There are a number of posts on this blog chronicling the directions of both major U.S. political parties and the polarization endemic in American politics today. The Republican Party in particular, which has been moving away from the center for some time, has accelerated rightward under Donald Trump. As a product of that rightward lurch, the GOP has blatantly violated long-standing political norms and behaved ways that have contributed to the country’s backslide toward authoritarianism.
Now, several high-ranking Republicans are refusing to recognize Joe Biden as the legitimate president-elect despite him clearly winning the 2020 presidential election. They’re throwing around baseless accusations of voter fraud that not only will fail to change the outcomes of any state contests but also undermine the public’s trust in our democracy. The lame duck Trump administration is doing everything it can to cling to power, or at least make the transition as difficult as possible. Several officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, are acting as if Trump has won a second term and enabling his asinine legal crusades.
The fact that most Republicans are either willfully sticking with Trump or are too scared to challenge him publicly is a sign that the once-proud party of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan has been reduced to a Trumpian cabal. Trump will retain his position as kingmaker in the Republican Party despite losing—he’s already discussing plans to run again in 2024, and it’ll be difficult to imagine a new crop of Republican leaders steering the party in a different direction with him trying to retain the spotlight. In other words, the Trumpist cancer in our political system will continue to metastasize.
But Trump is as much symptom of Republicans’ behavior as he is the cause. After languishing in the minority at the Congressional level for much of the twentieth century, Republicans have been obsessed with retaining their power. If demography is truly destiny, then they have reason for concern as their base continues to shrink relative to the rest of the population. But rather than moderate their positions to appeal to a broader swath of the electorate and remain competitive, Republicans have chosen to dig in and manipulate institutions to prolong minority rule. Gerrymandering and the Supreme Court are two major examples of that.
Republicans’ Faustian bargain in 2016 has only accelerated this corrosive behavior. Because of Trump’s fanatic base and ability to activate new voters, the party was able to win back the presidency, securing some policy goals in the short term and rigging institutions in the longer term. But Trump eschews traditional conservative orthodoxy and is openly disdainful of democratic institutions. As a result, he’s corrupted the very soul of the Republican Party, which is so afraid of being out of power that it’s willing to compromise all that it once stood for to secure another win.
The consequences of this are dire. If Republicans can’t even accept basic facts or respect the will of a majority of American voters, what else will they do to attempt to stay in power? Don’t be surprised if there’s a push from MAGA land to get Republican legislatures in states that went blue to certify a different slate of electors on the grounds that mass voter fraud swung those states to Biden. While I think it’s quite unlikely that push would be successful, the fact that there’s even discussion of it is alarming. And as state legislatures begin the redistricting process next year, expect states controlled by Republicans to draw district maps that are even more gerrymandered than they are now, especially in Arizona and Georgia.
The sad reality is that one of America’s two major political parties is actively trying to subvert the will of the people. While Democrats may have wrestled the White House away from Trump, 2020 was not the resounding rebuke of Trumpism that they were hoping for. Trump will continue to play an active role in Republican—and national—politics for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight to this downward spiral.