How do we excise the cancer that is the Party of Trump?

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Ed Kilgore recently explained the Five Reasons Why Republicans Won’t Abandon Trump Like They Ditched Nixon. Th key is his third point:

3. Trump is a lot more popular among today’s Republicans than Nixon was among yesterday’s. People remember that Richard Nixon was reelected in 1972 by a huge landslide, but was forced to resign less than two years later. But it’s less clearly remembered that in between the two events his popularity steadily dropped — among Republicans as well as Democrats and independents.

According to Gallup, Nixon’s job-approval ratings among Republicans fell from 91 percent in February of 1973 to 54 percent by October of that year. There were multiple reasons for that plunge, including, yes, Watergate publicity (punctuated by the Saturday Night Massacre in which Nixon fired his attorney general, his deputy attorney general, and the Watergate special prosecutor), plus the resignation of his vice-president, Spiro Agnew, after being caught accepting bribes; growing public hostility to delays in ending the Vietnam War; and the beginning of a recession that interrupted a long period of economic growth. By the time Nixon was forced to resign, his approval rating overall was a terrible 24 percent, and just 50 percent among Republicans.

At present, Trump’s approval rating among Republicans (also according to Gallup) is at 89 percent. It’s never been lower than 79 percent during his presidency. As long as he’s this popular among his party’s rank and file, he’s got a decent shot at reelection, and more to the point, few in the ranks of GOP elected officials are going to cross him.

Donald Trump enjoys a personality cult among a white ideologically authoritarian GOP that Nixon did not. This is not your father’s GOP. The Party of Lincoln is dead and gone, and sorry “Never-Trumpers,” it’s not coming back. It is now the Party of Trump, a personality cult whose only loyalty is to Donald Trump. When Donald Trump boasts that “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” he is sadly right. As I recently posted, Donald Trump is but a manifestation of the cancer within the GOP.

Paul Waldman writes at the Washington Post today, No bottom: Republicans show they’ll defend just about anything Trump does:

[O]n Sunday, Rudolph W. Giuliani went on television and insisted: “There’s nothing wrong with taking information from Russians.” This was in a context where that “information” was the result of an organized attack allegedly by Russian intelligence agents that included hacking into Democratic email systems.

That’s right: The president’s lawyer just issued an invitation to any foreign adversary — Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, the Islamic State, anyone — that if they decide that one American presidential candidate would be more favorable to their interests, they should go ahead and hack, spy or use whatever other kind of means they want to employ to sway the election, and their efforts will be welcomed.

That alone is shocking and despicable. But it’s just one part of a larger Republican argument, one that says not that Trump did some unfortunate things but nothing that would justify prosecution or impeachment, but instead that he is completely blameless because there is no such thing as unethical conduct if committed by Trump.

As we grapple with the fallout from the Mueller report, this is not only the position Trump and his aides are taking. It’s the position of the entire Republican Party, not just for the specific misconduct detailed in the report but for the whole of the Trump presidency. The GOP has embraced utter and complete moral nihilism.

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[Republicans] aren’t arguing that Trump’s behavior was reprehensible but doesn’t rise to the level of impeachment. Instead, their position is that Trump didn’t do a single thing wrong.

Inviting a hostile foreign power to hack his opponent’s emails? He was kidding around! Accepting the help of that hostile power for his campaign? What any candidate would do! Seeking a multimillion-dollar deal in a hostile foreign country while running for president and lying about it to the public? Just a shrewd businessman! Firing the FBI director to shut down an investigation into his campaign, and admitting it on TV? His absolute right as president! Trying in multiple different ways to obstruct justice? He was just fighting back against a deep-state conspiracy!

Try, if you can, to recall all the unease among Republicans that greeted Trump’s capture of their party’s presidential nomination in 2016. Could they tolerate being led by such a noxious character, someone who ran scams conning struggling people out of their life savings, who abuses small businesspeople, who bragged about his ability to sexually assault women with impunity, who is an obvious bigot, who lies so often that you wouldn’t trust him to tell you that Thursday follows Wednesday? What price will we pay for being led by such a man, they asked themselves.

But they quickly got over it. Perhaps nowhere was the rapid transformation more evident than among white conservative evangelicals, who at one time persuaded everyone to refer to them as “values voters,” as though they were the only ones in possession of “values” while everyone else just has opinions. Their enthusiastic embrace of the most amoral president in modern history has proved how laughable that appellation always was, which is why no one uses it anymore. Three years after rushing to his side, they have shown that if you can convince yourself that God’s will is being worked through Trump, no sin is too repulsive to excuse and no abuse of power too blatant to justify.

But it’s not just the evangelicals; it applies to the entire Republican Party. There are no more statements about how “troubled” they are by his behavior, no more attempts to distance themselves from his repugnant character, no more effort to prove that they retain something resembling integrity. They will defend anything, because that is what Trump demands.

This is the logical and perhaps inevitable endpoint of the decision they made in 2016. Republicans chose as their leader the single most loathsome figure in American public life, a man possessed of not a single human virtue. He would inevitably call them to descend to the moral void where he resides. And when they did — enthusiastically — they showed us not just who he is, but who they are as well.

Paul Krugman warns of the danger at the New York Times. The Great Republican Abdication:

[T]he fact is that the occupant of the White House betrayed his country. And the question everyone is asking is, what will Democrats do about it?

But notice that the question is only about Democrats. Everyone (correctly) takes it as a given that Republicans will do nothing. Why?

Because the modern G.O.P. is perfectly willing to sell out America if that’s what it takes to get tax cuts for the wealthy. Republicans may not think of it in those terms, but that’s what their behavior amounts to.

The truth is that the G.O.P. faced its decisive test in 2016, when almost everyone in the Republican establishment lined up behind a man fully known to be a would-be authoritarian who was unfit morally, temperamentally and intellectually for high office.

In their chilling book “How Democracies Die,” Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt call this “the great Republican abdication.” The party’s willingness to back behavior it would have called treasonous if a Democrat did it is just more of the same.

Levitsky and Ziblatt say that when mainstream politicians abdicate responsibility in the face of a leader who threatens democracy, it’s usually for one of two reasons. Either they have the misguided belief that he can be controlled, or they’re willing to go along because his agenda overlaps with theirs — that is, they believe that he’ll give them what they want.

At this point it’s hard to imagine that anyone still believes that Trump can be controlled. But he is delivering on the Republican establishment’s agenda — certainly far more than any Democrat would.

The key point is that Republicans are committed to a policy agenda that is deeply unpopular. By large margins, the American public believes that corporations and the wealthy don’t pay their fair share in taxes. By even larger margins, the public opposes cuts to safety-net programs like Medicaid. Yet as far as I can tell, every G.O.P. budget proposal over the past decade has combined big tax cuts for the rich with savage cuts in Medicaid.

If the Republican agenda is so unpopular, how does the party win elections? Partly by lying about its policies. But mainly the G.O.P.’s political achievements depend on identity politics — white identity politics. Exploiting racial resentment to capture white working-class voters, while pursuing policies that benefit only the wealthy, has been the core of the party’s political strategy for decades. That’s why, in an increasingly diverse country, Republican support has stayed overwhelmingly white.

In a fundamental sense, Trumpism is the culmination of that strategy. Commentators keep calling Trump a “populist,” but the only way in which he actually caters to working-class white voters is by appealing to their racial animus. He may be successful in doing so partly because it’s the only thing about his political persona that’s sincere: All indications are that he really is a racist.

His substantive policies, however, have followed the standard right-wing agenda: In 2017 he passed a huge tax cut, largely for corporations, that disproportionately benefited the wealthy, and almost succeeded in repealing Obamacare, in the process gutting Medicaid.

And these policies have endeared him to the G.O.P.’s money men. “Deep-pocketed Republicans who snubbed Donald Trump in 2016 are going all in for him in 2020,” reports Politico.

They’re doing so even though they know that Trump was installed in office in part thanks to Russian aid, that his financial entanglements with foreign governments pose huge conflicts of interest and that he consistently shows a preference for dictatorships over our democratic allies.

As I said, the modern G.O.P. is perfectly willing to sell out America if that’s what it takes to get tax cuts for the wealthy.

Once you accept this reality, two conclusions follow.

First, anyone expecting bipartisanship in dealing with the aftermath of the Mueller report — in particular, anyone suggesting that Democrats should wait for G.O.P. support before proceeding with investigations that might lead to impeachment — is being deluded. Trump is giving the Republican establishment what it wants, and it will stick with him no matter what.

Second, it’s later than you think for American democracy. Before 2016 you could have wondered whether Republicans would, in extremis, be willing to take a stand in defense of freedom and rule of law. At this point, however, they’ve already taken that test, and failed with flying colors.

The simple fact is that one of our two major parties — the one that likes to wrap itself in the flag — no longer believes in American values. And it’s very much up in the air whether America as we know it will survive.

The Party of Trump represents somewhere between 36-42% of the American public. They walk among us. They are our co-workers, neighbors, and even family members. The authoritarian personality cult of Donald Trump is a cancer in the body politic that directly threatens the survival of our great American experiment in democracy.

Remove Donald Trump, and his cult followers will simply reassign their cult loyalty to whomever emerges as his successor. (Trump likely dreams of a Trump dynasty, keeping it within the Trump crime family. Sorry Mike Pence). His cult followers are not going to magically transform into becoming “normal Republicans” from our past after Trump is gone as some Never-Trumpers delude themselves. There is no going back to the Party of Lincoln when Never-Trumpers have failed to establish a viable alternative political party to appeal to disaffected former Republicans.

So the question we need to ask ourselves is “How do we excise the cancer that is the Party of Trump?” I don’t yet have an answer to this question. And neither does anyone else, it appears.