Who are you? What do you believe? Well, here’s what we know: You’ve changed. You are no longer a political party based on traditional principles, beliefs, and policies. Some of you are part of a cult; you have lost all sense of what it means to be a Republican. In fact, it seems that those who still support Trump have lost their senses, period.
You could see this coming a mile away. Trump told the Party, in words and deeds, who he was when he was running in 2016 and he kept his promises during the next four years and beyond. Trump’s intimidation of opponents, the threats of violence to those who disagreed with him, his egotistical demand for total obedience, his seemingly impossible ability to tell the truth about anything, his mocking members of the military and those with disabilities, a TV huckster and grifter with no record of public service, someone who invented enemies and promoted fear of the “other,” whose disaster of a personal life included a series of divorces and affairs, well—you could go on. Not in anyone’s wildest dreams would the Republican Party support someone of this caliber to be their presidential candidate and actually expect he could get elected. I mean, seriously.
Trump’s presidency resulted in many casualties; but perhaps the most significant is the Republican Party itself. It has changed beyond recognition. In reality, it has ceased to exist. The party didn’t even bother to provide a Platform for the 2020 election. Declaring fealty to Donald Trump is the party platform. This devolution of the Republican Party is documented in the book, The Power of Partisanship (Dyke and Pearson-Merkowitz, Oxford Press, 2023).
Issues and policies—even core beliefs—didn’t take a back seat to the nominee. Heck, they weren’t even along for the ride. Maybe that was a tip-of-the-hat to the truth; that the Republican Party’s core beliefs are whatever Trump says they are. Belief in Party means belief in Trump. Two impeachments and an attempted coup didn’t change that. Here’s an example, exemplified by Senator Lindsay Graham, who went from calling candidate Trump a “race-baiting, xenophobic bigot” (interview on CNN, Dec 8, 2015), to announcing the Republican Party had become the party of Trump and couldn’t continue without him.
He actually called it the “Trump Republican Party” (NBC News, May 2021). Trump hasn’t changed; what changed was the Party. And it has to be added, so too the voters who supported Trump, as well as the party leaders who came to fear him.
How else can you explain the results of a recent poll by the Wall Street Journal (September 4, 2023) showing Trump would be the first choice of 59% of Republican voters. In fact, that same poll showed 48% of Republicans were more likely to vote for Trump following the four criminal indictments, which, by the way, included conspiracy to defraud the United States.
Think about that. Trump is accused of 91 criminal charges across four jurisdictions. To believe these charges were somehow cooked up by the Justice Department requires that you suspend all sense of reality—that you didn’t see what you saw or hear what you heard. Losing your senses may be understandable if we were talking about a small group of zealots—but an entire political party?
Do Republicans not know that grand juries, not the Justice Department, decide whether or not to indict? Did Republicans not see dozens of boxes of confidential information in unsecured locations at Mar-a-Largo? Did Republicans not hear Trump urge the Governor of Georgia to “find” 11,781 votes? Did Republicans not see or hear his call for the termination of the Constitution on his Truth Social post (Dec. 4, 2022)? Did Republicans not hear his willingness to share confidential information with journalists and others not cleared to receive such information? Do more than half of Republican respondents in a Reuters poll really believe the siege of the Capitol was “largely a non-violent protest or the handiwork of left-wing activists trying to make Trump look bad?” Do 60% of Republicans actually believe that Trump would have won the election had it not been for widespread voter fraud (Oliphant and Kahn 2021) even though, in recounts and judicial findings in state after state, no such evidence existed? Is it OK that Trump has promised retribution to non-supporters? Has he not proven, with the last three elections, that he’s a loser?
That’s a lot of questions but there really is only one answer. Trump supporters made a conscious decision to continue to support him, no matter what. And he’s making millions from them with each new indictment.
Welcome to the world of the Trump Republican Party. If the Party is unable to recover its sanity, then it will be up to the voters. Here’s hoping both regain their senses—and their principles—before it really is too late.
Marsha Shearer is a resident of The Villages and the author of “America in Crisis: Essays on the Failed Presidency of Donald J. Trump.”