The GOP Is Donald Trump’s Party Now

The transformation is complete. The GOP is now the party of Donald Trump. If you're sticking around and not speaking out against what the President represents, you're part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Much of the reporting about the 2018 midterms has focused on the extent to which President Trump, his rhetoric, and his lower than average job approval numbers could impact Republican fortunes in November. The conventional wisdom, of course, is that Republicans stand to hurt themselves by the extent to which they have tied their political futures to the Trump Administration and that they are putting their political fortunes on the line by backing a President who clearly doesn’t seem to have their political interests at heart. Notwithstanding all of that, Jeremy Peters at The New York Times notes that rather than running away from the President, many candidates are trying to out-Trump Trump:

Don Blankenship likes to believe he knows something about rough justice and who deserves it.

“We don’t need to investigate our president. We need to arrest Hillary,” one of his campaign ads proclaims, mimicking President Trump’s crude 2016 rallying cry, “Lock her up!”

Mr. Blankenship, who has a respectable chance of winning the Republican nomination for Senate in West Virginia on May 8, is, in more ways than one, the ideal candidate for the Trump era. He spent a year in prison on charges rising from the collapse of one of his coal mines, which killed 29 people. Mr. Blankenship nurses a deep sense of grievance, and he has no political experience to speak of.

But he does have a natural inclination for one of the most distinctive and defining contributions that Mr. Trump has made to American politics: its sound.

In Republican races across the country, candidates like Mr. Blankenship are parroting the president as they try to prove to voters that they are cut from the same cloth as he is. They recite the Trump lexicon, spouting his trademark phrases and slurs like “Drain the swamp,” “Build the wall,” “rigged system,” “fake news” and “America first.”

They are channeling Mr. Trump’s belligerent and profane style of speaking, seeking to capture that essential but elusive quality that matters so much to voters these days — authenticity.

And they wear his hats.

In Indiana, Representative Todd Rokita, a Republican candidate for Senate, proudly slaps on a red “Make America Great Again” cap in a new ad as he promises to “proudly stand with our president and Mike Pence to drain the swamp.”

Not to be outdone, one of Mr. Rokita’s opponents, Luke Messer, tarred Mr. Rokita as “Lyin’ Todd,” an echo of Mr. Trump’s epithet for Senator Ted Cruz, “Lyin’ Ted.” Mr. Messer’s gripe? Mr. Rokita falsely claimed to have received the president’s endorsement.

Representative Martha McSally, a Republican who is running for the Arizona Senate seat of Republican Jeff Flake, who is retiring, offers a testimonial in one of her campaign videos from Mr. Trump about how “tough” and “real” she is. She tells a story about how she once told Washington politicians to “grow a pair of ovaries.” As further proof of her saltiness, Ms. McSally offers up an old, bleeped out quote from a news article. “McSally stood up,” the text onscreen reads, “and said let’s get this ‘@#$% thing’ done.”

Marsha Blackburn, a congresswoman from Tennessee, wants it known that she will pick the same fights as the president. In an ad announcing her candidacy for the Senate seat of Bob Corker — who also plans to retire — right after she mentions her skeet-shooting skills and the gun she packs in her purse, she promises to stand with Mr. Trump “every step of the way to build that wall.”

Mr. Trump has so thoroughly rewritten the rules of engagement in politics that restraint and polish have become signs of weakness for many candidates. No longer do they assume as they once did that a special set of rules applies to him, and that they would be punished for trying to mimic his behavior.

“Today the goal is linguistic,” said Frank Luntz, a Republican strategist who specializes in the words and messages that candidates use. “We are no longer rewarding policy; we are rewarding rhetoric.”

“On a personal level,” Mr. Luntz added, “it sickens me.”

These examples from around the country appear to be just a handful of what is happening in numerous primary battles around the country. Rather than running on tax cuts or any substantive issues, candidates for the House and the Senate are following in the footsteps of the leader of their party and appealing to the xenophobia, anti-immigrant, protectionism that propelled him to the White House. Another example of this can be found in the Republican primary in Indiana to take on Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly, who is viewed as one of the most vulnerable Democratic candidates in the country. As National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar notes, one of the candidates in that race, Mike Braun, is the candidate who appears to be gaining ground against his opponents in a race where he is basically mimicking the President on issues such as trade, “draining the Swamp, and immigration. As Greg Sargent notes in The Washington Post, Braun’s ads are essentially redefining “true conservatism” as identical to the populist, nationalist rhetoric that propelled Trump to the Presidency. With respect to the same race, the Indianapolis Star has noted that one of the candidates in the race has adopted Trump’s rhetoric regarding “crooked Hillary Clinton” and mimicked the President’s attacks on the investigation being conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller while another has claimed that the only thing the Mueller probe has uncovered is proof of Hillary Clinton’s culpability in seeking to improperly influence the election.

On some level, of course, it’s easy to understand why these candidates are seeking to mimic the rhetoric and positions of the President simply by looking at the 2016 election results. In West Virginia, for example, Trump walked away with 77% of the vote and well north of a 150,000 vote margin over his nearest competitor, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and he won the General Election by a margin of over 300,000 vote margin and 68.5% of the vote. In Indiana, Trump won the Republican primary by nearly 200,000 votes over Cruz, and won the General Election by more than 500,000 votes over Hillary Clinton. Finally, of course, there’s the fact that although Trump’s job approval is historically low with the population as a whole, it is overwhelmingly positive among Republican voters. Given these numbers, particularly with respect to the numbers that Trump garnered in the respective Republican primaries, it’s not entirely surprising to see Republican candidates mimicking Trump and, apparently, seeking to drag the party even further into the populist xenophobic ethnonationalism that Trump has come to represent.

Beyond the political strategy that might behind all of this, though, lies something far more telling about the impact that Donald Trump is having on the Republican Party. There’s a reason why the small handful of politicians who have been critical of Trump in one respect or another, such as Senators Jeff Flake or Bob Corker, are also politicians who either aren’t standing for reelection this year or who have decided to retire. Another frequent Trump critic, Senator John McCain, is obviously at that point in his life that he clearly doesn’t care about the political consequences of picking a fight with the likes of Trump. Beyond that, though, pretty much every Republican on Capitol Hill, and no small amount of the conservative pundit class that appears on cable news on a daily basis. As I’ve said before, the modern Republican Party is basically now made up of Trump supporters who are beyond reason, sycophants who are cozying up to Trump because they think it will advance their careers, sellouts who had sold themselves to a man with no principles, and cowards who know what they’re seeing is wrong but are too afraid to speak out against it. The result is that the GOP is moving further and further into the Trumpidian populist category in a way that will have a lasting impact on the GOP long after Trump is gone. Hopefully, the American public will stand up against it, but after what happened in November 2016, I’m not particularly optimistic about that.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2018, Congress, Donald Trump, Politicians, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Lounsbury says:

    Sad, but so is the degenerate state of a party that has veered to mere reaction.




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  2. Kathy says:

    I’m hoping that a whooping electoral loss in the midterms will restore a modicum of sanity to the GOP. I’m not sure I expect it.

    Still, Clinton was a particularly bad candidate, with a huge negative rating among other deficiencies. I’m quite stumped as to why more prominent Democrats didn’t run against her in 2016 (unless they thought a third Democratic term unlikely, and most chose to let her be the sacrifice).




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  3. michael reynolds says:

    …the modern Republican Party is basically now made up of Trump supporters who are beyond reason, sycophants who are cozying up to Trump because they think it will advance their careers, sellouts who had sold themselves to a man with no principles, and cowards who know what they’re seeing is wrong but are too afraid to speak out against it.

    For all the talk about how special we Americans are, it turns out most of are just cowards and hypocrites. Home of the brave indeed. Land of the free? Not if it’s left to the American people.

    It’s not Trump that makes me want to get out of this country, it’s the fact that 46% of voters – and 40% of those polled today – have no reluctance to trash the country we are all supposed to love. Patriotism is a hollow joke for these people, it’s just a word they use, not something they feel. Law and order means nothing more than having cops throw black people to the ground.

    When that many people are that weak, that corrupt, that morally depraved, the country is fcked. Trump isn’t the plague, he’s just the buboes.




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  4. reid says:

    Investigate Hillary? Drain the swamp? This nonsense could actually continue to work?! Just how dumb is the GOP?




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  5. Joe says:

    “Today the goal is linguistic,” said Frank Luntz, a Republican strategist who specializes in the words and messages that candidates use. “We are no longer rewarding policy; we are rewarding rhetoric.

    I, too, am sickened by the tenor of these campaigns, but I think that rhetoric has always out-campaigned policy. The problem is that Republicans are no longer rewarding policy-oriented rhetoric; Republicans are rewarding policy-free negative and divisive rhetoric.




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  6. Moosebreath says:

    ““Today the goal is linguistic,” said Frank Luntz, a Republican strategist who specializes in the words and messages that candidates use. “We are no longer rewarding policy; we are rewarding rhetoric.”

    “On a personal level,” Mr. Luntz added, “it sickens me.””

    Sorry, but not merely has that horse left the barn, but Luntz was one of the people most responsible for it doing so. As wikipedia quoted him:

    “Luntz frequently tests word and phrase choices using focus groups and interviews. His stated purpose in this is the goal of causing audiences to react based on emotion. “80 percent of our life is emotion, and only 20 percent is intellect. I am much more interested in how you feel than how you think. … If I respond to you quietly, the viewer at home is going to have a different reaction than if I respond to you with emotion and with passion and I wave my arms around. Somebody like this is an intellectual; somebody like this is a freak.””




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  7. Scott says:

    I have to admit, even to myself, that I don’t think I understand this country anymore. I don’t understand how a large segment of our country are basically nihilists who seem to have a deep seated hatred of the United States. They just want to tear it down without any thought to the consequences. Yes, I’m talking about the right wing radicals. It seems that the only motivation is thoughtless rage.

    I haven’t read it in 50 years but I keep coming back to Future Shock by Alvin Toffler who talked about the accelerating rate of change and its effect on people and society. It seems as though what he predicted is coming true. We’re in the middle of a gigantic meltdown and it won’t be pretty.




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  8. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Moosebreath: Luntz is experiencing a sort of “buyer’s remorse” as he has discovered that, to quote the Harry Chapin song “he’d grown up just like me, my boy was just like me.” In the same way as my parents (particularly my mother) expressed regret at having no grandchildren (after raising my brother and I with adages like “if you have children, you’ll end up having to sacrifice your goals and aspirations and you’ll never achieve anything”), Mr. Luntz is experiencing the remorse of getting what you asked for having discovered that it was not what you wanted.




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  9. teve tory says:

    It’s not Trump that makes me want to get out of this country, it’s the fact that 46% of voters – and 40% of those polled today – have no reluctance to trash the country we are all supposed to love. Patriotism is a hollow joke for these people, it’s just a word they use, not something they feel. Law and order means nothing more than having cops throw black people to the ground.

    When that many people are that weak, that corrupt, that morally depraved, the country is fcked. Trump isn’t the plague, he’s just the buboes.

    Max Planck famously said that science advances one funeral at a time. Turns out he wasn’t quite right–science progresses a bit faster than generational change.

    Voting, however is a bit of a different story. We do have a propaganda network that is very effective in turning out angry elderly Trumpers, and old people do vote at twice the rate of young people. But I take heart in the fact that the average age of a FoxNews viewer is an astonishing 68 years old, and it not going to be too long before demographics make a dent.

    Also, the Parkland/MeToo/etc energy of the past year has felt unique. Let’s see how the fall elections look before we give up ship.




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  10. Andy says:

    I’m not following the election at all yet, but it would be interesting to know if these “Trumpist” candidates are running in competitive districts/states or if this is more than a naked appeal to the limited base that votes in GoP primaries.




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  11. teve tory says:

    Bloomberg just showed evidence that Trump–who told Comey and the FBI that he didn’t stay overnight in Moscow–was actually there for 48 hrs.

    It probly won’t be trump’s party forever….




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  12. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Scott:

    I don’t understand how a large segment of our country are basically nihilists who seem to have a deep seated hatred of the United States.

    “Nihilist” doesn’t mean “a person I don’t like”.

    Trump voters are not Nihilists; in fact they’re almost the polar opposite. They’re convinced life is some big movie and they’re the hero and are pissed because it’s not working out that way.




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  13. CSK says:

    Oh, dear Lawd, this is hysterical:

    http://www.thefixerlawyer.com




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  14. al-Ameda says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Trump voters are not Nihilists; in fact they’re almost the polar opposite. They’re convinced life is some big movie and they’re the hero and are pissed because it’s not working out that way.

    They’re a strange blend of
    (1) “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” -Network,
    (2) “I woke up in such a great mood today. I don’t know what happened.” -Fast Times at Ridgemont High




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  15. Scott says:

    @Stormy Dragon: You’re right, of course, by definition. Words have failed me so help me out here. What do you call someone who is rage-filled, angry, and wants to tear it all down and blow it all up without regard to consequences? I have relatives like this and I can’t understand them other than life did not turn out the way they wanted it to. And it is not as if they don’t have a decent life now. It just didn’t meet expectations and they are looking for someone to blame.




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  16. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Scott:

    What do you call someone who is rage-filled, angry, and wants to tear it all down and blow it all up without regard to consequences?

    Dissidents? Agitators? Subversives? Anarchists?




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  17. CSK says:

    @Scott:

    I know. Most Trumpkins do not appear to be living wretched lives. It’s just that they feel they’re not being giving the respect–and cultural and political dominance–that they deserve.




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  18. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Scott:

    What do you call someone who is rage-filled, angry, and wants to tear it all down and blow it all up without regard to consequences?

    I’m not sure there’s an “-ism” you can ascribe to it, as it’s not the result of a rational thought process, it’s a purely emotional reaction. So I’d say it’s just garden-variety “spite”.




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  19. gVOR08 says:

    @Scott:

    I have to admit, even to myself, that I don’t think I understand this country anymore. I don’t understand how a large segment of our country are basically nihilists who seem to have a deep seated hatred of the United States.

    Forget who said this earlier today, but: If you don’t believe the “great man” theory of history, how do you explain how Rupert Murdoch screwed up three countries?




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  20. Mister Bluster says:

    @HarvardLaw92:..Dissidents? Agitators? Subversives? Anarchists?

    The United States Constitution calls them Insurrectionists
    Article I, Section 8, Par. 15
    To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;




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  21. gVOR08 says:

    The Republican Party exists to serve it’s wealthy donors. As their interests are at odds with everyone else’s, the only way they can win is to con the rubes with xenophobia and religion. Trump has been very successful at conning the rubes. Did we think the Rs were going to walk away from what works? You think if Trump doesn’t run in 2020, one way or another, that the rest of the R field won’t be clones of Trump?




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  22. Mister Bluster says:

    test




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  23. Mister Bluster says:

    @Scott:..It seems as though what he predicted is coming true. We’re in the middle of a gigantic meltdown and it won’t be pretty.

    It is fitting that on this day that The Rapture is predicted to occur (for the umpteenth time) that an OTB Oracle is foretelling the future.
    I wonder how much this gigantic meltdown will resemble David Mead’s Tribulation – seven years of intense horror and suffering plaguing the surface of the planet.




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  24. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Scott: A terrorist.




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  25. grumpy realist says:

    @Scott: spoiled brats?




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  26. Pete S says:

    @Scott: Unfortunately, I would call them ordinary garden variety Republicans of the early 21st century.




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  27. teve tory says:

    The GOP is Trump’s now

    The first thing to understand is that lots of popular conceptions of Trump — that he’s an anomaly, an aberration, an outsider who’s hijacked and split the party — are just wrong. Taylor cites this recent paper from political scientist Larry Bartels, which shows in great detail that, for all intents and purposes, there is no anti-Trump faction of the GOP. The party is united behind Trump, which is why Congress has provided no meaningful check on his power or corruption.

    Similarly, popular conceptions of the GOP — that it is driven primarily by conservative economic principles like small government, low taxes, and deregulation — are also wrong. It turns out those things were the preoccupations of a thin and unrepresentative conservative elite, primarily in DC. The Tea Party uprising and its culmination in Trump were driven by white resentment and white backlash. (Here’s another new study supporting that thesis.) The ethnonationalist populism Trump represents is the dominant strain of conservatism in America today.

    David Roberts at Vox might be reading this blog 😉




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  28. teve tory says:

    There you have it: an existential threat. A party that is not meaningfully restrained by shared norms of conduct cannot long be legally or democratically restrained either. And the GOP has grown more lawless with each passing administration.

    It may sound faintly absurd to think that the US could see widespread political violence or openly rigged elections, but lots of things that are currently happening sound faintly absurd too. Norms and expectations that were once considered sacrosanct have dissolved like tissue paper, one after the other. Who’s to say where it could lead?




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  29. teve tory says:

    McConnell said we can’t win this SCOTUS seat, so we just won’t vote on the nomination. Scott Walker said we’re not going to win the WI special Elections, so I just won’t have them. Trump says Hillary’s popular vote win is invalid because unnamed millions of illegals voted.

    Most states, the administers of elections, are currently controlled by the GOP. Might this be setting the stage for cancelled elections?

    FWIW my guess is no, but I thought Trump had no chance…..




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  30. Scott O says:

    @Scott: I call them a**holes.




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  31. teve tory says:

    “Mick Mulvaney, the interim director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, told banking industry executives and lobbyists on Tuesday that they should increase their campaign donations to influence lawmakers, revealing that he would meet only with lobbyists who contributed to his campaign when he served in the House.”

    -nyt




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