Donald Trump is not going to fade away. Axios’ Mike Allen reports this:
In his first post-presidential appearance, Donald Trump plans to send the message next weekend that he is Republicans’ “presumptive 2024 nominee” with a vise grip on the party’s base, top Trump allies tell Axios.
A longtime adviser called Trump’s speech a “show of force,” and said the message will be: “I may not have Twitter or the Oval Office, but I’m still in charge.” Payback is his chief obsession.
Those who crossed him will pay. This is about vengeance. It’s his political party now and it exists for vengeance and nothing else at all:
Trump advisers will meet with him at Mar-a-Lago this week to plan his next political moves, and to set up the machinery for kingmaking in the 2022 midterms.
Trump is expected to stoke primary challenges for some of those who have crossed him, and shower money and endorsements on the Trumpiest candidates.
State-level officials, fresh off censuring Trump critics, stand ready to back him up.
What does the party stand for? Who cares? He’s going to bring on the pain:
Trump’s speech Sunday at CPAC in Orlando is designed to show that he controls the party, whether or not he runs in 2024.
His advisers argue that his power within the GOP runs deeper and broader than ever, and that no force can temper him.
“Trump effectively is the Republican Party,” Trump senior adviser Jason Miller told me. “The only chasm is between Beltway insiders and grassroots Republicans around the country. When you attack President Trump, you’re attacking the Republican grassroots.”
So this is how the Republicans take back the House and Senate in 2022 and then the White House in 2024 by mobilizing all angry Americans. Trump will have only one message – They attacked me. That means they attacked you. Make them pay for that.
That’s not subtle but that will do:
The few Republicans who have spoken ill of Trump since the election – including House members who voted to impeach him, and senators who voted to convict – have found themselves censured, challenged and vilified by the parties in their home states. Trump’s leadership PAC, Save America, has $75 million on hand, and he has a database of tens of millions of names.
He’s out to hurt some people. And he has the means to do so. And he will hurt them. This is not the party of ideas, of principles and policies. He’s going to hurt some people:
Many Trump confidants think he’ll pretend to run but ultimately pass. He knows the possibility – or threat – gives him leverage and attention.
A Trump source said some Republicans have told him: “If you endorse me, I’ll run.”
But advisers say that’s not how it’ll work. This week’s meeting will aim to tap the brakes.
Instead, Trump is going to set up a formal process for vetting potential endorsees, including a requirement that they raise money and put together an organization.
It’s not enough that each of them promises to take out his enemies, those who betrayed him. Motive doesn’t mean much. They need to prove to him that they have the means to do that. He’ll then provide the opportunity.
But the rest is just the usual:
Trump plans to argue in the CPAC speech that many of his predictions about President Biden have already come true. Look for Trump to lay into “the swamp” and Beltway insiders in a big way. The Trump source said: “Much like 2016, we’re taking on Washington again.”
That’s it? Michael Gerson weeps for his party:
From an ideological perspective, the Republican Party is a patient without a pulse. The only real question: Are we ready to declare time of death?
This might be that time:
It wasn’t that long ago that GOP libertarians engaged in spirited debates with GOP communitarians – between those who sought to eliminate and privatize government functions and those who sought to reform them. Then came the tea party movement, claiming to defend a “constitutional conservatism.” But its stated goal of returning the U.S. government to the scale and role of an 18th-century agrarian republic was so absurd that it guaranteed disappointment. At that point, many Republican activists – marinated in talk radio and other conservative media – found their real unifying goals were attacking outsiders and “owning” liberals. Eventually, Trump intuited and embodied this pure negativity.
And now Republicans have nothing:
If the test of an ideology is the ability to set limits and prudently balance competing goods, Trumpism utterly fails. Some thinkers have tried to give it an intellectual structure. But there is a fundamental difference between the application of political principles and the rationalization of destructive passions. You can have principled discussions, for example, on immigration policy that try to balance compassion and security. Nativism, in contrast, has no limiting principle. There is always another immigrant to slander, always another refugee to defame. If the entire goal is to provoke the anger that unifies your followers, discussion, disagreement and even truth are irrelevant. The same applies to targets such as socialists, globalists, multiculturalists and liberals more broadly. The objective is not to debate opponents; it is to smash them.
And that led to this:
In this sense, Trump’s Jan. 6 speech was the most important and revealing of his presidency. He did not try to persuade his opponents with arguments. And he did not merely engage in political trash talk – the genre of presidential rhetoric he pioneered. He defined a lawless, scheming enemy on the verge of destroying the United States, who his followers must defeat by any means necessary, including intimidation and force. The speech was either the summary of a mercifully short political career – or the inaugural address for a Weimar America.
But it works:
This reduction of politics to the contest of incited mobs has an undeniable appeal to the activist base of the Republican Party. Even worse, it has not seriously alienated the mainstream of Republican voters. There seems to be little demand for a principled conservatism, offering policy arguments and policy alternatives in the real world.
So all is lost, maybe:
That type of conservatism still exists, in offices at the American Enterprise Institute, among idealistic Capitol Hill staffers, and in state governments around the country. My advice? Given the entrenchment of the two-party system, the best option seems to be remaining in the GOP as long as conscience allows. Sometimes you struggle to win. Sometimes you struggle to keep something important alive. Both are noble callings.
Meanwhile, I wish we had arguments in the GOP.
Gerson was George W. Bush’s chief speechwriter from 2001 until June 2006, and a senior policy advisor, and a member of the White House Iraq Group. Those were the days!
But everything changes. David Siders offers this:
When Jim Hendren, a longtime Arkansas state legislator, announced on Thursday that he was leaving the GOP, it marked the latest in a flurry of recent defections from the party.
Tens of thousands of Republicans across the country have changed their registrations in the weeks since the riot at the Capitol – many of them, like Hendren, becoming independents. Other former party officials are discussing forming a third party.
But if the Republicans’ reasons for leaving the GOP are obvious – primarily, disdain for former President Donald Trump and his stranglehold on the party – the sobering reality confronting them on the other side is that there’s really no place to go.
There are no options:
The Democratic Party, which continues to move leftward, isn’t a good ideological fit. Those who want to fight to recapture the GOP from within are vastly outnumbered. Building a third party from scratch requires gigantic sums of money and overcoming a thicket of daunting state laws designed in large part by the two major parties.
“Right now, everybody’s just trying to figure out how to coalesce what is a small fraction of the Republican Party — what do we do with it,” said former Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh, who unsuccessfully challenged Trump for the Republican presidential nomination. “And starting a third party is extremely difficult.”
Walsh said he and others who have left the GOP are “kind of in the wilderness.”
And it’s not nice out there:
For a small but significant subset of the Republican Party, this is the affliction of the post-Trump GOP: Republicans who break with the former president are not only on their own, they are under attack from a base that remains steadfastly loyal to him.
“What I see in the Republican Party is the next four to eight years are going to be a civil war that is going to leave many people homeless,” said Hendren, who is the nephew of Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
Blame Donald Trump. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent sees this:
When Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference next weekend, his message will go a lot deeper than simply reinforcing the message that the GOP is still Trump’s party. The message will also be that he will endorse primary challenges to anti-Trump heretics – meaning Republicans who hope for political futures must maintain absolute loyalty to him.
If so, then this:
This ongoing development calls forth obligations from Democrats. First, they need to communicate effectively with the public about what a malignancy on democracy the GOP is becoming amid this worsening radicalization.
Second, this recognition gives rise to another one – that, broadly speaking, the GOP simply will not function anytime soon as a participant in our democracy when it comes to addressing large public problems. That means Democrats have to go as big as possible on policy in their first two years, on their own if necessary.
In short, someone needs to get things done, and it won’t be the Republicans:
Loyalty to Trump means Republicans must pledge absolute fealty to his evolving mythology. The 2020 election was a monstrous injustice perpetrated on Trump (it was stolen from him), and whatever efforts he undertook to overturn the results were uniformly peaceful (he had nothing to do with the violent insurrection) and an absolutely legitimate effort to right that wrong.
As Democratic strategist Dan Pfeiffer points out, GOP voters are far more in thrall to Trump’s mythos than to anything elected party leaders tell them. This will make it hard to evolve the party past Trump without fracturing it.
That may be impossible. It’s the party of personal vengeance now. There’s nothing left to fracture. There’s nothing left now. But it’s all Trump’s.