The Dream of the Republican Party

Russia has become a convenient excuse for a home-grown problem.

This is a piece I have been struggling to write for a few days now. It's a struggle because it deals with a truth that is so obvious to me I'm not sure how to explain it.

The question gets bandied about Twitter fairly regularly: how has an entire political party been so thoroughly compromised by Russia as to turn on their own county? It gets asked in response to things like the staged spectacle by Reps. Nunes and Stefanik, or Spicer standing by Trump long after his humiliating tenure in the White House ended, or Barr’s various machinations.

And the answer that people usually come up with is “kompromat”, but from where I’m standing, the premise of the question is flawed. Russia’s intrusion into our politics is important, but they are exploiting forces already in play and are not the evil masterminds behind every twist and turn.

The Republican Party as a whole has not chosen loyalty to Russia over loyalty to their own country. Some of them are still loyal to a vision of a version of America, but even among the ones who aren't, very few elected officials are actually working on behalf of Vladimir Putin for whatever reason. 

They're also not loyal to Trump in particular. 

Which isn't to say they'll turn on him. In fact, it's the opposite. If he had their loyalty, he could lose it. If they were following him out of admiration for the man, he could disappoint them and alienate them. Well, he's disappointing them daily and they haven't turned on him, and the reason is that their loyalty has never been to him in particular.

The Republican Party is loyal to the Republican Party. They haven't all consciously chosen party over country, either. This is the rhetorical advantage of constantly positioning themselves as the party of Real America: it means that loyalty to the country is loyalty to their party. 

And if the Republican Party is America and the Democratic Party is opposed to the Republican Party, that makes the Democrats anti-American, doesn't it? That's just simple, God-fearing math.

The thing you need to know to understand the actions of the modern GOP is that they have settled on an MO that they believe will result in permanent single-party rule, and that is to make sure Democrats lose and fail at every turn. I know that sounds blisteringly obvious, that when you have a two-party system one party succeeds when the other fails, but it's a crucial difference between the two parties. The Democrats tacitly acknowledge that both parties have their popular support and represent the viewpoints of part of the country, and so they do not treat every Republican victory whether at the ballot box or in the halls of Congress as an existential threat. The Republicans have embarked on a project of assuming absolute power over the country, and they do regard any Democratic progress as a danger to that.

If a story had come out about a Democratic Supreme Court nominee that said they drank to excess in high school and got blackout drunk even while underage... that would, I am sure, be the end of that nominee's chances. Without any allegations of sexual assault or other misconduct beyond the drunkenness! The drunkenness would be enough. Because the Republicans would object and talk about the nominee's character and how a Supreme Court Justice must be beyond reproach, and the press would pick that up and echo it because it sure sounds reasonable.

When this actually happened to a Republican nominee - who was also being credibly accused of sexual assault by multiple women - we saw what happened. Much of the defense of Kavanaugh focused on the motives of the people who brought the information forward, even for the conduct (such as binge drinking) that wasn't really in question, as though there were suddenly no legitimate reasons to worry about the character of a Supreme Court Justice. The most paper-thin exculpatory evidence - such as novel definitions for slang terminology - was accepted at face value and anything that condemned him brushed aside.

Many wondered why the Republican Party would bother to make a stand for this candidate when the alternative wasn't giving up the seat but picking another candidate. The story they told was that it was Democrats who were taking the scorched-earth approach, and "if they can do this to Kavanaugh, they can do it to anyone!" so if they knuckled under then they really might lose the seat.

They said this as if Kavanaugh really was uniquely qualified, as if his reputation was beyond reproach and his virtue unimpeachable. Again I say that just the alcohol-related portion of his youth would very likely have sunk a Democratic nominee, or a Republican one if we go back enough decades.

Now, as of Kavanaugh's confirmation, there were party Republicans who wanted him to step aside and for Trump to produce another candidate from the Federalist Society's roster of acceptable judges. In this and other regards, Donald Trump is the amusement park caricature artist's rendering of the Republican Party, with all their grossest faults simplified and enlarged. He wasn't going to change nominees because that would be giving up an ounce of his absolute authority to choose, and moreover it would be a step in the direction of saying that allegations of sexual assault mean anything to men of importance. So he planted his feet and dug in his heels and now the whole party is that much more like this, not because they were loyal to him but because they are loyal to the party and to break with him would have broken the party.

"Don't they know they're ultimately going to destroy the party?"

They don't know that. They know that this strategy requires constant escalation, and that there is a point of escalation past which if they lose power it's the end of the party, but their solution for that is to commit to never failing that badly. They don't see an off-ramp from the road that they're on. At this point, given the national appetite for "normalcy", I think they could actually save their party by taking things down several notches and being content to mostly just govern in accordance with their actual popular mandate, allowing Democrats to win elections more places where Democrats have the voters and recognizing Democrats as the majority party when they are that rather than constantly treating Democrats as a bunch of scheming usurpers.

But today's Republican Party doesn't recognize that as a viable outcome. Existing as a political party peddling one vision for the country, a choice that the voters can make, is not survival as far as they're concerned. It's calamity. They must win, which means the Democrats must lose, must fail, at every possible opportunity.

They don't care about rules or evidence or scandal or character, except as pieces in a game, a game at which they are entirely willing to cheat, to deny the legitimacy of their opponent's moves and enforce the harshest interpretation of the rules possible against their enemies while ignoring the same rules. 

Hypocrisy? It's strategy. For the one who are honestly just out for themselves, it's worth it because who cares. For the ones who have convinced themselves they are fighting for the soul of a nation, it's worth it because the alternative is unthinkable.

Representative Elise Stefanik did not go from someone who saw the value of at least cultivating an image of bipartisanship to Devin Nunes, Jr. because some Russian agent showed her a folder with her name written on it and photos inside. She did so because this has become the path forward in the Republican Party, and because the people who are willing to go to those comical lengths to defend the party right or wrong are fueling a blue wave that more moderate Republicans fear will endanger them all... but because their loyalty is to the part, many of them are choosing to join the circus in hopes it will prove victorious rather than trying to counter it.

We saw this in the Kavanaugh hearing and in a dozen other fights over the past three years, where prominent Republicans begged Trump to change course and then went out and backed his play to embarrassing extremes when he wouldn't. We can see it in the Senate with the devotion to party line wavering so very little no matter how uncomfortable a position Mitch puts them in. We can see it in the House where member after member is choosing to comport themselves in ways that will heavily cost them if the House does not swing back into their party's control in 2020.

The Republican Party has a vision of America where America is the Republican Party, and they are willing to do anything to make that vision reality.

Thank you for reading!

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