The emerging trend in right-wing politics, which is quickly gaining steam, is, in a quick phrase, to dump Donald Trump.
Maybe the right wing isn’t going full-on Liz Cheney in equaling her outright denunciation and prosecution of Trump for his misdeeds, but they are distancing themselves from him, for sure, in more polite and politically strategic ways, hoping to keep Trump’s supporters in the fold while discarding Trump as unobtrusively as possible.
Let’s be clear, though. They aren’t dumping Trumpism, just Trump. Indeed, what some pundits have termed Trumpism is really just what mainstream Republican politics have been for decades, fomenting racism and manipulating people’s basest impulses to hate to their political advantage, pursuing gerrymandering and other voter suppression measures to enable their minority rule, eschewing standard constitutional procedures to stack the Supreme Court, and more. These practices preceded Trump (as I’ve written about here , here, and here , among other places); but he brought them out in the open and exercised the brute power grab in a way so overt and so unpalatable to many Americans that the GOP has now realized it must dump Trump in order to preserve its wins and sustain its long-term more covert agenda of minority autocratic rule.
The GOP can dump Trump because they have fulfilled substantial elements of their agenda by effectively using Trump to carry out their wishes. Trump, we all know, is a small-minded, insecure, megalomaniacal man who craves power and desperately requires constant attention and aggrandizement. He doesn’t have an ideological bone in his body and lacks any serious convictions. When it comes to politics, he’s an empty vessel. The GOP and the broader right, including the evangelical right, know he’s a thoroughly amoral, even profoundly immoral, man.
But he served a purpose, and they harnessed his evil skills and powers, filling up that vessel empty of political conviction with their own ideological agenda. He carried it out.
The Supreme Court is stacked with a 6-3 conservative extremist majority. Roe v. Wade has been overturned. In 2013, Chief Justice John Roberts led the charge to gut the Voting Rights Act, enabling—indeed, unleashing—the spate of voter suppression laws Republican state legislatures have enacted and are still pursuing. The Supreme Court now does the bidding of the GOP corporate, anti-government, anti-civil rights agenda, and they don’t have to worry about elections. They’ll be for decades, enforcing a Republican agenda put in motion well before Trump.
While common wisdom holds that the Republican Party is the party of Trump, actually the GOP has simply used Trump for all he’s worth, exploiting his insecurities and psychological dysfunction.
Now he has outlived his usefulness, and the January 6 hearings have provided the opportunity for the GOP to part ways with the man Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post named “the King Lear of Mar-a-Lago.”
For example, after Cassady Hutchinson’s recent testimony, the conservative Washington Examiner concluded Trump is “unfit” to ever hold public office again.
Outgoing Republican Governor of Arkansas Asa Hutchinson called Trump a “risk to the nation,” telling CBS, “As you can see from the testimony on Jan. 6, then and subsequent to the election where he was challenging the legality of it, the lawful transfer of [power] — yes, that was a threat to our democracy. That was a threat to our institutions of government. And that’s not the behavior we want to see in a responsible president.”
Let’s not be fooled, though, that Republicans suddenly want to save democracy. They want to save the Republican Party.
Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing media empire is a chief exemplar of performing this balancing act of dismissing Trump while trying to hold on to his voters to maintain their service to the GOP.
Take Peggy Noonan’s column in the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal:
America isn’t going to elect him again. They’re not going to let that guy back in that house. Because everyone knows it: Let Donald Trump back there and he’ll do a 1/6 again. Because while his followers love America, he doesn’t. He likes it as far as it goes, appreciates it as the stage for his greatness, but beyond that…,
Let’s look at Noonan’s rhetoric here and translate it.
America isn’t going to elect him again.
What Noonan has done here is to attribute the Republican wish to the American people themselves. She projects on to Americans the Republican desire to be rid of Trump, as though it’s their will and not a Republican agenda.
And she absolves Trump’s supporters of all the hate, even murderous and violent hate, in which they’ve participated, telling us, “Because while his followers love America, he doesn’t.”
This refusal to call out the hate that has been rampant among the American people, stoked for sure by the Republican Party and Trump in tandem, is abhorrent and actually serves to enable and perpetuate it, again through this act of projection that makes Trump the bearer of hate and pretends not to see it in the American people. This is a dangerous denial, and Noonan ought to be ashamed of her rhetorical gymnastics; she is aiding and abetting hate.
Noonan is also attributing the assault on democracy to Trump alone, absolving the Republican Party of its responsibility for assaulting democracy, when she writes, “Let Donald Trump back there and he’ll do do 1/6 again.”
Noonan must know full well that Republican legislatures are in full swing in their efforts to ensure to they can steal elections in the future by suppressing the vote and even empowering state legislatures to determine the slate of electors, regardless of what voters say.
Noonan’s column exemplifies the extent to which Republicans have used and are using Trump. Even as they dismiss him, they use him as a scapegoat, projecting all of their autocratic and undemocratic behavior onto Trump, as though they had no part and as though they are still not actively and aggressively pursuing an authoritarian, anti-civil rights, and basically inhumane agenda.
The GOP may be done with Trump, but unfortunately, America is stuck with the GOP for the time being.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.