The Big Lie Has Become a Litmus Test

Republicans who admit Joe Biden won the election fair and square are being driven from the party.

The specter of Donald Trump continues to linger over the Republican Party, making a return to sanctity next to impossible. Ashley Parker and Marianna Sotomayor document how much this is so for WaPo in “For Republicans, fealty to Trump’s election falsehood becomes defining loyalty test.” They begin with a longwinded anecdote:

Debra Ell, a Republican organizer in Michigan and fervent supporter of former president Donald Trump, said she has good reason to believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

“I think I speak for many people in that Trump has never actually been wrong, and so we’ve learned to trust when he says something, that he’s not just going to spew something out there that’s wrong and not verified,” she said, referring to Trump’s baseless claims that widespread electoral fraud caused his loss to President Biden in November.

In fact, there is no evidence to support Trump’s false assertions, which culminated in a deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. But Ell, a Republican precinct delegate in her state, said the 2020 election is one of the reasons she’s working to censure and remove Jason Cabel Roe from his role as the Michigan Republican Party’s executive director — specifically that Roe accepted the 2020 results, telling Politico that “the election wasn’t stolen” and that “there is no one to blame but Trump.”

“He said the election was not rigged, as Donald Trump had said, so we didn’t agree with that, and then he didn’t blame the Democrats for any election fraud,” said Ell, explaining her frustration with Roe. “He said there was no fraud — again, that’s something that doesn’t line up with what we think really happened — and then he said it’s all Donald Trump’s fault.”

That some nutjob in Michigan is a moron really doesn’t prove much of anything. But, in this case, the plural of anecdote really is data.

Nearly six months after Trump lost to Biden, rejection of the 2020 election results — dubbed the “Big Lie” by many Democrats — has increasingly become an unofficial litmus test for acceptance in the Republican Party. In January, 147 GOP lawmakers — eight senators and 139 House members — voted in support of objections to the election results, and since then, Republicans from Congress to statehouses to local party organizations have fervently embraced the falsehood.

In Washington, normally chatty senators scramble to skirt the question, and internal feuding over who is to blame for the Jan. 6 insurrection has riven the House Republican leadership, with tensions between House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 House Republican, spilling into public view. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is facing a Trump-aligned primary challenger in her 2022 race, inspired by her call for Trump to resign after the Jan. 6 attack and her later vote to convict him over his role in inciting the insurrection.

Local officials, too, are facing censure and threats — in states from Iowa to Michigan to Missouri — for publicly accepting the election results. And in Arizona’s largest county, a hand recount of 2.1 million votes cast in November is underway by Republicans who dispute the results, in yet another effort to overturn the results of the November contest.

State parties across the country are moving to censure the handful of elected Republican leaders who dare to speak the truth, with even Mitt Romney not escaping the heat. And, rather obviously, this is a serious handicap to fixing what ails the party and making it more competitive going forward.

The issue also could reverberate through the 2022 midterms and the 2024 election, with Trump already slamming Republicans who did not resist the election results. For Republicans, fealty to the falsehood could pull the party further to the right during the primaries, providing challenges during the general election when wooing more-moderate voters is crucial. And for Democrats, the continued existence of the claim threatens to undermine Biden’s agenda.

Arguably, this phenomenon cost the party the two Georgia Senate seats that made the difference between Mitch McConnell continuing on as Majority Leader and Kamala Harris as the tie-breaker. Not only did it require the two Republican candidates to be even more extreme to keep up the ruse but it almost certainly made some would-be Republican voters sit it out because they genuinely believed their votes would be stolen. It’s sheer idiocy.

And even leaders who had the courage to admit the obvious are now going wobbly:

After the 2020 election, in which Georgia went for Biden — and later elected two Democratic senators in a runoff in January — Kemp signed a sweeping law that critics say restricts voting access in the state. The new law provoked a public outcry from voting rights activists and major corporations — Major League Baseball moved its 2021 All-Star Game out of Atlanta in response — but also proved an insufficient step for many Republicans who still say the election was stolen.

“There’s no Republican that I know of, that I’ve spoken with, who has come to me and said, ‘Biden won fair and square,’ ” said Salleigh Grubbs, the newly elected chair of the Cobb County Republican Party in Georgia. “I absolutely do believe that there were irregularities in the election. I absolutely believe that our voices were shut out.”

In Washington, McCarthy has backpedaled from his original reaction to the Jan. 6 attacks, when he said that Trump “bears responsibility,” defending Trump’s response in a recent “Fox News Sunday” interview. At the House Republicans annual policy retreat last week, he also pointedly declined to say whether Cheney — who has publicly criticized Trump’s refusal to accept the election results — was a “good fit” for the party’s leadership team.

“That’s a question for the conference,” McCarthy said, while also saying that anyone criticizing Trump over the Capitol riot, as Cheney had done, was “not being productive.”

[…]

In North Carolina, former Republican governor Pat McCrory was initially highly critical of Trump, saying on his radio show that it was the former president’s own fault that he lost the election and that his false election claims were damaging to democracy. But now, running in North Carolina for the U.S. Senate and facing a tough primary, McCrory has sought to distance himself from those comments and casts himself as a “huge defender” of “Trump policies.”

Several local Republicans have either stepped down or been forced out of their party positions for not supporting Trump’s baseless election claims or for criticizing the former president’s role in inciting the deadly Capitol riot. In Iowa — after telling a local newspaper that Trump should be impeached for his “atrocious conduct” in egging on the Jan. 6 attacks — Dave Millage was called a “traitor” and forced to step down as chair of the Scott County Republican Party. In Missouri, the state Republican Party’s executive director, Jean Evans, resigned from her term several weeks early amid angry and threatening calls from Trump supporters, who urged her to do more to help Trump hold on to the White House after his loss in November.

The Republican Party has won the popular vote for President one time since 1988, making seven elections out of the last eight in which the Democrat has won at least a plurality. The last time we had anything close to that level of failure—when the Democrats lost five of six between 1968 and 1988—the party undertook a rather significant rebranding and shift to the center. In this case, the opposite has happened. Not only have the GOP moved further to the right but they’ve gone into the lunatic fringe.

Obviously, one key difference is that the institutional design helps mask Republican deficiencies. Despite the performance at the polls noted above, they’ve held the presidency three times during their “losing” stretch rather than the one that a democratic design would have produced. But that doesn’t fully explain this dive off the deep end.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Campaign 2020, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Stunning how the Republican party has abdicated every belief it once professed to hold dear, in order to vow fealty to the former guy. From a party of principle, to a cult of personality.
    The Big Lie is not the litmus test…the litmus test is the former guy. You support him or, like Liz Cheney, you are ostracized.
    Another big one, I think, is Romney…not mentioned above. He was booed in Utah this weekend.
    https://www.mediaite.com/politics/arent-you-embarrassed-mitt-romney-heavily-booed-at-utah-republican-convention/

    13
  2. mattbernius says:

    I don’t know what else there is to say about this than, based on past behavior, I expect that our conservative-leaning and Trump-supporting commenters (like JKB, Alanstorm, that guy from Texas, the randos who have popped in from time to time) will once again be deafeningly silent on this issue.

    It’s hard not to believe that silence is at least in part because, at the end of the day, they most likely all support the idea of continuing to optimize the system for minority rule so long as it’s their team that gets to rule.

    21
  3. KM says:

    No pity, no mercy. They did this to themselves by sucking up to this man and these voters for years…. only to now try and go “OK back to reality folks!” to people who’s delusions they’ve encouraged to get votes. You had a chance to rid yourself of Trump and go back to normal and you gleefully blew it to hell.

    You can’t unring this bell, GOP. You can’t spend half a decade pushing insanity and then suddenly change your mind. You’re in this to the bitter end or you’re out on your ass if you’re lucky. If you try and acknowledge reality or anything other then the deepening spiral of crazy, you’re not one of them anymore. It’s better to get out now because it will only intensify as the crazies starting to seriously take over. They’re primarying people out of office, they’re taking over local parties and positions in the party, they’re taking control of the money and narrative to the voters.

    They tasted power and they’re not going away – you are. It’s only a matter of when they come for you. So what’s it going to be, GOP?

    10
  4. Jay L Gischer says:

    This is the civil war within the Republican Party that I’ve been expecting. I can’t see how they don’t lose votes, and lose seats over it. I mean, if they are successful in, for instance, beating Murkowski in the primary, then she will run as an independent, and likely win. Will she caucus with the Rs? Maybe as long as McConnell is Leader, but if it turns into Ted Cruz’ caucus? Probably not.

    I expect Georgia statewide offices to push more blue due to the same dynamic. Purity tests never seem to work out well for the party that performs them. Even if that party has a structural advantage.

    It’s really discouraging how few Cheneys, Murkowskis and Raffensbergers there is.

    5
  5. Scott says:

    I think this could be a big deal from rank and file Democrats to pound on the Republicans. It may be a litmus test for Republicans internally but it also could be a litmus test for Americans.

    Just demand from any elected Republican clear statements of reality and demand clarity when they are weaseling their answers. You’re either a liar or you’re not. No equivocation allowed and stay on the offensive til they break. Make it a character issue.

    9
  6. Jay L Gischer says:

    Also

    I think I speak for many people in that Trump has never actually been wrong, and so we’ve learned to trust when he says something, that he’s not just going to spew something out there that’s wrong and not verified

    Yikes. How does someone get there? “Partisanship” does not work for me as an answer, but neither does “cult”. I’m talking psychology. I want details. Is she lying, or does she believe it? Doesn’t matter because there have to be people out there who believe it.

    6
  7. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    Is she lying, or does she believe it?

    The Alt-Right Playbook: The Card Says Moops

    It doesn’t matter if she believes it, what matters is that you can’t prove whether or not she believes it, so she’s free to flip back and forth based on whatever is tactically most convenient at the moment.

    12
  8. Modulo Myself says:

    The question isn’t what people believe. It’s whether they want to refight the Trump era. The GOP has problems because all of their candidates are going to end up defending Trump and his lies and all of the votes he received rather than moving on. Meanwhile nobody outside the bubble cares. The GOP is going to end up speaking entirely in tongues about stuff normal people will need a decoder for.

    4
  9. Slugger says:

    If you’re the President, the big guy, the guy with all the ships, and you let someone steal the election out from under your nose, then you deserve to lose. You can be sure that no one steals a game from Alabama by dirty maneuvers in rushing the Bama QB. They have guys who are keying on the rushers, LBs, and safeties. That’s what winners do. Crying “I got cheated” is weak; it is weakness personified. We don’t want a President who is weak.

    10
  10. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    I think this framing is flawed; limiting it to Republicans diminishes the actual danger herein.
    The bottom line is either you believe in the United States, it’s Constitution, and the Rule of Law…or you believe none of those things matter and only the former guy, and his preposterous lie, matters.
    You CANNOT repeat the Big Lie and still be Patriotic Citizen of these United States. The two things are diametrically opposed. And if those who pushed the Big Lie which led to the Insurrection of January 6th are not held accountable then it will only be a matter of time before there is a successful Insurrection…and the end of this Country.

    13
  11. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Jay L Gischer:
    When party membership devolves into nothing but fanatical loyalty to one man, completely disregarding anything the party once held to be canon, what else are you going to call it but a cult of personality?

    I’ll give you an obvious analogy. Stalin violated any number of precepts of the Communist Party. Survival within the CP of the USSR demanded not loyalty to Marx or Lenin are any other party leader or Marxist dogma, just fanatical, slavish loyalty in thought, word and deed to one man. We have no reluctance to admit that there was a cult of personality around Stalin. Stalin, Hitler, Kim Il Sung et al, this is no different.

    14
  12. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Stormy Dragon: That was a very interesting video, thanks!

    One thought it prompted was that a Big Lie only survives if everyone signs up to it. There are some experiments on this. If everyone in the room says “White is Black” or something like that, then the one experimental subject will also sign on to it. It only takes one other dissenter to give them permission to dissent.

    So, if you are invested in the Big Lie, you need to purge anyone who doesn’t voice it. It might not matter whether you believe it or not, it isn’t going to work, and you aren’t going to win, if there are dissenters on board.

    I sort of knew that, but the video was very helpful in putting it all together.

    2
  13. Monala says:

    @Scott: the media has a role to play, too. Someone pointed out that the media ask Democratic candidates and officials about their support for every idea on the left (e.g., defunding the police), but they don’t do the same for politicians on the right. For example, the only Republicans asked if they support Qanon are those who have said something publicly in support of it. The rest just get a pass.

    3
  14. just nutha says:

    @Jay L Gischer: I would think that Murkowski will continue to caucus with the Republicans either way. Ted Cruz isn’t really measurably more odious and corrupt than Mitch–he only gives that impression because he’s a doofus, and I don’t think he’d win the race for leader anyway–the doofus thing again.

    1
  15. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I didn’t intend to start an argument with you, but to indicate that I want a deeper understanding of the psychology involved.

    1
  16. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    It’s part of a whole series of similarly interesting video on alt-right propaganda tactics.

    2
  17. Sleeping Dog says:

    It’s difficult to see where this ends. The good news in being that it is all about the TFG, is that when he goes from the scene, the party will crack like an egg. Till then the possibility that TFG is indicted or one of the many civil law suits that he faces, reveals some undeniably ugly truths, it will only martyr him. I’d venture that TFG’s hold over the party extends only as far as his willingness to run in 2024. Not running, even if he anoints an heir, will cause a fracture.

    On a tangent.

    Something I’ve noticed over the last few weeks, when pundits are discussing potential 2024 R candidates, Rubio and Cruz are being dropped from the discussion, while Pence and Haley are marginalized. Most of the conversation seems to be about DeSantis, Rick Scott, Hawley, Noem and Sasse (the representative of the few remaining sane Rs). That might be due to the shiny new object phenomena, but there is plenty of evidence pointing to the view that Rubio is a joke, the Dan Quail of the 21st century and the Cruz is simply loathed too greatly to be seriously considered. Plus Cruz is regularly owned by various libs, particularly AOC.

    1
  18. JohnMcC says:

    @Jay L Gischer: Bingo! You’ve put your finger on my ending thought from our ‘partisanship’ v ‘cult’ conversations. My understanding of human motivations and behavior are not adequate to explain what I’m seeing.

  19. gVOR08 says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    It’s really discouraging how few Cheneys, Murkowskis and Raffensbergers there is.

    Saw Raffensberger on the TV machine a few days ago. He’s caved.

  20. Kathy says:

    The question isn’t so much whether the GOP is on a death spiral, but rather what damage it will cause in its death throes.

    We can start the count with many hundreds of thousands of COVID deaths.

    3
  21. mattbernius says:

    @Kathy:

    The question isn’t so much whether the GOP is on a death spiral, but rather what damage it will cause in its death throes.

    The Republican Party has been supposed to be in a “death spiral” for years, and yet they could still retake the Senate in 2022, the White House in 2024 (as the latest Census-based Electoral College re-proportioning increase Red State power) and will be the dominant force of the Supreme Court for at least a decade.

    Like it or not, counting on a “death spiral” doesn’t match the facts on the ground.

    6
  22. Scott says:

    @mattbernius: Which means this country is on a suicide path.

    2
  23. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Scott:

    Unfortunately, true.

  24. @Kathy:

    The question isn’t so much whether the GOP is on a death spiral, but rather what damage it will cause in its death throes.

    Somewhat to @mattbernius’ point: what death spiral?

    They control half the Senate now and have legitimate chances of winning both chambers in 2022. They can win the presidency by losing millions of votes. They control a large number of state legislatures (and therefore have a huge influence over redistricting).

    (Plus all the influence they recently asserted over the courts that will last a generation).

    What death spiral?

    And also, why do people keep adhering? Because the party is still a pathway to power.

    And while I am not trying to re-ignite the cult debate, I think all this behavior is largely predicated on having two choices, deciding which of the two comes to closest to serving one’s preferences, and then rationalizing why one’s group is best.

    There is no power nor influence in going independent. And changing teams is hard to imagine for most people.

    16
  25. Jon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    And while I am not trying to re-ignite the cult debate …

    It is possible to be both a political party *and* a cult. The two are not mutually exclusive.

    2
  26. @Jon: I just don’t find the cult classification to be analytical useful. I also don’t think it explains the main mass of GOP voters in any event.

    2
  27. Azunth says:

    Obviously, one key difference is that the institutional design helps mask Republican deficiencies. Despite the performance at the polls noted above, they’ve held the presidency three times during their “losing” stretch rather than the one that a democratic design would have produced. But that doesn’t fully explain this dive off the deep end.

    I’ve read a few articles by Kevin Drum talking about the influence Fox News has Republican Party, and I think his understanding of Fox News may help explain things here.

    Let’s conceive of Fox News as a distinct intra-party faction within the GOP, with other parts of the GOP (Big Business, Religious Right, Pro-2nd amendment types, the GOP establishment, the Tea Party types, GOP congressmen, etc) as other factions within the GOP. Most of these factions wish to, at least in theory, achieve political or electoral victories, and they do so by working through the Republicans they help elect. Fox News is unique among these factions in that it doesn’t need to get Republicans elected to achieve it’s goals.

    To greatly oversimplify, the goal of Fox News is to make money, and it does so by feeding outrage, in order to get people to watch it. This is different from virtually every other faction in the Republican Party, who have varied goals but all seek to achieve them by influencing what the government does or does not do, via the offices of Congress and the President.

    Between Fox News and Donald Trump, it’s possible to argue that the most powerful factions within the GOP today do not see any incentive to achieve electoral victories for the GOP as a whole. These party factions also wield the most influence over which GOP members get elected, compared to any other faction.

    The Fox News (and now Donald Trump) faction of the GOP uses it’s influence over the direction of the party to suit themselves, at direct cost to their electability. However, with filibuster and institutional advantage, the GOP can force gridlock, delivering on promises to block DEM action and eliminate the reward of defecting (since nobody is getting much of anything anyways even if the DEM’s do agree).

    Since institutional advantage masks electoral deficiencies, Fox News can continue to win loyalty for GOP through their hold over their base, and thus run the party to suit themselves. Meanwhile, the rest of the GOP has to make do.

    3
  28. CSK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    But you have to admit that Trump’s most rabid fans behave as if they’re members of a cult.

    3
  29. Mister Bluster says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:..I just don’t find the cult classification to be analytical useful. I also don’t think it explains the main mass of GOP voters in any event.

    How about the masses are asses.
    Would that be more appropriate?

    3
  30. Kathy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    what death spiral?

    Not having won the presidential popular vote more than once in a generation, and tying the party to a declining demographic.

    I won’t presume to explain to you the structural advantages and peculiarities of the US system than keep them in contention and/or in power.

    And while I am not trying to re-ignite the cult debate, I think all this behavior is largely predicated on having two choices, deciding which of the two comes to closest to serving one’s preferences, and then rationalizing why one’s group is best.

    That’s the bottom line. the GOP need not govern successfully to win, as has been amply demonstrated, and they may no longer even need a good economy, either. If they simply obstruct the other party when they are in the opposition, and rile up their base and generate enthusiasm for change among their voters, they can still win.

    Minority rule is unsustainable in a democracy. The GOP will eventually change, fail, or turn authoritarian and antidemocratic to keep power. the first and last may not constitute death, I grant that.

  31. Scott F. says:

    “I think I speak for many people in that Trump has never actually been wrong, and so we’ve learned to trust when he says something, that he’s not just going to spew something out there that’s wrong and not verified,” she said.

    How does one even begin to come to an understanding with someone who believes that multiple divorce, multiple bankruptcy, multiple impeachment Trump ‘has never actually been wrong?’ That would be like trying to negotiate a contract with someone who thinks the cotton candy is a form of currency.

    1
  32. @Kathy:@Kathy:

    Minority rule is unsustainable in a democracy. The GOP will eventually change, fail, or turn authoritarian and antidemocratic to keep power. the first and last may not constitute death, I grant that.

    I think all of this is true.

    But at the moment, they can survive quite well under the current rules and structures. That’s not death. This is my perhaps overly pedantic point.

    Although I also think that a lot of death talk in re: the GOP is a combination of wishful thinking and denial about how sustainable they are for the foreseeable future.

    I do think if we stay on the current path a major crisis will emerge when enough people fully grok the fact of minority rule.

    5
  33. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Jay L Gischer:
    The psychology is easy: I feel unsettled, worried, scared. Here’s someone saying I shouldn’t feel those unsettling things, just loyalty to the guy who is going to make all my problems go away. His name is heroin. No? OK, his name is Jesus. No? OK, his name is Donald.

    Thinking is hard and scary because there is no story line that does not end in death. And we’re scared of death. Also, we’re not that great at thinking. So, hooray, someone is here to tell us we can stop thinking! All we have to do is mumble a prayer or sing a liturgy or chant Make America Great Again! Yay! All done with brain, shut it down, padlock the door. Screw you, reality, I’m moving to crazy town, cuz I’m special in crazy town.

    White people scared of brown people, men scared of women, everyone terrified that their tiny bit of superiority, their status in the world, will be lost and then. . . horrors!. . . they won’t be better, they’ll just be same..

    The truth is that life ends. The truth is it usually ends in pain and degradation. You piss yourself, you shit yourself, you puke up the gruel that’s all you can digest, you suck air through and ever-smaller straw, you cry in pain. And for extra fun you may get to watch it all happen to someone you love before it gets around to you.

    You’re going to die without ever being special, better, more important than someone else. So when some fraud throws you a lifeline and tells you the lies you want so badly to hear, you grab hold, baby, because now, basking in the orange glow, you’re special.

    6
  34. Kathy says:

    @Scott F.:

    I’ve a hypothesis on that.

    Maybe it’s not the full explanation, but a big part is that trump has never admitted to being wrong or to making a mistake, and he has always found someone else to blame for effingly obvious failure. On top of that, he never apologizes. And he makes claims, no matter how outrageous or even patently false, with conviction and utterly without shame. all this projects the “never been wrong” attitude.

    Add ignorance on the part of the recipients, and it works even better. He ruined an insanely profitable shuttle airline? Why, no. he says he did very well, and look at all the money he has!

    I’ll quote Schiller now, “Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.”

    4
  35. Kathy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I think we only disagree on what a death spiral means. It doesn’t mean the GOP can no longer get even a dog catcher elected in the proverbial small, conservative American burg.

    It means the party’s in decline and not eager to correct said decline, perhaps because they can still win power they won’t wield much.

  36. Scott F. says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    And while I am not trying to re-ignite the cult debate, I think all this behavior is largely predicated on having two choices, deciding which of the two comes to closest to serving one’s preferences, and then rationalizing why one’s group is best.

    While it’s true that this behavior comes from having only two choices, when one of those choices requires the nuclear-grade delusion Debra Ell demonstrates with her belief that serial liar Trump is the source of truth, ‘rationalizing’ just isn’t a suitable word. This is Nutjobs in Crazy Town, rational has nothing to do with it, and we have to be relentless in pointing out the epic fantasy to those who are sticking with their Republican partisanship for utilitarian reasons. Even when it serves one’s interests, you don’t want to be allowing the insane to hold their own car keys, let alone letting them hold power.

    1
  37. Barry says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    “I just don’t find the cult classification to be analytical useful. I also don’t think it explains the main mass of GOP voters in any event.”

    I disagree strongly – the similarity is skyrocketing.

    In that, the theme of this article is precisely that:
    a big lie, as a litmus test.

    1
  38. @Barry:

    I disagree strongly – the similarity is skyrocketing.

    That’s cool–and I mean it sincerely: people can use it if they like.

    1
  39. @Kathy: I suspect I am getting hung up on “death spiral.”

    2
  40. mattbernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I suspect I am getting hung up on “death spiral.”

    FWIW, me as well. Or simply the “death” part of that formulation.

    2
  41. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I think all this behavior is largely predicated on having two choices, deciding which of the two comes to closest to serving one’s preferences, and then rationalizing why one’s group is best.

    I’m sorry, but this just does not explain the overwhelming inclination by the supporters of the former guy to believe anything he says, no matter how ludicrous.
    It doesn’t explain his followers display of excessive zeal, and unquestioning commitment.
    And it doesn’t explain that questioning the former guy, or showing doubt and dissent, are discouraged or even punished. See: Liz Cheney, Mitt Romney, et al.
    MAGA acts distincly like a cult. You may call it whatever you want. But a cult by any other name will still guzzle the Kool Aid when told to do so.

    6
  42. Raoul says:

    The Big Lie is the new Birther story. Everyone knows it is a lie but most of the Republican leadership are sniveling cowards to say so. The Dem party and the press needs to push back aggressively. It is a disgrace how the birther story was allowed to fester for so long. Not only Fox News (van Susteren) but the main media never made clear how absolutely bunkers the story was. And now, I just don’t see enough push back by the press on the Big Lie. Anyone who comes on tv should be introduced as not only as saying something “without the evidence” but the reason they do so- let’s call them what they are: seditionists- pray tell why not.

    3
  43. Joe says:

    To add a point to Daryl and his brother Darryl‘s push back @Steven L. Taylor on the two-party choice issue:
    It does not explain why, given Mitt Romney and some other Republican Trumpskiesque Utah politician, a huge part of the Utah Repubs are ready to dump Romney and go with the Trump knock-off. Liz Cheney: same issue, different state.

    3
  44. CSK says:

    Statement from Donald Trump released today:

    “The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 will, from this day forth, be known as THE BIG LIE!”

    2
  45. Kathy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    @mattbernius:

    A death spiral (aka suicide spiral or graveyard spiral), is an aviation term for a plane that’s descending in a spiral pattern in bad weather, relying on instruments, where the pilot is inexperienced or unqualified, and who gets disoriented and eventually slams the plane into the ground.

    There is opportunity to pull out of such a spiral before the ground makes brief but violent contact. Often the pilot can’t do so. Meantime the pilot is in command and the plane is flying perfectly well.

    Until that brief but violent contact takes place.

    1
  46. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kathy: To the degree to which the GOP can win the Presidency apart from gaining a majority of the popular vote, the “death spiral” tends to come under the “so what?” principle. If, in fact, the eternal deficit in popular vote turns into a corresponding deficit in winning the Presidency, that will mark the time to start celebrating (or mourning, for those fans of government that includes a loyal opposition) the GOP death spiral. So far this millennium, the GOP has done okay at winning and doesn’t seem to have a real world problem.

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  47. JohnMcC says:

    @Michael Reynolds: And now we’re off to catch the real true marlin. Up on Kilimanjaro. And then die. Truly.

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  48. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @mattbernius: Me too. I’m not seeing any “death” in it. Maybe it’s like death spiral in figure skating; I dunno.

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  49. mattbernius says:

    @Kathy:
    I was aware of the general metaphor. I really appreciate you explaining the details (I always enjoy your aviation posts).

    I just don’t think there is any real evidence that this is an inexorable path that leads to the death of a party unless they change course. Or rather, if it is, they are not far into the spiral and I don’t think it takes much of a course correction to get things back to the status quo for well beyond the near visible future.

    All of that is colored by my Hollywood sense of what a death spiral means.

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  50. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kathy: I’m understanding your metaphor better now, but I think that it falls apart at the “[m]eantime the pilot is in command and the plane is flying perfectly well” part. That seems to be an overstatement contrary to reality, but I don’t fly, so I guess it’s possible that the statement reflects the pilot’s perception (though, I wouldn’t expect so if the fuselage is rotating; it would seem that she should notice, but again, I don’t really know).

  51. Teve says:

    @just nutha:

    @Jay L Gischer: I would think that Murkowski will continue to caucus with the Republicans either way. Ted Cruz isn’t really measurably more odious and corrupt than Mitch–he only gives that impression because he’s a doofus, and I don’t think he’d win the race for leader anyway–the doofus thing again.

    There’ve been studies that suggest that your opinion about someone is formed in a fraction of a second. Professors who were graded based on a quarter of a second video, their grades correlated those by people who had been in their class the whole semester.

    It could just be that on a subconscious level we just don’t like Ted Cruz’s looks, the same way that subconsciously we see Tom Hanks and have warm feelings.

  52. Kathy says:

    @mattbernius:
    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Accidents where the crew can’t figure out what’s happening, but the plane is in obvious distress, are far more common. But now and then you see a few where the first indication the crew has of a problem, or at least a potentially lethal problem, is when they hit the ground (or the ocean).

    It doesn’t need to be a spiral, of course. There was an Eastern flight that crashed near Miami, when the crew failed to notice the autopilot was off and the plane was slowly descending, as they were busy diagnosing a problem with the landing gear.

    Anyway, we do know some Republicans are aware there’s a problem and that it’s serious (see Sasse, Romney, Cheney, Hogan, and a few others). Add those who’ve left the party, too. The rest see nothing amiss.

    Granted, with the Orange Ass getting record numbers of votes for an incumbent, things might not seem amiss. even if he lost, fairly, to a candidate who got 7 million more votes.

    Me, that makes trump the biggest loser for an incumbent. The cult and/or base, as well as the rank and file, argue electoral theft they cannot prove or even provide plausible evidence for.

    Ok, they could prove it. But even they can’t, yet, bring themselves to say black people shouldn’t be allowed to vote.

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  53. Teve says:

    Sidenote, years ago I read about this crazy experiment where researchers had contacted a remote tribe in South America and showed them pictures of Tom Hanks and all the tribespeople were like “he just seems like a nice man.”

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  54. Teve says:

    The truth is that life ends. The truth is it usually ends in pain and degradation. You piss yourself, you shit yourself, you puke up the gruel that’s all you can digest, you suck air through and ever-smaller straw, you cry in pain. And for extra fun you may get to watch it all happen to someone you love before it gets around to you.

    A year and a half ago my sixty-nine year old dad was getting dialysis. He had been a diabetic all his life and was now entering the part of a diabetic’s life where they start cutting parts of you off. One day, sitting in the dialysis chair, he just keeled over from a massive heart attack. Even though CPR was applied for 15 mins, the doctor said he was probably dead before he hit the ground. I expected to be somewhat sad but I wasn’t at all, and when I thought about it I realized it’s because he went like you want to go, living, living, living, dead. No wasting away in a hospital bed of leukemia or in agony for 3 months with bone cancer. Just Lights Out! We should all be so lucky.

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  55. @mattbernius:

    FWIW, me as well. Or simply the “death” part of that formulation.

    Indeed. I am having a hard time seeing a realistic, medium terms scenario that ends in the party dying.

  56. @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    I’m sorry, but this just does not explain the overwhelming inclination by the supporters of the former guy to believe anything he says, no matter how ludicrous.
    It doesn’t explain his followers display of excessive zeal, and unquestioning commitment.
    And it doesn’t explain that questioning the former guy, or showing doubt and dissent, are discouraged or even punished. See: Liz Cheney, Mitt Romney, et al.
    MAGA acts distincly like a cult. You may call it whatever you want. But a cult by any other name will still guzzle the Kool Aid when told to do so.

    Again, that’s fine. I understand where you (and others) are coming from.

    In my view as a political scientist who studies these things, I disagree and would argue (and have argued) that people are misapplying the concept, especially when taking a small sample (sometimes a sample of one, but even a rally is a relatively small sample of all voters) and extrapolating out an explanation for what we are seeing.

    I think, too, many folks here are letting their own distaste (which is understandable) for what they are seeing color their views.

    I also know that I am not going to convince those who see it that way, so I am not going to fight it out in the comment section any longer (not that I am promising not to comment, or even write about it further).

    I am just saying I think you all are incorrect, but no one said I was the final authority and everyone is entitled to their opinion.

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  57. @Kathy: I get the metaphor. I think it is incorrect.

  58. @Joe: Actually, it can, and I have tried.

  59. Beth says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    And while I am not trying to re-ignite the cult debate, I think all this behavior is largely predicated on having two choices, deciding which of the two comes to closest to serving one’s preferences, and then rationalizing why one’s group is best.

    There is no power nor influence in going independent. And changing teams is hard to imagine for most people.

    The question I’ve been struggling with for a while now is: what happens when you get ejected from the party against your will.

    I get what you’ve been saying about the calculus of partisanship and I think that’s largely correct if you presume everyone is a rational actor all or most of the time. Take Cheney and Murkowski, they are both serious hard core Republicans. There is no set of circumstances where Liz Cheney becomes or is accepted as a Democrat. At the same time they have supported the Republican agenda 99% of the time, they are seriously being threatened with being ousted from the party for the heresy of choosing reality over fiction. Romney is right in there too. Romney would have zero problem supporting a Republican authoritarian so long as they were basically polite. All three of them have found a line that, for whatever reason, they can’t cross, but from an outside (relatively objective) position, they are all hardcore partisans. They’ve made all the right partisan calculations, but are going to be punished for them.

    I think the problem for me, at least to understand this is that the irrational people are running the show. No matter what the rational calculus is, if your trying to lead a bunch of irrational people, there is only so much room for rational people and your likely to trip somewhere.

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  60. @Beth: The Mitt and Liz questions are interesting ones. Mitt looks like he will be fine. Liz may find herself losing in a primary, but we’ll see.

    I think the problem for me, at least to understand this is that the irrational people are running the show. No matter what the rational calculus is, if your trying to lead a bunch of irrational people, there is only so much room for rational people and your likely to trip somewhere.

    The problem is, people are frequently not rational. We act based on flawed reason, emotion, identity, and various self-delusions and rationalizations. This is at least part of my point.

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  61. Mimai says:

    I am always struck by the mind-reading that goes on in such discussions. Mind-reading with supreme confidence. Humans have a hard enough time getting a handle on their own thoughts and motivations, much less those of others. Much much less of others they have never met before. Much much much less of others who they only “know” via highly curated and mediated channels. Speculation is all well and good…indeed, it’s our new (old) national pastime. But confident assertions befuddle me.

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  62. Mister Bluster says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:..The problem is, people are frequently not rational. We act based on flawed reason, emotion, identity, and various self-delusions and rationalizations.

    I would suggest that one example of this irrationality is the appeal to karma, whatever that means, as a phenomenon that can somehow influence the lives of humans.

  63. DrDaveT says:

    The specter of Donald Trump continues to linger over the Republican Party, making a return to sanctity next to impossible.

    You can’t return to where you never were. Even if he meant “sanity” and not “sanctity”.

    You might as well claim that the specter of Barry Gibb is continuing to linger over the Bee Gees, making a return to smooth jazz next to impossible.

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  64. Gustopher says:

    @mattbernius:

    FWIW, me as well. Or simply the “death” part of that formulation.

    If you’re just more open on whose death, it’s pretty straightforward (for a spiral).

  65. Liberal Capitalist says:

    So: Interested in the “GOP is in a Death Spiral” conversation.

    No, I don’t believe that it is. Changed? Absolutely. Denying Reality? Even more so, but that is nothing new.

    The GOP has always been (in my lifetime) the party of self-interest. Even if it chooses to be specifically insane and cycling to the far end of the wackadoo scale over The Big Lie they will not lose those who strongly believe that their own individual personal self interest is greater than anything anyone else believes or says.

    Sure, GOP membership has declined, but “independents” have increased. And Independent is a really good term for self-interested individuals.

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  66. wr says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: “Indeed. I am having a hard time seeing a realistic, medium terms scenario that ends in the party dying.”

    Maybe it’s a death spiral in that the Republicans are spiralling, but it’s democracy that’s dying…

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  67. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Mimai:
    People aren’t actually very hard to figure out. On the contrary, their motives are boringly predictable and their reasoning transparent. People want power, status, security and love.

    It sounds reasonable to object that, ‘well, you haven’t even talked to them!’ But what you get from people by way of explanation is usually false. As you say, people don’t know themselves, they live unexamined lives, so it’s fanciful to assume that what they have to say for themselves offers any great insight.

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  68. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    I am neither a psychologist, nor a political scientist. But I can read the dictionary.
    CULT:
    noun
    1) a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.
    “the cult of St. Olaf”
    2) a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.
    “a network of Satan-worshiping cults”
    3) a misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing.
    “a cult of personality surrounding the leaders”
    Both 1 and 3 apply to MAGA. As for sample size…they have their own fuqing media outlets devoted to the former guy, which draw millions of viewers.
    I have a world of respect for you. But I fear we ignore this cult at our, and the nations, peril.

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  69. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    But I fear we ignore this cult at our, and the nations, peril.

    From Michael Beschloss:

    President George Washington, in farewell, 1796, warned that America might someday face “despotism.” He said that “disorders and miseries” might cause some Americans “to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual,” leading to “the ruins of public liberty.”

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  70. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Having said all of the above…I also consider organized religion, of any faith, a cult. So there is that…

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  71. SC_Birdflyte says:

    Yeah, today’s GOP reminds me of another situation, a hundred or so years ago. Trump is Lenin, Cheney/Romney/et al are Trotsky.

  72. Mimai says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    People aren’t actually very hard to figure out. On the contrary, their motives are boringly predictable and their reasoning transparent. People want power, status, security and love.

    True. And yet it doesn’t have much explanatory power. Power, status, security, and love are personally defined and prioritized, and this varies (within and between individuals) based on context. Also, these motives are not orthogonal…..they can and do collide.

    To make an imperfect analogy (it’s an analogy after all), it’s like saying that eating behavior really isn’t all that hard to figure out. People are motivated by hunger. Hence, we simply have to look at their hunger to explain what they eat, when, how much, etc.

    As you say, people don’t know themselves, they live unexamined lives, so it’s fanciful to assume that what they have to say for themselves offers any great insight.

    Again, this is true. I contend it is at least as fanciful to assume that “we” have any great insight into “their” behavior, much less the specific motives that are driving said behavior.

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  73. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Mimai:
    My full time job for the last 30 or so years has been inventing characters. While absolutely no one – including me – thinks I’m a great prose stylist, I get a lot of credit from critics and readers for creating complex, nuanced characters, kids, teens and adults. The common assumption is that I must be in touch with lots of people, like people generally, have some special insight into blah blah blah. Of course the opposite is true. My earliest fictions were the lies I told to avoid having people intrude in my life. True. I killed many, many grandparents just to keep kids from coming over to play.

    My wife also gets credit for creating great characters and if anything she’s more anti-social than I am. We’re not outliers, really, a lot of writers are misanthropes.

    To quote Dr. House: people lie. If you pay attention to what people have to say about themselves you almost invariably find badly-conceived, transparent lies. Now, the fact that people lie about themselves is interesting in itself, but it’s sadly not true that there is much to be learned from talking to people about motivation. You ever notice how often writers find character motivation in tragedy? The dead kid, the dead wife? Or else they go to addiction: drugs, alcohol. There’s hardly a detective without a dead wife and/or a drinking problem. It’s not just that the writers are unimaginative, it’s that people’s real motivations are so fucking boring and predictable. The biggest reason why a cop is a cop? Because their dad was a cop. No dead wife, no drinking problem.

    Ask yourself how many people have ever admitted that their motives were influenced by racism or misogyny, or greed, or jealousy or insecurity. Everyone lies about their motives. Which means that after you’ve heard their bullshit rationales you’re right back where you started.

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  74. wr says:

    @SC_Birdflyte: ” Trump is Lenin, Cheney/Romney/et al are Trotsky.”

    Can’t wait for our Stalin to emerge…

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  75. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I don’t think people are really even lying about their motivations, in the sense of intentionally misrepresenting why they do what they do.

    Most people don’t have consistent motivations: we inconsistently respond to current conditions based on a host of outside pressures and then try to organize this into a coherent narrative after the fact. When you ask someone their motivation for doing something, they really don’t know why they did it, so they just describe what their current personal narrative says about why they did it.

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  76. Mimai says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    I so very much enjoy this comment. Seriously. Your quip about being a serial grandparent murderer hit home with me. When I teach undergrads, I feel guilty about scheduling tests and assigning papers, knowing all the grandparents that will surely die in the days leading up to these dates. Sacrificial lambs. Or darlings (h/t Stephen King).

    You say that people lie. I agree, they sometimes do. But that’s not all of it, or most of it, or the end of it. (see Stormy Dragon’s comment)

    You also say that there’s little to be learned from talking to people about motivation. Hard disagree. There’s tons to be learned…..if one is willing to listen, and observe, and reflect, etc. But this is hard.

    You end by saying:

    Ask yourself how many people have ever admitted that their motives were influenced by racism or misogyny, or greed, or jealousy or insecurity. Everyone lies about their motives. Which means that after you’ve heard their bullshit rationales you’re right back where you started.

    If you’re looking for the modal perspective on such things, I’m not the best person to consult – my research and clinical activities make for an atypical experience. But let’s just say that I talk with people a lot about these specific things, and other adjacent things. And you might be surprised at what they say (“admit”). Bullshit rationales? Oh yeah, lots of those. But also lots of not those.

    People are all kinds of complicated. You know this, your writing reflects this. They are also surprisingly open to looking in the mirror…….at times, in doses, under certain conditions.

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  77. @Daryl and his brother Darryl: I risk being perceived as a jerk here, but if consulting the dictionary was all one needed to do to explain complex social phenomena, we can clear out a lot of libraries 🙂

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  78. @wr:

    but it’s democracy that’s dying…

    That is arguably true, yes.

  79. @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    I have a world of respect for you.

    That is very kind of you to say.

    But I fear we ignore this cult at our, and the nations, peril.

    To be clear: I am not suggesting we ignore the GOP and their behavior.

    I just think that while both drowning and starving will both kill you, avoiding the two routes to death are quite different.

    To be honest, I think that the way the GOP is behaving right now is both more serious than a cult and harder to fix than a cult.

    So it isn’t that I don’t take this present moment seriously, I do.

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