Trump’s Rhetoric and the GOP’s Test

Spoiler alert: the GOP has already failed this test multiple times.

In light of social media calls by Donald Trump to suspend the US Constitution, let me take my colleague James Joyner’s description of Donald Trump as “a dangerous nut” (although I will confess that “nut” seems both inadequate and unintentionally lets him off the hook a bit) and add that he is an authoritarian who is saying things that are intolerable and unacceptable from a person seeking office, elected or appointed, in the United States of America (or, for that matter, in any country that even pretends to be a democracy). Even for the “constitutional republic” crowd, I would note that it is deliciously difficult to be a “constitutional” anything if the constitution is suspended because a politician doesn’t like the way said constitution functions.

I, unfortunately, have to add the modifying phrase “should be” to “intolerable and unacceptable” because it is quite likely that many Republicans, including Speaker-in-waiting Kevin McCarthy, will downplay, if not outright ignore, these comments.

To ask “for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution” is to call for lawlessness (quite literally) and for a coup against the United States government (a term readers know I do not deploy lighlty). It should be the kind of thing that is not tolerated, at all, by our political process. It should be a moment wherein the politicians who said it should be made a pariah by mainstream politicians. It should not be just criticized or condemned.

It should not be tolerated.

It should not be acceptable.

But of course, on a lower level, it should have been unacceptable to say about women that you can “Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.” But since fully rejecting that statement would have cost the Republicans the White House, it was best just to decide it was “locker room talk” and move on. I will even say that I understand why a lot of Republicans in October of 2016 had to rationalize this one away, after all, were they really going to hand the White House to Hillary Clinton because of some gross things Trump said?

It should not have been acceptable to state in 2016 that he would not commit to accepting the outcome of the election. Oh no, he was just being dramatic or hyperbolic and we shouldn’t take him literally, after all! Yet, we all saw what he really meant in January of 2021.

In January of 2021 it should not have been acceptable to tell the rioters and insurrectionists at the US Capitol:

We love you. You’re very special. You’ve seen what happens. You see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil.

I know how you feel, but go home, and go home in peace.

Indeed, the Republican Party had the chance to actually demonstrate that Trump’s behavior leading up to, and on, January 6th was intolerable and unacceptable. They could have voted to impeach and convict him in the Senate, thus barring him from running again and attempting to set the party on the right pathway. Instead, only a handful of Republican lawmakers chose to do so.

And while Kevin McCarthy said the right things in private, he publicly went down to Mar-a-Lago to kiss the ring.

To fast-forward to the extremely recent past: it should not have been acceptable to dine with Kayne West and Nick Fuentes. But, you know, Trump is gonna Trump, so whatcha gonna do? Although consider where we are: within roughly a week of that dinner, Ye goes on InfoWars and actually said, among other things,

“I like Hitler,” a fully masked Ye told Jones. Minutes later, the rapper said, “I love Jewish people, but I also love Nazis.”

Any other politician, let alone a declared major-party candidate (and front-runner for the nomination!) for the presidency of the United States, would be tripping over themselves to reject Ye’s statements in the strongest of terms. Instead, all of this is just treated by far too many as just a bunch of Trump-related noise.

(I could list a host of other things that should be neither tolerated not accepted, but surely these are enough).

And when I say that all of this should be “intolerable and unacceptable” I mean specifically by party elites in the Republican Party (to be defined very broadly as office-holders, former officer-holders, members of the RNC, GOP-affiliated think tanks, donors, and even media allies).

And yet, while we get some condemnation and complaints, we get nothing that rises to the level of being treated by the GOP as either intolerble and/or unacceptable.

For example, as per Yahoo News: DeSantis silent on Trump’s dinner with white nationalist Fuentes, Ye

At the close of a week in which top Republicans roundly denounced former President Donald Trump’s dinner with white supremacist Nick Fuentes and increasingly antisemitic rapper Kanye West, now known as Ye, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has notably remained silent.

As of early Friday evening, DeSantis had not weighed in on the stunning meeting, and two spokespeople did not return requests for comment Friday. Instead, DeSantis appeared on Fox News cable host Tucker Carlson’s program and blasted Apple regarding its work in China, and attacked the communist regime there for its false claims about COVID-19 and its handling of growing protests.

We’ll see if he-who-wants-to-lead says anything about the suspending the constitution remarks. I expect, like with the Ye business, and a host of other examples, the tactic will be to ignore in the hopes that it all just blows over.

To be fair, some Republicans have criticized that dinner (examples here), but not to the level of actually totally rejecting Trump (which is what all of this demands). And I would expect all of them to fall in line in 2024 if Trump is the nominee. (As they all did every previous chance they had to say enough is enough).

I understand that there is a risk for these politicians of losing power and influence, and since their lives’ works have been to accrue power and influence I am asking them to risk quite a lot, but it needs to be done.

If you took the party labels off of Trump and talked about all of the above as some abstract hypothetical, no one in mainstream politics would jump up and say: now that’s a winning formula! Indeed, if we were talking about a character on a TV show or in a movie, we would all consider it an overly broad and lazy characterization without nuance and call the writer a hack.

But we aren’t. We are talking about a man who already had substantial power and is now seeking more. And a man whose ongoing bad behavior is shaping a major political party. And if anyone thinks he isn’t directly influencing GOP behavior, then re-read this post. The mass willingness of GOP politicians, allies, and voters to gloss over this stuff enables Trump and taints the GOP, full stop.

And you simply do not give power to someone who speaks openly of suspending the constitution (but, then again, you shouldn’t give power to someone who openly supported an insurrection, either).

Look, it is easy for opponents to say that Trump is intolerable and unacceptable, but it isn’t enough. And as long as people like Kevin McCarthy, who is poised to be third in line for the presidency and is about to hold one of the most consequential positions in the federal government are unwilling to cut Trump out (and indeed, to do the opposite) because doing so would jeopardize his career goals, then the party (and the country) has a profound problem.

It cannot be stressed enough that Trump’s behavior is the kind of thing that we would expect from wacky fringe parties run by people serving jail sentences or from some bunker somewhere (i.e., their mother’s basement). But, instead, Trump is still the ostensible leader of one of our two major political parties and is still powerful enough that he can have dinner with people who “love Hitler” and it just be a transitory story. That should be very disturbing.

And if one looks at Trump and says, well, at least he got us Dobbs, then at least recognize that you got Dobbs via a deal with a devil to get it. And that devil is cavorting with anti-semites and neo-Nazis whilst talking about suspending the constitution. Meanwhile, all his party can do is some light condemnation, while still being more than willing to nominate him again if it helps them all keep whatever grip on power they think they can manage.

At some point, tolerating and accepting Trump becomes more than just short-term partisan-based practical politics and becomes simply tolerating and accepting, if not fully embracing and mainstreaming (indeed, we have arguably already passed that mark). While I think that the line in the sand that should not have been crossed was drawn in July of 2015 right after he descended that escalator, I am enough of a student of politics to know that that is not the way it works for everyone.

At some point, party loyalty has got to go.

At some point, it has to be worth the political risk of short-term loss to purge the party of cancerous ideas and behaviors.

Or, at some point, you have to acknowledge what you are accepting and tolerating.

Let me stress: a constitutional system cannot long persist if major political actors are willing to call for suspending that constitution when it gets in the way of their personal political goals.

Further, parties that tolerate such statements are, themselves, behaving ways that we should all reject.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Campaign 2016, Campaign 2020, Campaign 2024, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    Those who want a theocratic autocracy, with Trump sent by God to represent God on earth, would want to get rid of the Constitution anyway, wouldn’t they? So a call to suspend it wouldn’t alarm them in the least. They’d welcome it.

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  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    Any one waiting for the professional R’s to do something about trump, will wait a long time, like never. While they would like to rid themselves of the man, they want to salvage and utilize what he stands for. Denouncing him would deny them a place at the table of succession.

    It will be the voters who rid us of the menace or trump, if not trumpism.

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  3. Modulo Myself says:

    They’ve spent decades not only defending but relying on quasi-racists and quasi-antisemites. What is really the difference between saying ‘Hitler is okay’ and ‘The Bell Curve was onto a few things’? I recall that people were very angry about Andrew Sullivan getting the boot from wherever he was. But what was the difference between him and Ye? They both express extremely false and cancerous views. Just one has the capacity to smooth them over with an Oxbridge facade, and won’t say straight-up black people were born dumb and inferior.

    If you can’t deal with the obvious mask of a quasi-racist then you will be not be ready to deal with someone who says Hitler is okay.

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  4. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK:

    Those who want a theocratic autocracy, with Trump sent by God to represent God on earth, would want to get rid of the Constitution anyway, wouldn’t they?

    Yes. That’s been my experience among Dominionists. Fortunately, most Evangelicals aren’t Dominionists. They simply love their world view more than they love their God. And don’t love either with any real fervor.

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  5. EddieInCA says:

    For the last six plus years, I’ve had to listen to people who spout the phrase: “I hate Trump, but I like his policies”, to which I ask “Which policies?”, and the answers is always boilerplate GOP talking points, “Lowering taxes, cutting regulations, enforcing the border, tough on crime”, etc. These are issues any mainstream Republicans would be pushing. So why Trump?

    At what point, if any, or on what issue, can these people be swayed against Trump? Because, before Trump, I’d have thought cavorting with those who embrace Nazis and want to ignore the Constitution when it comes to elections, would have been a deal breaker.

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  6. CSK says:

    @EddieInCA:

    I’ve often wondered “why Trump” myself, since, as you say, these positions are boilerplate Republican. The only answer I can come up with is that they like his utter boorishness and vulgarity. Some of them are afraid to admit it.

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  7. Michael Reynolds says:

    Republicans were always lying about their loyalty to the Constitution. They were loyal to the Second Amendment, period.

    The decent Republicans – like our hosts, like many in comments – are no longer Republicans. But I wish the lesson would be learned: when the Left warns you – as we have since the days of Nixon – that the GOP was at its core racist and theocratic, it might be worth listening and not ignoring the truth just because you saved on your taxes.

    Republicans don’t love guns because they hunt rabbits, they love guns because in their heart of hearts they are always ready for a race war. They buy guns to shoot n—ers and all their liberal allies. That has been at the heart of the Republican voting base since the Southern Strategy. It’s taken decades for ‘decent Republicans’ to come to accept the absolutely obvious.

    That said, it’s mostly macho LARPing. Fat old men squeezed into ‘tactical gear,’ and shrieking women religious hysterics, and random loons like Kanye, are not going to go to war to overthrow the Constitution. I have always expected some terrorism, but those people will be caught and imprisoned.

    Right now the Republican Party’s best hope of survival is that Democrats will throw Trump in prison. They need us to kill the tiger they unwisely rode. With the fascist wave put down, Republicans can get back to subtler racism and anti-semitism and misogyny, and suck up all those sweet, sweet tax breaks and tell themselves comforting lies about patriotism.

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  8. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    I saw/learned a couple things today that give me pause.

    Oh, you mean like this?

    Republican Ohio Rep. Dave Joyce said Sunday that he didn’t want to be drawn into commenting on Donald Trump’s recent call to suspend the Constitution over baseless claims of 2020 election fraud.
    ***
    Joyce ultimately said that Trump’s comment should be taken “in context” but that it wouldn’t prevent him from supporting Trump if he ends up winning the nomination.

    JFC on Roller Skates. Yet another example of why Luddite is unarmed, except for bile, sarcasm, and scathing witticisms.

    https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/trump-s-call-to-suspend-constitution-not-a-2024-deal-breaker-house-republican-says/ar-AA14TmhW?ocid=msedgntp&cvid=21dc4479cefd42e59192f87de982decb

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  9. Scott F. says:

    …James Joyner’s description of Donald Trump as “a dangerous nut” (although I will confess that “nut” seems both inadequate and unintentionally lets him off the hook a bit…

    But, you know, Trump is gonna Trump, so whatcha gonna do?

    Thank you for this post, especially these two quotes. As it has been since 2015’s escalator ride, Trump’s unfitness has been at once self-evident and dismissed as idiosyncrasy. But, a nut with a flamethrower and a cheering section is an existential threat and the cheering section is the more pernicious element of the threat.

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  10. Mister Bluster says:

    Further, parties that tolerate such statements are, themselves, behaving ways that we should all reject.

    In a recent thread around Election Day I stated that I would not vote for any Republican as long as Donald Trump was the leader of the Republican Party. One commenter “urged” me to look at Republicans in local contests. My reply still stands. As long as I see local, state and national level Republicans seek the favor of Donald Trump, enemy of The United States Constution, like they did when Trump visited here to campaign for United States Representative Mike Bost, I’ve got no use for them.

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  11. CSK says:

    @Flat Earth Luddite:

    Did he explain what would be the context in which we should take Trump’s quote?

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  12. Gavin says:

    Turns out the real reason Republicans “hate Communism” is.. they think they can do the same stuff better than the original.

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  13. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    For the past election I did look at the R’s that were running for the state legislature and they were all in on trump, but quiet on the steal rhetoric. So they’re not any better.

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  14. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    @CSK:

    Well, in re-reading the article, and reviewing his quotes, my personal take is that he’ll support whatever sh*t Rump says, because he’s a lying chickensh*t who puts Party over Everything Else. YMMV, but IMO he’s another example of a spineless weasel in a suit giving rabid weasels a bad name. And remember, this man is Chair of the Republican Governance Group, which identifies as a “centrist” group in the House. JFCORS, indeed.

    “It’s early. … [but] I will support whoever the Republican nominee is,” Joyce said. While he noted that he didn’t think Trump would manage to win the 2024 Republican presidential nomination because there are “a lot of other good quality candidates out there.”

    After Stephanopoulos pointed out that “You just said you’d support a candidate who’s come out for suspending the Constitution,” Joyce responded,
    “Well, you know, he says a lot of things, “I can’t be really chasing every one of these crazy statements that come from any of these candidates.” After being challenged again, Joyce said “He says a lot of things, but that doesn’t mean that it’s ever going to happen. So you got to [separate] fact from fantasy — and fantasy is that we’re going to suspend the Constitution and go backwards. We’re moving forward.”

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  15. CSK says:

    @Flat Earth Luddite:

    Okay, so Trump can spout a dangerous fantasy, but that’s fine, because it’s just a fantasy. Do I have that right?

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  16. Jay L Gischer says:

    A question comes to mind: Can one do Gods will by making a deal with the Devil?

    I mean, I was presented with that question in Sunday School as a kid.

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  17. Cheryl Rofer says:

    Steven: You have adopted the WaPo’s minimizing formulation of “suspending” the Constitution, but you also quote Trump, who said “terminate” Constitutional provisions. He’s not talking about something temporary, he’s talking about President For Life.

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  18. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    @CSK:

    No, they actively support the fantasyland fantasy. Waiting for the oath keepers to be granted pardons

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  19. Mister Bluster says:

    I try to look at all candidates for all elections that I can cast a ballot. Like the time when I called the candidates running for the local grade school board, gave them my full name, told them that I was a voter in the district and asked them what they thought of prayer in schools. They all hemmed and hawed a bit and then said it wasn’t a good idea. I then mentioned that the Supreme Court’s Engel v. Vitale decision did not ban all prayer in school. It only prohibited school-sponsored prayer in public schools that violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
    None of them knew this.
    Somehow I was not surprised.

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  20. Just nutha says:

    @Jay L Gischer: According to some evangelicals that I know, yes, it’s quite possible that doing God’s will will involve dealing with the devil. Particularly keeping in mind that “the devil” is, largely an abstract concept.

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  21. @Cheryl Rofer:

    Steven: You have adopted the WaPo’s minimizing formulation of “suspending” the Constitution, but you also quote Trump, who said “terminate” Constitutional provisions. He’s not talking about something temporary, he’s talking about President For Life.

    I feel like this is unnecessary criticism, to be honest. I think I am quite clear here, and have been elsewhere, as to my views on all of this.

    For that matter, I don’t find the verb “suspend” to be a minimalization in the least, as it is the typical kind of language authoritarians around the world have used to try and install themselves into office. While I understand that in plain English “terminate” sounds worse, I consider talking about “suspending” to mean the same thing.

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