6 min read

Knives Out for the Mad King

After its disappointing midterm losses, the GOP is blaming Donald Trump and may be turning on its toxic leader.
Knives Out for the Mad King

The Blame

One of the more remarkable developments from election night and the 24 hours immediately after was the reaction from conservative media as their unexpected election losses became more clear. In the aftermath of their underperforming Republican candidates, especially in competitive governor and Senate races across the country, the blame was largely directed at one former president. As the chorus of voices reached a crescendo, a headline from Fox News read: Trump blasted across media spectrum over Republicans' midterms performance: 'Biggest loser tonight'.

Trump had handpicked several Republican candidates, ensured they had won their primaries, and now in the general election, they were losing at an astonishing rate. Be it their abrasive personalities, embrace of election denialism, or substandard campaigns, the kingmaker's pawns had been swept from the board. The American electorate had spoken, and Trump was no longer in charge of the game.

On the other hand, the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, won reelection in a 19-point landslide and through his shrewd political machinations had successfully turned Florida from a swing state into a Republican stronghold in just four years. Republican-aligned media, which has long hailed DeSantis as the party's future, officially received overwhelming evidence to support their claim.  

The conservative predictions of a Republican red wave had never materialized, and now the tide began to turn.

The Betrayal

In his article, The Republican Elite Makes Its Move Against Trump, for New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait writes, "the sentiment that Trump lost and DeSantis won is reflected across the spectrum of conservative media, encompassing those who disdain Trump as a liability but support him anyway and those who embrace him enthusiastically. These party elites, while not all-powerful, still have considerable influence, especially when they coordinate."

A political party is more than just its politicians. It's an ecosystem of donors and operatives and media elites that make up a powerful apparatus behind the scenes. If one or more of these factions turns against a candidate, it can cause a serious impediment to his standing within the party.

Interestingly enough, here's the last 24 hours...

In an opinion piece from the right-leaning New York Post, 'Here’s how Donald Trump sabotaged the Republican midterms', John Podhoretz writes: "What Tuesday night’s results suggest is that Trump is perhaps the most profound vote-repellant in modern American history. The surest way to lose in these midterms was to be a politician endorsed by Trump. This is not hyperbole. Except for deep red states where a Republican corpse would have beaten a Democrat, voters choosing in actually competitive races — who everyone expected would behave like midterm voters usually do and lean toward the out party — took one look at Trump’s hand-picked acolytes and gagged."
On Fox News, Laura Ingrahan said, "Going to 2024, the Republicans are going to be looking for candidates who are focused on winning – not just making a point or settling a score. So, to really change it, we’re gonna have to win and we have to win over voters outside our traditional base. That means young people, too. That’s got to be the goal for the next presidential election. The populist movement is about ideas. It is not about any one person. If the voters conclude that you’re putting your own ego or your own grudges ahead of what’s good for the country, they’re going to look elsewhere, period."
And even the most mainstream of conservative media, the Wall Street Journal's Editorial Board wrote: "Trump Is the Republican Party’s Biggest Loser. He has now flopped in 2018, 2020, 2021 and 2022. What will Democrats do when Donald Trump isn’t around to lose elections? We have to wonder because on Tuesday Democrats succeeded again in making the former President a central campaign issue, and Mr. Trump helped them do it. Trumpy Republican candidates failed at the ballot box in states that were clearly winnable. This can’t be what Mr. Trump was envisioning ahead of his 'very big announcement' next week. Yet maybe the defeats are what the party needs to hear before 2024."

Cynics will point out that conservative media has tried to distance themselves from Trump before. And failed. So why would it work now?

The answer is simple. Power.

The Basis

The Republican establishment was wary of Trump when he first came on the scene in 2015 and decided to run for the party's nomination. It was a crowded field that year, and contenders lobbed attacks at the newcomer during its primary season. But Trump's name recognition and brand of no-holds-barred campaigning resonated with a fervent base of supporters that led to his eventual nomination.

Moving forward, there were multiple times during his general election campaign and subsequent presidency that demonstrated Trump's utter lack of decency and respect or putting his own self interests above party or country. The backlash to these disturbing moments was swift; the repulsion was real, but the elites were ultimately getting what they wanted in Washington and because of his cult-like popularity with the base, they stayed along for the ride.

Until the bitter end.  

Tim Miller, a former Republican operative disillusioned and disgusted over the party's embrace of Trump, and author of the book Why We Did It argues that Trump's rise was simply a symptom of a bigger disease. Miller explains how he witnessed in real time as the news and media arm of the Republican party moved to the right and literally adopted the opinions of its craziest followers.

Entrepreneurs and upstarts were discovering that amplifying these conspiratorial and fringe ideas were riling up the base and bringing in more clicks, more likes, and more money. Tons of money. Soon, the misinformation and conspiracy theories dominated the digital space, and it was now impossible to go back. The far-right had taken full control of the messaging just as Trump entered the picture and exemplified the bigotry and divisiveness that had been raging online.

Side note: Miller's book is an excellent read. Better yet, if you have the chance to listen to it, the narrator perfectly captures Miller's biting sarcasm and hilarious irreverence as the author details the "Republican Road to Hell."

It was the perfect union between two critical power centers of the Republican party, so naturally this dangerous descent into madness only accelerated during his presidency. By January 6th, after months of spreading lies and anger about a stolen election, Trump summoned his far-right and white nationalist supporters to Washington to take part in a violent insurrection to overthrow the government.

The country was in shock. Our democracy was at risk. And Republicans finally had the opportunity to remove their disgraced president from office. In one of the most consequential decisions for a political party in its history, Republican senators chose not to convict Trump after the House of Representatives issued articles of impeachment for a second time.

A treasonous coup attempt was literally what the founders has envisioned when they enshrined "high crimes and misdemeanors" into the United States Constitution. For Republicans, it was an astounding dereliction of their duty as elected officials and a rejection of their solemn oath to defend that Constitution. The party still needed his ardent base of supporters, so the Republican apparatus worked tirelessly to diminish the horror of what had happened.

In that crucial moment, did they choose country over party? No. Decency over obscenity? Nope. Normal over crazy? Not a chance.  

But now, as another national election once again proves, Trump may be costing Republicans the one thing that a failed insurrection did not.    

Loss of power? Ah, now we're talking.

For more, read Tim Miller's latest in the Bulwark

If Mitch McConnell Is Still in the Minority It’s His Own Damn Fault
Republicans had two (recent) chances to rid themselves of Trump. Instead, they humored him. So much downside.

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