A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away Republican elites claimed that they didn’t like Donald Trump very much. They didn’t support him in the primary. Many said or implied that they wouldn’t vote for him in the general election.
But at some point each one of them reasoned that the right thing to do was to don the MAGA hat in order to ensure that Trump made good on the policy priorities they most valued.
They acknowledged the trade-off. Trump would make them eat some shit sandwiches with the tweets and the corruption and the protectionism and the race baiting. But they’d get theirs. This was the genesis of the “But Gorsuch” meme.
At the time, some of us asked . . . are you sure you know what’s in this sandwich?
Today that’s now clear.
More than 39,000 Americans are dead from a pandemic that was ignored while the president was vainly consumed with the state of the stock market and keeping the numbers down. We are confronted daily with a president utterly incapable of truthfully explaining the stakes, or calling the nation to shared sacrifice, or even merely striking a tone that allows for communal grieving.
That elite Republicans have endorsed this horrifying display of tragic mismanagement lays bare what Trump has taken from each person who made this deal, how much of their soul he has sucked from their body.
It’s striking how little they actually got out of the bargain.
But what’s even more striking is that, instead of being angered at their having been being suckered by Trump, or ashamed of it, Republicans decided to accept—and even to celebrate—the parts of Trumpism that they had once regarded as the regrettable price of the exchange.
Look what he has made them give.
Accepting his party’s nod in Cleveland, Trump gave a dark, dispiriting, angry speech. Those who cut the deal looked both ways and cheered.
Mounting the dais on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Inauguration Day, he delivered his “American Carnage” address, the least uplifting, uniting, or optimistic inaugural address on record. And yet they cheered.
Once in office, Trump turned his rhetoric on immigration to action at the border. He ordered crackdowns on asylum seekers, separated children from their parents, and kept human beings in cages. They cheered.
He went to Europe and insulted our NATO allies, praised Vladimir Putin, and began dismantling the post-World War II security apparatus. They cheered.
He pushed through spending programs that blew a massive hole in our budget, grew the deficit, and sent our national debt into orbit. He passed a tax cut that overwhelmingly favored the wealthy and large corporations. And what did the Republicans, the party of fiscal responsibility and “main street” conservatism do? They cheered.
When Trump started a trade war with China that drove up prices of consumer goods and pushed small farms into bankruptcy what did Republicans say? Trump is showing the Chinese who’s boss! When he then bailed out Big Ag and corporate farms to cover his losses, where was the GOP? Somewhere in a lonely field, kicking the dirt.
Last summer, when Donald Trump made his “perfect phone call” to the Ukrainian president pressuring him to undertake a domestic political errand, and subsequently withholding military aid from an ally facing down the Russian bear, how did Republicans respond? They said that the president can do what he wants. That presidents do this all the time. That Joe Biden is the real crook. That no one can find Ukraine on a map.
After being impeached for abusing his office, what did Republicans say? That it’s a witch hunt. That they’re trying to keep us down. That it’s all the media and socialist Democrats’ fault.
As the evidence of Trump’s malfeasance mounted, what did Republicans do? They asked no questions, called no witnesses, and claimed the president was within his rights to do whatever he wants.
In February, when it became clear that COVID-19 was a crisis and that Trump had fumbled it, what did Republicans say? It’s not as bad as everyone says. It’s the fault of the Chinese Communist Party. Let the old people die.
And this week, when Donald Trump finally said the not-so-quiet part out loud, that he’s the president and that means he has “total” authority, as if he were a king? Where was the party of federalism and small government and the rule of law? At least this time, some of them didn’t cheer. They just insisted that the media was worse.
The deal that Republicans made with Donald Trump was never going to be a good one.
But with tens of thousands of people dead, the economy in shambles, and a historic crisis requiring a competent leader, do they still, in the silence of their own hearts, think, “But Gorsuch”?
For it should no longer surprise us that Republicans have turned over the kingdom to Donald Trump.
It is sad, though, how cheaply they gave it up.