The Bible, in Mark 8:36, asks, “For what shall it proﬁt a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” The question is rhetorical, the answer is “nothing.” That warning has not stopped Republican Party leaders.
After Barack Obama won the presidency twice, the party undertook a soulsearching in 2012 which yielded a blueprint for becoming more inclusive. Then came ﬁrst the 2016 campaign and then the presidency of Donald Trump.
Using social media to promote himself and to spread 30,573 lies and misstatements in four years, according to a Washington Post data base, Trump seized control of a political organization whose history includes ﬁerce and relentless opposition to slavery and converted it into a personality cult – and the Republican leadership actively abetted him.
His hardball politics not only forced party leaders to abandon their plan for the future but also to anoint him maximum leader. They deluded themselves into believing that they need Trump as the face of their party if are to take Congress and the presidency from the Democrats.
Those who have resisted Trump have been exiled to the political wilderness or censured and made pariahs at state and local levels and in Congress, such as Wyoming Representative Liz Chaney. The Republican House caucus demoted Cheney because, like the little boy in Danish storyteller Hans Christian Andersen’s fable, she dared to say that the emperor has no clothes.
No Republican aspiring to elected ofﬁce has any chance of winning without Trump’s support. No incumbent can win re-election without his endorsement. And Republicans have only one agenda item: Trump.
His support was shored up by ridiculously false claims, including those spread by Qanon. That source of destructive misinformation has gone quiet but the void has been ﬁlled by the biggest lie of all, that of the “stolen election.”
The degradation of the party started to manifest itself when Republican Members of Congress refused to sanction Trump following publication of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s scathing report into whether he and his 2015 campaign conspired with the Russians to interfere in the outcome and whether he obstructed the probe. They failed to act against him for trying to strong-arm the Ukraine government into opening an investigation of Joe Biden’s son and thus influence the 2020 election.
Most signiﬁcantly, as a bloc they scoffed at attempts to impeach and oust Trump for inciting the January 6 insurrection — a challenge to democracy — to force a reversal of the election outcome favoring Biden. They remain faithful to him even though the storming of the Capitol was seen on live television which showed Members of Congress running for their lives from the invading mob and police ofﬁcers being attacked, one of them later dying from the assault. Now some of those leaders are claiming it was just a meet-and-greet occasion between Trump loyalists and the police. But if anything did happen, the culprits had to be anti-fascists and Black Lives Matter members.
Such absurdity has brought the nation to the point where the party out of ofﬁce and with no platform is in Trump’s iron grip as it pursues tactics to replace the party in power. Those tactics include using control of 30 state Legislatures to pass laws to restrict voting — just in case. It is no surprise that this voter suppression is happening across-the-board. It comes from the playbook of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEX), one of several pro-Republican organizations ﬁnanced by billionaires. Other pan-Republican actions so far include cracking down on protests against police killings and injustice generally and legalizing discriminating against transgender youth.
Whether these tactics, and having Trump as the sole arbiter of all things Republican, will succeed in putting the Republicans in power remains to be seen. Biden has expressed concern at the party’s state of affairs but he has said he is focusing on his own agenda. He is obviously hoping that his policies will convince Trump’s supporters that his offering of more than conspiracy theories and one-man rule will resonate with them as his initiatives provide them with tangible beneﬁts.
It is a gamble, of course, whether the federal checks, along with trillions of dollars more to help children and families get out of poverty and for improved infrastructure, will be enough incentive to lure Trump’s supporters into abandoning the belief which “makes the unacceptable acceptable,” to borrow a phrase from the French serial “The Crimson Rivers.”
Another unknown quantity is the threat by some anti-Trump Republicans to form a third party and challenge his leadership. That is unlikely to have much of an impact, at least while Trump is around and politically active. However, the never-Trumpers could ﬁnd allies among Independent voters, who hold the balance of power and are credited with helping Trump win in 2016 and Biden in 2020.
Trump secured 74 million votes in 2020 but that was before the attack on the Capitol and the failure of the Republican leadership to hold him accountable – the ﬁnal act of surrender which came as American democracy was at stake.
The Washington Post reported in February 2020 that registered Republicans were only 28 percent of the electorate while Democrats were 39 percent. Independents were 29 percent and whether they and other voters will want to hand the nation’s leadership back to a party whose leaders have sold their souls to one man remains to be seen.