Opinion | Trump Came for the Republican Party and Took Over Their Souls


I thought I was beyond shockable, but this week has been profoundly shocking for me. I spent the bulk of my adult life on the right-wing side of things, generally rooting for the Republican Party, because I thought that party best served America. People like Sarah Palin and Donald Trump chased me out of the Republican orbit (gradually and then all at once), but I have still held out the hope that my many friends on the right are kind of like an occupied country. They have to mouth the Trumpian prejudices to survive in this era, but somewhere deep inside, the party of Reagan still lives in their souls.

After this week, and the defeat of the immigration-Ukraine-Israel package, it’s hard to believe that anymore. Even if some parts of the bill survive, the party of Eisenhower, Reagan and McCain is just stone cold gone — and not only among House Republicans, but apparently among their Senate colleagues too.

My progressive readers are now thinking: Have you not been paying attention? Donald Trump has owned this party for years. If he told them to kill the immigration compromise because he needed a campaign issue, they were going to kill that proposal.

To which I respond: I don’t think you quite understand what just happened. This wasn’t just about Republicans cynically bending their knee to Trump. Rather, I’m convinced that Trumpism now pervades the deepest recesses of their minds and governs their unconscious assumptions. Their fundamental mental instincts are no longer conservative, but Trumpian.

Here are some of the convictions that Republicans had to assent to in order to do what they did this week:

Democracy is for suckers. In a democratic society, opposing parties negotiate and try to strike a compromise that’s, on balance, better than the status quo. This week’s immigration-Ukraine-Israel package is one of the most one-sided compromises I’ve ever seen. Republicans got most of their long-term priorities, while Democrats got almost none of theirs. “By any honest reckoning, this is the most restrictive migrant legislation in decades,” The Wall Street Journal editorial board noted. “This is almost entirely a border security bill, and its provisions include longtime G.O.P. priorities that the party’s restrictionists could never have passed only a few months ago.”

And yet Republican after Republican came out against the package, arguing it doesn’t have absolutely everything they want. They have adopted the Trumpian logic that under him, they will never have to compromise. The dictator will issue commands, and everything Republicans want will just happen. Meanwhile, Republican James Lankford, who conducted a lavishly successful negotiation, is being savaged on the right side of the internet for being a weak-willed compromiser.

Entertainment over governance. Under Trump, the G.O.P. is less a governing party and more an ongoing entertainment complex. It doesn’t have supporters; it has audience members. The Trump show has certain story lines: Washington is an unholy mess that will never get anything right. America is in chaos. Joe Biden is an inflexible left-wing radical who will never tack to the middle. Only Trump can save us. Passing this package would have upended all these narratives. The package had to be destroyed in order to save the story.

Showmanship has eclipsed even simple governance. Republican senators just ditched a compromise that could have passed, and they are already heroically parading behind ideas that have no shot at getting 60 votes. As Mitt Romney put it: “Politics used to be the art of the possible. Now it’s the art of the impossible. Meaning, let’s put forward proposals that can’t possibly pass so we can say to our respective bases — look how I’m fighting for you.”

Foreigners don’t matter. When Dwight Eisenhower defeated Robert Taft for the 1952 Republican nomination, the G.O.P. became an internationalist party and largely remained that way for six decades. Now isolationism is the dominant G.O.P. pose. Isolationism is the attitude that the outside world doesn’t matter much to American security and that global problems can be safely ignored. It’s based on the fictional notion that America once lived in splendid isolation until those elite globalists took over. Opposing further aid to Ukraine is the quintessential isolationist act, a position that now seems to be embraced by a majority of Senate Republicans and an implacable majority in the House.

Today’s Republican isolationists have no grand strategy. Their foreign policy approach is based on a non sequitur — that because we have to spend more defending our southern border, we have to spend less defending Ukrainian democracy. People like J.D. Vance really seem to believe that if we let Vladimir Putin win his wars of conquest in Europe, it will have no consequences for us back home. Somewhere even Neville Chamberlain is gaping in disbelief.

Lying is normal. Politicians always distort proposals they disagree with, but Trump has given his colleagues permission to make things up with abandon. In the hours after the package was released, Republican officeholders produced a Vesuvius of misinformation about what was in it.

Representative Steve Scalise asserted that the package “accepts 5,000 illegal immigrants a day.” No, actually it doesn’t, a Fox News reporter explained. Representative Dan Bishop asserted that undocumented immigrants “not from Mexico or Canada won’t be counted toward total encounters.” No, the financier Steven Rattner corrected, this provision refers only to unaccompanied minors, of whom very few arrive from noncontiguous countries. The president doesn’t need new laws to halt illegal immigration, Speaker Mike Johnson asserted. Then why did House Republicans go to all the trouble to pass H.R. 2 last year, an attempt to create an ambitious new law to halt illegal immigration?

Trump has erased the assumption that credibility is a nice thing to have.

America would be better off in a post-American world. As Noah Rothman noted in National Review, if you had presented the pre-Trump G.O.P. with an enforcement-only immigration bill linked to provisions to contain Russian, Chinese and Iranian aggression, you would basically have fulfilled every Republican fantasy all at once. But today’s party rejected the deal, not only because it didn’t like the immigration bits, but also because it no longer believes in the American-led international order.

The American economy is enjoying one of its greatest growth periods of our lifetimes, and yet many Republicans have persuaded themselves that the nation is in ruins and can’t afford foreign commitments. In the 60 years after World War II, America and its allies built and preserved a global order that produced a world vastly safer and richer than the world that came before, and yet Republicans have persuaded themselves that the United States is impotent, that its foreign entanglements perpetually fail. The Republicans say they oppose Xi Jinping’s regime in China, and sometimes even pretend to oppose Putin’s regime in Russia, but operationally they also share many of Xi’s and Putin’s goals — to reduce America’ role in the world, to destroy America’s confidence in its ability to project power, to reduce America to a regional superpower.

We’re living through one of the most dangerous periods of modern times. As the historian Hal Brands noted recently in Foreign Affairs, the situation today is reminiscent of the mid- to late 1930s. Back then, fascist Italy assaulted Ethiopia. Hitler remilitarized the Rhineland. Japan ravaged China. These three regional conflicts had not yet metastasized into a global world war, but even in 1937, Franklin Roosevelt warned of an “epidemic of world lawlessness.”

That epidemic of lawlessness is back. Russia, Iran and China have started or raised regional tensions in ways that threaten to coalesce into something truly nasty. Groups like the Houthis seek to fill the vacuums left by American weakness. The storm clouds are gathering.

You’d think these trends would inspire a note of seriousness among the men and women elected to represent the people of this nation. It hasn’t. Trumpism was once a posture most Republican officeholders donned to preserve their political viability. But it’s an eternal verity of human psychology: If you wear a mask long enough, eventually the mask becomes who you are.





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