By Robert Reich
Donald Trump formally anointed himself head of the Republican Party at Sunday’s Conservative Political Action Conference.
The Grand Old Party, founded in 1854 in Ripon, Wisconsin, is now dead. What’s left is a dwindling number of elected officials who have stood up to Trump but are now being purged. Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s popularity has dropped 29 points among Kentucky Republicans since he broke with Trump.
In its place is the Trump Party, whose major goal is to advance Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him. Its agenda is to exact vengeance on Republicans who didn’t or won’t support the lie or who voted to impeach or convict Trump for inciting the violence that the lie generated, and to keep attention on his grievances.
As the Trump Party takes over the GOP, anti-Trump Republicans are abandoning the party in droves – thereby weakening it for general elections while simultaneously strengthening Trump’s hand inside it.
It’s great news for Democrats and Joe Biden.
Democrats couldn’t hope for a more perfect foil – a defeated one-term president who never cracked 47 percent of the popular vote, left office with just 39 percent approval and is now hovering at an abysmal 34 percent, whom most Americans dislike or loathe, and a majority believe incited an insurrection against the United States.
The gift will keep giving. Courtesy of the Supreme Court, Trump’s tax returns will soon be raked across America like barnyard manure. Expect more of his shady business dealings to be exposed – more payoffs, cheats, and cons – as well as civil and criminal prosecutions.
The Trump Party isn’t interested in appealing to the nation as a whole, anyway. It’s interested only in appealing to Trump and the base that worships him.
All this is making it nearly impossible for congressional Republicans to mount a strong opposition to Biden’s ambitious plans for COVID relief followed by major investments in infrastructure and jobs. Lacking unity, leadership, strategy, clarity or a coherent message on anything other than Trump’s grievances, the Trump Party is irrelevant to the large choices facing the nation. Democrats in Washington have the public square all to themselves.
Biden is in the enviable position of getting most of America behind his agenda – and he can do so without a single Republican vote if Senate Democrats end the filibuster.
Democrats have proven themselves capable of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. But if they and Biden use this opportunity as they should, by this time next year COVID will be a tragic memory, and the nation will be in the midst of a strong economic recovery propelling it toward full employment and rising wages. With the GOP in disarray and rabid Trumpism turning off ever more voters, the 2022 midterm elections could swell Democratic majorities in Congress.
But the emergence of the Trump Party is deeply worrisome for America. It is a dangerous, deluded, authoritarian, and potentially violent faction that has no responsible role in a democracy.
Its Big Lie enables supporters of the former president to believe their efforts to overturn the 2020 election were necessary to protect American democracy, and that they must continue to fight a “deep state” conspiracy to thwart Trump. This is an open invitation to violence.
The Big lie also justifies Trump Party efforts to suppress votes considered “fraudulent.” In 33 states, Trumplawmakers are already pushing more than 165 bills intended to stop mail-in voting, increase voter ID requirements, make it harder to register to vote, and expand purges of voter rolls.
Democrats in Congress are responding with their proposed “For the People Act,” to expand voting through automatic voter registration across the country, early voting, and enlarged mail-in voting.
The incipient civil war pits a national Democratic Party representing America’s majority against a state-based Trump Party composed of a defiant and overwhelmingly white, working-class minority. It’s a recipe for a harsh clash between democracy and authoritarianism.
Plus, there’s the small possibility Trump will run again in 2024 and win.
What’s good for Biden and the Democrats in the short run is potentially disastrous for America over the longer term. One of its two major parties is centered on a Big Lie that threatens to blow up the nation, figuratively if not literally.