It’s official: House Republicans put Trump first, not America
Forget about “America First.” House Republicans have put Donald Trump first, abjectly surrendering to his seditious campaign to undermine Americans’ confidence in their democratic institutions.
That’s sparked the retirement of Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), who warned his colleagues that Trump’s lies and lawlessness will lead Republicans to defeat again in next year’s presidential contest.
Unlike members of the Freedom Caucus, the new Speaker ostensibly is a nice guy. A change in tone is welcome, but it won’t mean much so long as GOP leaders remain mesmerized by Trump, either because they adore him or are terrified that he’ll urge his followers to turn them out of office.
Having played a prominent role in the shambolic plot to overturn Joe Biden’s 2020 victory, Johnson doesn’t seem like the leader the GOP needs to free his party from Trump’s autocratic grip. On the contrary, his elevation confirms national Republicans’ continuing descent into a MAGA maelstrom of lies, persecution mania and collective self-delusion.
It was bad enough that 139 House Republicans, nearly two-thirds of their caucus, voted against certifying Biden’s election on Jan. 6, 2021. Their three-week struggle last month to elect a new Speaker ended in a total rout of traditional conservatives and normie Republicans who still feel some responsibility for public truth-telling and governing.
True, a group of just over 20 (including Buck) rallied to block Rep. Jim Jordan’s (R-Ohio) bid to be speaker, despite Trump’s enthusiastic endorsement. But that fleeting rebuff to extremism only underscored how pathetically few elected Republicans are willing to stand up to Trump’s dictates.
Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn), who voted to certify Biden’s victory, lasted just hours as a Speaker nominee before realizing that the Freedom Caucus anarchists who ousted Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) would never vote for an institutionalist like him. Trump piled on, slurring his party’s majority whip as a “globalist RINO” (Republican In Name Only) who had shown insufficient respect for “the power of a Trump Endorsement.”
Trump’s attack on a top GOP legislative leader sent a blunt message to House Republicans: You owe me blind loyalty; I owe you nothing. Their whipped-dog submission leaves Senate Republicans, led by a frail Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), as the last redoubt in Washington of genuine conservatism and resistance to the far-right “Blob” that is steadily absorbing their party.
America has seen populist demagogues before — former Louisiana Gov. Huey Long, Sen. Joe McCarthy, Sen. George Wallace — but the total subordination of one of our major parties to the will of a single person is unprecedented in U.S. politics.
It’s usually best to avoid analogies to Nazi Germany, which risk trivializing its uniquely horrific crimes. But Trump’s idolization by party zealots is creepily reminiscent of Germany’s cult of Fuhrerprinzip, which held that the leader could do no wrong and must be obeyed without question.
Fear of his fanatically devoted followers explains why national Republican leaders have failed so miserably to refute Trump’s “stolen election” fantasy or hold him accountable for the treacherous Jan. 6 attack on Congress.
Their craven silence only emboldens Trump to dive deeper into his rabbit hole of paranoia and seething self-pity. Now he’s raging against another branch of the U.S. government — the judicial system.
Pathologically unable to accept responsibility for his misdeeds, he’s pushing a new Big Lie: The 91 felony charges filed against him in three states and the District of Columbia are all part of an elaborate Democratic conspiracy to “weaponize” the government against him.
This is a typical Trumpian projection. He’s the one politicizing his many court cases with the transparent aim of undermining Americans’ confidence in the integrity of our criminal justice system.
On social media, Trump sounds more like a crime boss than a former president as he attacks judges, intimidates witnesses and falsely maligns court officials who then receive death threats from his supporters. He’s been fined twice for violating gag orders imposed by frustrated judges.
Trump also rails against the FBI and the Justice Department, absurdly accusing Biden of orchestrating independent federal prosecutor Jack Smith’s investigations and threatening payback if he gets back into the White House.
It’s no idle threat. If Trump were to return to the White House, who doubts that he would use his powers to wreak vengeance on his many enemies, including the half of America that votes Democratic? If Trump gets his party’s nomination but loses, who doubts that he’ll cry foul again, only this time with a compliant Republican Speaker and House to help him steal the election?
And what happens if he’s convicted next year of some of the crimes he’s been charged with and sentenced to jail? Trump wouldn’t go quietly, and he might again summon MAGA mobs to violent attacks on America’s legal system in the middle of a national election.
Trump has corrupted the Republican Party by making it the instrument of his personal vendetta against anyone or any institution that stands in his way. He’s forcing the party to choose between appeasing his rabid followers and defending democratic institutions and the rule of law.
Republicans can put Trump first or put America first, but they can’t do both.
Will Marshall is the founder and president of the Progressive Policy Institute.