Giving away the Grand Old Party

Published May 28, 2020

By Thomas Mills

Armed militia stormed the Michigan statehouse and a North Carolina Subway, threatening governors over stay-at-home orders designed to keep coronavirus from spreading. Donald Trump accused television personality Joe Scarborough of murder despite no evidence to back up his claim. Right-wing activists have declared wearing masks a threat to their freedom. In North Carolina, the husband of the leader of the ReOpenNC movement says he’s “willing to kill people.” Barely a peep out of Republican elected officials. That’s today’s GOP. 

Jay Nordlinger, an editor at National Review and Reagan Republican with no use for Donald Trump, tweeted, “Trump has been a Republican for a short period of time. But he is free to hurl the term ‘RINO.’ It’s amazing how quickly he captured an entire, grand, old party.” 

His tweet says a lot about the Republican Party and the naivety of people like Nordlinger. The reactionaries who have taken over his party have been part of the GOP coalition for decades. They’ve always been animated by race and xenophobia, not free markets and free trade. The resentment fueled by rising inequality caused by supply-side economics has swelled the ranks of the populist right and, ironically, devoured the party that Nordlinger and the Reagan Revolutionaries built. 

 What’s more surprising than Trump’s takeover of the GOP is the response from those Republicans who once seemed based more in reality than reaction. Tribalism has swallowed educated, thoughtful Republicans who, just a few years ago, would have rejected the conspiracy theories and anti-science rhetoric that dominates the GOP today. They refuse to criticize either the president for his conspiracy mongering or the militia’s that try to intimidate government leaders. They’ve downplayed the threat of the virus, pointing out that most people are either old or have underlying conditions, as if their lives are somehow less valuable.

The party that calls itself pro-life is unwilling to put into practice policies that will protect our most vulnerable people and sit silent while militiamen threaten to kill government officials who want to them to wear masks. The GOP has become a party of extremists and conspiracy theorists.  

Never-Trumpers are trying to bring their party back from the brink, but they are probably too late. The people in the party who should be standing up to the president and the militiamen are instead cowed by them. The silence from Republican elected officials and pundits is telling. They would rather have a country led by ignorant, angry white men with guns than one led by Democrats who would build a stronger social safety net and more broadly shared economic prosperity.  People like Nordlinger didn’t lose their party. They gave it away.