At this point, it’s become abundantly clear that the GOP has devolved into something akin to a personality cult, where the leader has seemingly figured out that conquering an entire political party is as simple as playing to its members’ ingrained prejudices and fears, which just happen to align nicely with those of disaffected middle- and lower-income white voters.
Over the past couple of years, Republicans have abandoned even the pretense that they care about things which should matter to GOP lawmakers – things like fiscal discipline, respect for war heroes, free trade and a commitment to stand by America’s allies in the fight against hostile foreign powers bent on splintering the country’s democracy.
All that matters now, apparently, is loyalty to a president who has managed to captivate a certain demographic with a mix of populist appeal, tacky jingoism and xenophobia. To be clear, Trump’s narrative is absurd in the extreme. A billionaire narcissist who inherited a fortune and lives in a gold-adorned penthouse is the champion of the working man. A silver-spooner who received five deferments (one for dubious foot injuries) and denigrates one of America’s most famous POWs is an advocate for the military and for veterans. And on, and on.
Sadly, many undereducated voters, having long ago lost the plot (any plot) and lacking a frame of reference for life in general, bought Trump’s narrative and remain content to suspend disbelief. GOP lawmakers, on the other hand, want the support of those voters and seem to relish watching Trump openly express the kind of virulent, misogynistic, xenophobic sentiments they wouldn’t dare voice publicly. And then there’s Trump’s determination to roll back any and all Obama-era policies.
This has transformed the likes of Lindsey Graham into raving sycophants, who are almost unrecognizable by comparison to who they were prior to Trump’s presidency. (Meghan McCain, who famously called Graham “uncle Lindsey” when her father was still alive, this week said of Graham: “Whatever is happening to him, this is not the person I used to know”.)
On Tuesday evening, we got the latest manifestation of this truly disconcerting phenomenon when Republican Senate hopeful Kris Kobach told Chris Cuomo that it would be “a really tough question” on whether to support Trump as president if he (Trump) came out and said “I’m a racist”. Here is the exchange:
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That’s what it’s come to. Asked unequivocally, whether he would support an avowed racist for President of the United States, Kobach said “I’d have to know who’s running against him”.
To be fair to Kobach, I suppose that’s technically true. After all, the alternative could be another racist. Or a reincarnated Joseph Stalin. Or maybe Nicolas Maduro, having somehow made it onto the ballot after fleeing Venezuela.
Jokes aside, that speaks to just how afraid of Trump Republicans really are. After all, there is a simple answer to Cuomo’s question. Here, I’ll take a stab at it: “Chris, I know what you’re getting at, and I realize you have a liberal audience to placate, but you’re posing a hypothetical and if you’re asking whether I would rather have an openly racist reality TV show host in the Oval Office as opposed to an equally strong-willed, less unpredictable, traditional Republican advancing the same legislative priorities in way that doesn’t invite controversy, the answer is obviously ‘No'”.
But that doesn’t work anymore, because it seems like GOP lawmakers are terrified of saying anything that might risk landing them on the wrong end of a morning Twitter rant from the president, and thereby deep-sixing their chances to curry favor with his base.
Kobach wasn’t alone. On Wednesday morning, Trump quoted Senator John Kennedy who, while appearing on Tucker Carlson’s propaganda hour Tuesday, said this:
I don’t think President Trump is a racist. I don’t think his original tweet was racist. I think it was a poor choice of words, which is why he clarified. I’m not sure the president should exchange playground insults with them. When you try to argue with a fool, that proves there are two. But the president decided to do so. The simple fact of the matter is that the four congresswomen think that America was wicked in its origins and they think we are even more wicked now. They think we are all evil. They are entitled to their opinion. They are Americans. But I’m entitled to my opinion, and I just think they are left-wing cranks and they are the reason that there are directions on a shampoo bottle.
At least he gets credit for implicitly calling the president a “fool” (Trump didn’t mention that part when he quoted Kennedy).
But the issue is that a sitting senator dignified Carlson (who has himself engaged in vile attacks on Ilhan Omar) with a cameo in the first place and then claimed, falsely, that Omar, Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley “think America was wicked in its origins”.
Note that by describing that baseless claim as a “simple fact”, Kennedy is deliberately manipulating Fox’s viewers who are notoriously gullible. There is nothing “factual” about Kennedy’s claims. Republicans say “look at what the congresswomen have said”, knowing that virtually nobody in Trump’s base will actually do that. If they did, what they would discover is that Ilhan Omar’s March speech and her 2013 interview with PBS Minnesota, are not, when taken in context, offensive. But that doesn’t matter because, again, Trump voters don’t care.
In addition to calling Omar, Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and Pressley “cranks” and too stupid to understand how to use shampoo, Kennedy branded them – and I kid you not – “the four horsewomen of the apocalypse”.
The fearmongering has become a caricature of itself.