I say this all the time, but it’s worth saying again: Not every—or even most!—Trump supporters are racists. But just about every racist is a Trump supporter. And these folks aren’t just reluctantly onboard with Trump because he’s the only alternative to give them the Supreme Court picks they want. No siree. The more virulent the racist is, the stronger his support for Trump is. Go to Twitter. Look at the Pepe’s and the dudes with the laser eyes and the people with Stars ‘n’ Bars flying in their profile pics.

Or if you prefer, go to Parler and see what these people look like when they’re off the leash.

This is probably not an accident.

So on the right, the ugliest people are Trump’s strongest supporters while the normal people are mostly in the position of holding their noses.

It’s worth contrasting this state of affairs with what’s going on on the left, where the ugliest portions of the fringe view Biden as at best a disappointment and at worst a class traitor. Biden’s hard-core supporters seem to be . . . black folks and middle-class suburbanites.

Think about it this way: Whenever you see an ugly right-wing rally you see Trump signs and Trump flags.

Now go and start combing through images of the riots or CHOP. You know what you don’t see? A bunch of “Biden 2020” placards.

This tells you a lot about the relative health of our two political parties right now.

2. Sepsis

So let’s talk about how the parties got this way.

A few weeks before the 2016 election I was visiting with a friend of mine who I respect and admire—love, even—as much as anyone in the entire world. It would not be too strong to say that I revere him.

As we talked about the election he said—here I am paraphrasing—“He’s the worst, dumbest, most awful sonofabitch I’ve ever seen in politics. And I can’t believe that I’m going to vote for him.”

My friend went on to explain that the reason he would vote for Trump is that politics is a team endeavor and that electing Trump meant electing an entire political party. This party would bring thousands of smart and capable ideological fellow-travelers into positions of power within the government and they would, in turn, do some good even despite Trump’s presence.

My friend turns out to have been party right and partly wrong. Yes, an army of Republicans came to power with Trump and some of them accomplished some good.

But what my friend did not appreciate was that the infection pathways ran in both directions. Yes, the Republican party was able to infiltrate the Trump administration and extract some good outcomes from it.

But at the same time, Trumpism was changing the Republican party. Perhaps in some good ways. But definitely in some very bad ways.

And these changes will not easily be reversed. When something attaches itself to a political party, it can—with effort and often some pain—be either excised or marginalized. This is what Buckley and the neoconservatives did to the Birchers, once upon a time.

But when the infection makes its way into the party’s actual bloodstream, sepsis sets in.

The people who voted for Donald Trump hoping that the Republican party would constrain him have now seen that most of the action worked in the reverse. Donald Trump changed the Republican party more—much more—than the Republican party changed him.

And even if people like my friend don’t realize it, the racists and the cranks do.

3. Boston Sean

This Bloomberg BusinessWeek story about a Pats fan / weed-head / cat burglar is amazing:

It was the play that turned “Manning” into a bad word in Boston. There was a minute left in Super Bowl XLII. The New England Patriots—Tom Brady’s undefeated New England Patriots—needed one defensive stop to beat the New York Giants. On third down, multiple Patriot defenders pushed through the line and grabbed quarterback Eli Manning’s jersey. But Manning slipped away and chucked a wobbly pass downfield, where a mediocre receiver, David Tyree, leapt, pinned the ball against his helmet, and somehow hung on to it as he crashed to the turf. Manning, the interception-prone doofus with the look of a confused middle schooler, would go on to beat Brady in the sport’s biggest game.

Sean Murphy seethed as he watched from his weed dealer’s couch. It was February 2008. Skinny, with deep-set brown eyes, Murphy was a typical Patriots fan. He pronounced “cars” as “cahs,” got his coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts, and had a mullet and a horseshoe mustache, at least when his girlfriend didn’t make him clean up. He moved furniture for a living in Lynn, Mass., a down-and-out suburb on the North Shore, and on Sundays, when he could get tickets, he made the 40-mile drive south to Foxborough to root for the Pats.

But there was another side to Murph, as his friends called him. On Saturday nights he put on an all-black ninja suit and went out looking for things to steal.

Read the whole thing. Because this guy actually stole the Giants’ Super Bowl rings!

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.