First, an aside: Trump is not the Republican Party’s only problem, only their biggest one at the moment. The Republicans in Congress might appear, at first glance, both conservative enough and anti-Obama enough, but there has been a split for the last couple of years between a faction of House Republicans called the Freedom Caucus–essentially the Tea Party–and the more pragmatic, “establishment” Republicans. Speaker Paul Ryan is not one of the Freedom Caucus–in fact, if you get him at the right moment, you’ll hear him almost sounding like a Democrat on the subject of poverty in America–but he did make some concessions to the Freedom Caucus to get their support as Speaker of the House last year when John Boehner decided he’d had enough and resigned. (The key to where the two factions are different is that the more extreme Republicans will actually shut down the government to get Planned Parenthood excluded from federal reimbursements, among other hardline goals.) This is the schism in the party that we’d be hearing a lot more about, if the party didn’t have bigger problems to deal with right now in the person of Donald J. Trump.
But, at the moment, the party’s biggest problem most certainly is Trump. Here’s the thing. Anybody who ever confused Trump with a team player who ultimately wanted what’s best for the party–or the nation–was indulging in willful self-delusion. If anybody imagined that Trump would ever, under any circumstances, decide that the best thing he could do for the party and the country would be to bow out of the race, that fantasy is surely a snuffed-out ember now. What’s happening now is that, as more and more Republicans either explicitly or implicitly step away from supporting Trump, Trump is now letting it be known that he doesn’t need them, that he doesn’t care what they want him to do and how they want him to do it in this campaign, and that “the shackles are off.” (Making Bill Clinton’s past sexual indiscretions a campaign issue is a prime example of what party leaders did not want done. Trump cares what they want done about as much as the cat cares about whether the mouse would like to be eaten.)
Now, there isn’t just one type of American who’s voting for Trump. There are some who don’t like him but think he’s slightly better than Hillary Clinton, and there are some who will vote for him simply because he’s the Republican candidate and they want the Republican party to control the White House. But when you strip those layers away, there’s the much smaller core of die-hard supporters: the ones who actually like Trump and think he is what the country needs. And within those ranks–again, still not all of them–can be found what I, personally, Ben Alexander, consider to be a fascist movement.
A fascist movement feels no debt of loyalty to any political party or any government institution. A fascist movement is driven by a kind of emotional, unalloyed hypernationalism, combined with the sense that the nation is under siege by subversive internal forces that it takes a strong leader to rescue it from. A fascist movement is an expression of reactionary populism: the sense of a people’s uprising, a struggle by the people to restore a past glory, a past pride, a past birthright and heritage that has been usurped from them. Usurped by what? Liberalism, for one. “Political correctness,” closely related. Some number of Trump’s die-hard supporters don’t regard his opponents as fellow Americans with different political opinions. They regard Trump’s opponents as America’s enemies. And, though it doesn’t follow any simple straight line, race and racism certainly do play a part. (There are those out there who actually regard the opposition to Trump as a war against white men.)
It needs to be remembered that Trump has already called for “volunteer poll watchers” to be helping guard against voter fraud on Election Day. Translation: Toughs prowling around the polls making their presence known, attempting to intimidate. There may be violence on Election Day, spurred by the new, “unshackled” Trump who, feeling betrayed by the Republican Party, is rallying his core supporters in a war against the party, what he calls a war for the American people.
And he’s still the Republican nominee.
I do not envy Paul Ryan or Reince Priebus right about now. The Republican Party has its problems. Big ones.
The country does too. BIG ones.
Politico story on Paul Ryan’s dilemma
Politico story on Trump’s new war on the GOP