Trumpian for the Foreseeable Future
Following Donald Trump’s CPAC speech Sunday night, Nikki Haley received quite a bit of online mockery for this tweet:
The running joke was that the tweet had to have been composed and scheduled beforehand, because anyone who’d actually watched the speech couldn’t have missed Trump's trashing of congressional Republicans (by name) who’d spoken out against him over — and voted to hold him accountable for — the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Trump celebrated their censures and even called for the party to “get rid of them all,” which doesn't exactly sound like a message of unity, nor a “liberal media” concoction. In fact, it sounds rather suspiciously like part of the ever-expanding “cancel culture” that Republicans have been railing against.
Anyway, if the battle for the soul of the Republican party is simply a made-up thing, one has to wonder why Haley would have said this to Politico’s Tim Alberta less than two months ago:
“We need to acknowledge [Trump] let us down. He went down a path he shouldn’t have, and we shouldn’t have followed him, and we shouldn’t have listened to him. And we can’t let that ever happen again.”
Actually, one doesn’t have to think about it a whole lot to understand what happened. On January 6th and the days that followed, there were actually quite a few prominent Republican leaders who had finally found the nerve to speak out against Trump and what he had done to their party and the nation; Haley was just one of them. They clearly believed his provocation of a domestic terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol would mark the end of his tenure as a political force. Early polls seemed to support that conclusion, showing a stark drop in Trump’s approval... even among those in his own party.
Haley stated as much in her interview with Alberta:
“I think [Trump’s] going to find himself further and further isolated. I think his business is suffering at this point. I think he’s lost any sort of political viability he was going to have… I don’t think he’s going to be in the picture. I don’t think he can. He’s fallen so far.”
But memories are short, political cultism is strong, and partisans in the media are extraordinarily effective at deflecting blame and re-writing narratives.
Within days, Republican voters had found their way back to Trump and were calling on their congressional representatives, in large numbers, to stand by him or face consequences. Dozens of Republicans in congress who privately voiced support for impeachment and conviction chose not to back that support with their vote. Many of those who’d spoken out strongly against Trump were suddenly tamping down and even withdrawing their criticism.
Haley, who’s very seriously weighing a 2024 presidential run, was one of them. And those who haven’t read Alberta’s piece on her may be surprised to learn that it wasn't the first time.
Others, of course, have been much more consistent in their sycophancy:
As CPAC further illustrated, conformity to Trumpism continues on, even in utter defeat. Trump received huge cheers for all the “winning” (his word) he’s been doing, despite his four years in office resulting in the GOP losing the presidency, House, Senate, the states of Georgia and Arizona, the suburbs, and quite a few independents. Not to mention that he was impeached twice (including the most bipartisan presidential impeachment in U.S. history).
How does one reconcile this? CPAC showed the way, building much of their weekend event around the same false premise that not only incited the January 6th attack, but that a majority of Republican voters still believe: Trump didn’t lose in the first place.
Numerous panels were dedicated to the issue of election fraud, not the provable kind that we catch trace instances of in every election, but massive, historical fraud that was supposedly pulled off last November by the media and Democrats working in concert. The elusive "proof" of that conspiracy, which never found its way to the courts, has "probably" been "shredded by now," according to one panelist.
One might conclude from this piece that Haley might have been correct on Sunday after all, at least in regard to the GOP "civil war" not happening.
I mean, if the party, in very large part, can’t even recognize all it has lost under Trump, why should anyone expect any serious internal battles to be waged?
And when we watch someone like Haley go (in just a matter of a few weeks) from arguing that the GOP shouldn’t have followed or listened to Trump, to saying his words are “what the party needs to unite behind moving forward,” it’s hard not to conclude that the war is already over. That is, if it ever really started.
Yes, as the rest of the country moves on from the Trump era, the GOP remains beholden to the man who cost the party so dearly — a man who, based on his win/loss record, would be branded a "loser" by the very same crowd if his last name were anything other than "Trump."
That’s their choice, of course, but it’s not a recipe for success — not for the party and not for the country. Here's to hoping we see that GOP civil war at some point.
Note from John: I've been writing a weekly non-political newsletter since October, covering topics like art, music, humor, travel, society and culture. I've been surprised by, and thankful for, how many people have been signing up for it. If it sounds interesting to you, I'd love for you to subscribe (it's free).