At The Bulwark, Jonathan Last writes that Trump is forever.
Either a year from now or five years from now, Donald Trump will step away from the presidency. Raise your hand if you think he will retire to Mar-a-Lago and delete his Twitter account.
It seems much more likely—maybe inevitable—that once he leaves office, Trump will continue to tweet and call in to cable news shows. Perhaps he will even attend political rallies, which is the part of the job he seems to enjoy most.
There is no reason to think—none at all—that he will discontinue his penchant for weighing in on American politics on an hourly basis. There is every reason to think that he will vigorously attack any Republican who was disloyal to him during his administration. Or retroactively criticizes his tenure. Or runs in opposition to one of his preferred candidates. Or jeopardizes any of his many and varied interests.
What this means is that there is no way for a Trump-skeptical Republican to simply wait out the Trump years. There will be no “life after Trump” because Trump is going to be the head boss of Republican politics for the rest of his days.
As I said at the beginning: Trump is not a caretaker of the Republican party. He is the owner.
This intellectual hollowness is a ticking time bomb for the GOP. As soon as Trump leaves office, whether in 2021 or 2025, the Republican Party will have to deal with the intellectual and political consequences of elevating him. And it won’t be pretty.
The first problem: Even after Trump is out of office, he’ll still be in charge.
Trump, with the help of Fox News and other enablers, has turned a large part of the Republican base into a Trump cult of personality. As I wrote a few days ago, the “party of ideas” has abandoned everything it used to claim to stand for and has become little more than an extension of Donald Trump’s id. Assuming he is defeated in November and leaves office in January, he’s going to continue to act as the leader of the Republican Party whether anyone likes it or not. As long as he’s got access to Twitter and enough of the news media to get his voice out, he’ll still be in charge. The rest of the party may find moving on without him isn’t so easy.
And I have to add that a big part of the reason Trump was able to so infect the body of the Republican Party is that it had already been hollowed out by the likes of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. Yeah, Ryan was supposed to be a policy wonk, but he was a fake one. For eight years during the Obama Administration, the only guiding principle of the party was obstructing Barack Obama and the Democrats. Instead of policy ideas, they gave us empty talking points to damage Obama policies. Even before that, the party’s policy integrity had already been challenged by the Bush Administration, to the extent that the Democrats took back Congress in the 2006 midterms. And during the Clinton Administration, the GOP mostly existed to manufacture scandals to damage the Clintons. See also “The Empty Center” from 2017.
It seems to me that Republicans have been coasting on the Reagan Myth for the past forty years. The Reagan Myth is how establishment Republicans love to remember Ronald Reagan, as the “sunny optimist” who nearly single-handedly brought down the Soviet Union and made the world safe for democracy while juicing the economy with tax cuts. Let’s just say I remember him differently. At some point, the optimistic, shining-city-on-a-hill rhetoric — probably more Peggy Noonan than Reagan, anyway — was utterly betrayed by a party that actively undermines democracy in the service of its wealthy benefactors. By the time of the infamous 2000 Florida recount, this process was already well underway.
So it was that by 2016 the Republicans had no genuinely statesmanlike candidates to run for the White House, just a pack of cartoon characters. And the most cartoonish of the cartoons won. Since then Trump has acted as a cancer on the body of the Republican party, turning everything that was still clinging to some kind of political normalcy into variations of himself.
Of course, Trump wouldn’t have won had the Democrats not lost their own way to become a party of socially liberal and economically comfortable urban professionals who sort of forgot there are other people in America. But at least the Democrats have remained serious about governing.
David Byler goes on to say that the Republican Party may need a few years to genuinely move beyond Trump. In the meantime, we’re likely going to see a lot of Trump wannabees running for office. “Republicans spent decades mimicking Ronald Reagan — if they do the same with Trump, the results could be disastrous,” he writes. Perhaps the best thing that could happen for the Republicans would be for Trump to face criminal convictions once he’s out of office, which could very well happen. And then Republican office holders could fake being shocked and dismayed about it and use Trump’s legal downfall as an excuse to change course. We’ll see.
But Trumpism is more than just the Republican Party. It is the American Right. At the New York Times, Jamelle Bouie writes that Kenosha Tells Us More About Where the Right Is Headed Than the R.N.C. Did. The likes of Tucker Carlson and Ann Coulter and other people we might loosely call “thought” leaders of the Right have hailed the hapless Kyle Rittenhouse as a hero. Along with the elevation of the McCloskeys as Official Republican Spokespeople, the Right is showing us what they value most of all. And what they value most of all is the right to use deadly weapons to threaten and kill Trump’s political opposition. To the Right, civil liberties and democracy are meaningless technicalities. They will make America “great” again by terrorizing and eliminating everyone who isn’t them, all the while whining about “cancel culture.”
The Right is very dangerous, to the nation and to all of us as individuals. Given global climate change, the American Right is a danger to the planet. Four more years of Trump would possibly close any remaining window we might have to save our species.
I watched none of the Republican convention and have nothing to say about it, except that I am taking some hope from the fact that the RNC convention appears to have been less watched than the DNC convention. Viewership of both conventions has been down from previous years, but “television viewership as a whole has declined significantly in the last four years,” it says here. I take it this is because people are using streaming services more and watching broadcast and cable less. Anyway, I don’t doubt that Joe Biden will win the popular vote, assuming all the mail ballots are counted.
See also Charles Pierce’s critique of Trump’s acceptance speech, which begins, “And, at the ragged and unmasked end of it, he was an old and burned-out magician who’d long ago hocked his cabinet and now was eating his own rabbits for food.”
Kyle Rittenhouse, meanwhile, is sitting in a county jail in Waukegan, Illinois, while his lawyers fight his extradition to Wisconsin. He’ll probably remain in Waukegan for another month, at least. Also:
The Kenosha County District Attorney on Thursday laid out six counts against Kyle Rittenhouse in the deaths of Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, the attempted killing of Gaige Grosskreutz and the reckless endangerment of reporter Richard McGinnis, after Mr. Rittenhouse was initially arrested and charged with homicide on Wednesday.
The new charges against Mr. Rittenhouse include first-degree reckless homicide, first-degree recklessly endangering safety, first-degree intentional homicide and possession of a dangerous weapon. When he was first arrested Wednesday in his hometown of Antioch, Ill., the teenager was charged with first-degree homicide.
The reporter, McGinnis, was present when Rittenhouse shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, of Kenosha, it says here. The more information that comes out, the more it appears Rittenhouse just plain panicked but was in no real danger and did not need to defend himself.
See also Kyle Rittenhouse, Kenosha, and the Sheepdog Mentality by Graeme Wood at The Atlantic and International Conservatism Needs Trump to Lose by John Gustavsson at The Bulwark.