By Robert Reich
As Congress ends its first post-Trump term, the biggest political question hanging over America is this: When will the GOP finally reach its anti-Trump tipping point — when a majority of Republican lawmakers disavow him?
Again and again, it looks like the tipping point is near but the GOP remains under Trump’s thumb.
What about last month’s dinner at Mar-a-Lago, with Ye, formerly Kanye West, the man whose fame as a rapper has been dwarfed by his antisemitic and racist declarations, along with infamous Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes?
It didn’t come near tipping the scales.
What about Trump’s December 3 declaration that the “Massive Fraud” of the 2020 election would allow for the Constitution to be “terminated?”
Both events caused grumbling among a few Republican lawmakers but most avoided criticizing Trump (as they’ve avoided it in the past — as they avoided doing so the moment the furor over January 6 had died down) for fear of his wrath.
But what’s to fear, now? Didn’t the midterms reveal how weak he is?
After all, most of his endorsees flamed out, including celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, Tim Michels in Wisconsin, Blake Masters in Arizona, Adam Laxalt and Kari Lake also in Arizona, and Herschel Walker in Georgia. (Walker’s campaign even asked Trump to stay away in the final weeks.)
Many election-deniers hit the skids. Michigan’s legislature swung to the Democrats for the first time since the 1980s.
Democrats defied almost all doomsday prophesies as well as the historic pattern of presidents losing midterms — and why? In large part because so many voters fear and loathe the former president. Nearly as many viewed the midterms as a referendum on Trump as who saw it as a referendum on Joe Biden. As Mitch McConnell explained, voters “were frightened” by the Trump-induced GOP rhetoric, “and so they pulled back.”
And it’s only going to get worse for Trump, right?
His business has been found guilty of criminal fraud. Investigators have found more classified documents in a storage unit near Mar-a-Lago. A criminal case is pending in Georgia. The January 6 committee is likely to make a criminal referral to the Justice Department, whose special counsel is already building a criminal case against him. Several leaders of the January 6 attack have already been convicted of seditious conspiracy.
Even the kingpins of the GOP, including the rightwing media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, have switched their allegiance away from him — to Florida governor Ron DeSantis or Ted Cruz or another GOP hopeful.
So why hasn’t the Republican Party as a whole tipped? Why aren’t almost all Republican lawmakers publicly disavowing the former sociopath-in-chief?
In two words: The base.
Utah’s Republican senator Mitt Romney, no friend of Trump, put it bluntly last week:
“I think we’ve got, I don’t know, 12 people or more that would like to be president, that are thinking of running in 2024. If President Trump continues in his campaign, I’m not sure any one of them can make it through and beat him. He’s got such a strong base of, I don’t know, 30% or 40 % of the Republican voters, or maybe more, it’s going to be hard to knock him off as our nominee.”
That’s the problem in a nutshell, folks.
It’s not so much the size of Trump’s base. Even 40 percent of Republican voters is a relatively small group nationwide, especially considering that fewer than 30 percent of all voters are registered Republicans.
It’s also the intensity and tenacity of their support, which gives them effective control over the Republican Party. They worship him. They won’t budge.
But until they budge, most Republican lawmakers won’t budge either (Romney and Liz Cheney being notable exceptions, and we know what happened to her).
The problem isn’t some highfalutin moral issue, such as Republican lawmakers putting their party over their country. It’s something far more prosaic. They want to keep their jobs.
Which means the GOP continues to rot as a political party, as a governing institution, and as a moral entity. That may be good for Democrats in 2024, but in the larger sense it’s bad for us all.