To my great relief, and I’m equally sure to his, I don’t find myself agreeing with National Review editor Rich Lowry terribly often. But in his Politico magazine piece from last week, he hit the bull’s-eye. Any other Republican politician who signaled that he was open to something more liberal than a 15-week abortion ban could never get away with that stance. But Donald Trump, Lowry wrote, can and will. Trump, he wrote, “can rely on his supporters to deploy contradictory justifications for whatever he says or does.”
This is clearly true, and we need to think about why. Which was pretty well answered, in fact, by whoever it is who edits Lowry, who put a subhed on the column that pithily summed up the appalling situation: “The only cause that really matters to most Republicans now is Trump himself.”
This is true. It’s different from anything we’ve ever seen in American politics, and it’s terrifying. It’s fascism plain and simple—utter and blind faith in the strongman. A belief that he can do no wrong. If he takes an expected position, he is a tiger on behalf of principle. If he takes an unexpected position, he is not an apostate or a sellout—he’s a clever fox, two steps ahead of everyone else, and trolling the libs harder than anyone else could even begin to conceive of doing. Excuses, as Lowry noted, can be conjured to defend any inconsistency. Indeed the inconsistencies are only greater and more concrete proof of his genius and infallibility.
Which brings us to the question: Is there anything that Trump could do that would alienate his base? Anything? The answer is probably no (although there’s a “but” there, which I’ll get to). With respect to positions on political issues, I sense he can do just about anything, and his admirers will find some way to justify it. If he came out tomorrow and said global warming was real, Fox News and the rest would construct an elaborate architecture of defense, parsing his exact words to “prove” that his critique is totally at odds with the tired bromides of the woke left and that he, Trump, uniquely and brilliantly identified the actual problem with a sagacity that Sleepy Joe couldn’t begin to apprehend.
With respect to revelations about his past or something awful he may have done, I guess it’s possible that there could arise certain revelations that would alienate chunks of the base, but even there, it’s hard to imagine what those revelations would be. The only thing I can think of would be if some Jerry Sandusky–style allegations emerged (and obviously, I’m not suggesting that he did anything like that, I’m just hypothesizing). Because that’s the very worst thing a human being can do. But even then—even then!—some excuse might be found. That little boy came on to him!
Morality as we once knew it is completely inverted now in the GOP. Throughout American history, political parties have nominated the man who seemed to best represent their beliefs and principles. But today’s Republican Party has reversed this. It has twice nominated a man—and is about to nominate him a third time, even as he faces four indictments and a reasonably serious threat of jail time—whom it has completely allowed to define what it stands for. This is without precedent.
So let’s circle back to abortion. We all know, despite their protestations to the contrary, that most Republicans want to pass a national six-week ban. Or maybe a national total ban. In other words, the six-week ban—and remember, most women don’t even know they’re pregnant at six weeks—is the liberal position.
But here comes Trump saying that Ron DeSantis’s six-week ban in Florida is a “terrible thing” and a “terrible mistake.” And then he says he’ll pull Republicans and Democrats together and negotiate a middle ground, playing the role of neutral arbiter, not pro-life warrior. And from the religious right? Hardly a peep.
Sure, it tells us that these “religious leaders” are nothing but power-obsessed moral ninnies. And sure, it tells us that Trump knows he’s in deep trouble with suburban women, who vote in such numbers in the key swing states that they can determine who wins and who loses. Those two points are obvious.
But here’s the more interesting thing it tells us. It tells us that there is no Republican Party outside of Donald Trump. There is no desire on the part of any prominent Republican for there to be a Republican Party outside of Donald Trump. Sure, Mitch McConnell may privately loathe him, and Republican senators may laugh at him behind his back. But when and where it matters—in public, in front of the voters who hold the fate of our democracy in their hands—they are almost all, to a person, Trumpists. They are destroying the country, and they are destroying the party they claim to love.
Now—here’s the “but.” All the above applies to the red-hot MAGAs, but it does not apply to the rest of America, which includes a chunk of Republicans. What percentage of Americans are red-hot MAGAs? We think we know—generally it seems to be around 35 percent. But we also know that the vast majority of party members vote for their party’s nominee—usually, that number is above 90 percent. According to CNN’s 2020 exit polling, both Biden and Trump got 94 percent of their party rank and file’s vote. (Biden won independents 54–41, which is why he won.)
But next year? Believe me—the non-MAGA Republicans will be a—and maybe the—crucial voting bloc. This is a severely under-examined species. We at The New Republic just studied them, with a terrific feature article by Ben Jacobs. But not many outlets have.
They were polled not long ago, and 45 percent said that they would not vote for Trump—this is Republicans—if he were convicted of a felony by a jury. Just 35 percent said they would.
In other words: There is a MAGA base, and there is a broader Republican Party, and despite what the media often say in shorthand, they are not the same thing. MAGA-heads will believe any idiotic, fascistic thing that the idiot fascist says. But that is not true of all Republicans. In fact, I suspect there are many Republicans who believe Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, and Mitt Romney and are desperate for leadership along their lines. But because the media wants to make this a horse race, even if one of the two horses was sired by Adolf Hitler, it isn’t telling you that.
So, whew. In the end, to my relief and no doubt his, I kind of disagree with Rich Lowry.