In a functioning democratic and political media ecosystem, it would have been front page news: The former president and de facto leader of one of the two major political parties and front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024 called for the suspension of the Constitution and essentially his own installment as dictator—the same man who had incited a violent insurrection at the Capitol two years ago. And yet, neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post thought this newsworthy enough for their front pages on the following day.
The reasons for this are manifold: Increasing numbness in the face of rising fascism due to the onslaught of unhinged news stories emerging out of the Republican camp; a false understanding of “neutrality” as the equidistance between the two parties (no matter how far from the small-d democratic ideals one of them has strayed); and the elite media’s penchant for both-sides-ism that protects the patriarchal, White status quo—to name just a few.
Similar to the second attempt on the life of the third-highest-ranking Democrat within two years, this news story, which should dominate the news cycle for several weeks at the very least, has seemingly already disappeared from the nation’s headlines. And while some media outlets in the US and internationally ran pieces claiming “Republican condemnation” of Trump’s dictatorial rantings on Truth Social, it’s worth pausing and taking a closer look as to who exactly it was, among Republicans, that chose to speak out.
True, some Republicans have condemned Trump—but they largely have no future left in today’s Republican Party. Mike Pence might be the most disliked man in the country both on the Right and the Left, no matter how often Fox News tries to make him seem beloved by everyone. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger won’t be in the next Congress because their conservatism isn’t right-wing enough for the GOP anymore, and John Bolton, apart from having no position of influence in the party, is currently on his post-Trump-administration rehabilitation tour and is nonsensically planning to run himself in 2024.
Pat Toomey has called Trump a “toxic force,” but, like Cheney and Kinzinger, Toomey won’t be in the next Congress as he, along with his colleague Ben Sasse, is retiring at the end of this term. Politico’s article “Senate Republicans turn on Trump over suspend-the-Constitution talk,” which also lists senators who are mostly retiring, moves on from Trump’s call to suspend the Constitution to platforming Republican both-sidesism, pivoting rapidly from Trump’s dictatorial ambitions to the nonsense-Hunter-Biden “story” published by a (former?) journalist via tweet who’s now working with Elon Musk. It’s a classic: Yeah, Trump’s crazy, but did you see this crazy thing on Twitter?
Mike Turner is one of the tiny number of Republicans in a position of influence within the GOP at the moment who has disavowed Trump’s remarks directly—although as far as I can tell, he hasn’t said anything about whether these remarks would prevent him from supporting the former president in 2024. Like Turner, minority whip John Thune, the second most powerful Republican in the Senate, said “of course I disagree with that,” regarding Trump’s comments. But he too refused to say whether he would support Trump in 2024 or not:
“It’s just one of those intuitively obvious things, whether a candidate for office has sort of a bedrock principle, ‘are you going to support the Constitution? For him, it’s not all that unusual. But it will be the grist and plenty of fodder for those that are looking to get into that race.”
Not exactly a rebuttal—and, in fact, an accidental indictment of his own party which has supported Trump thus far.
Mitch McConnell tried to have his cake and eat it too, saying: “Let me just say, anyone seeking the presidency who thinks that the Constitution could somehow be suspended or not followed, it seems to me would have a very hard time being sworn in as President of the United States.” Following these comments, in response to a direct question, he refused to say whether he would support Trump in 2024.
CNN gets it right—in the conclusion, at least:
“But even among those speaking out, few have said it should disqualify Trump from running again for the White House, while many more Hill Republicans have so far remained silent on the issue.”
There is, at the end of 2022, no reason to be surprised by the fact that Trump dined with neo-Nazis or wants to suspend the Constitution; it’s as though we’ve already forgotten that, in the wake of a counter-protester being killed by a neo-Nazi at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, he called Nazis “good people.” And yet, while everything Trump has done in the last couple of weeks has been perfectly on brand, it’s important to still be shocked, though not surprised, by his actions. And the same goes for the (lack of) Republican reaction to it.
Let’s be honest, if the attempted violent coup to remain in power, the brazen attempts at overturning a legal election, and the democracy-undermining rhetoric weren’t enough to oust Trump as leader of the Republican Party, nothing was ever going to be. Again and again, Republicans have shown that they are willing to go along with and support open fascism if they think it benefits them politically and could lead—eventually—to more power, to further opportunities to establish White, Christian, patriarchal minority rule.
Republicans have, over and over again, demonstrated that in the pursuit of power there’s no red line that Trump could cross that would lead them to abandon him. There are few things as openly fascist as demanding the suspension of the Constitution and to be installed as dictator—and yet even that isn’t enough for prominent Republicans to denounce Trump publicly. Neither is dining with an established White nationalist and a rapper who recently praised Hitler. Sure, they might try to get rid of him in the future—if they come to the conclusion that he hurts them more than he helps. But clearly it won’t be the result of their lack of tolerance for his openly anti-democratic behavior.
And even though Ron DeSantis has been recently floated by conservative pundits as the “respectable alternative” to Trump—or, as the National Review’s Jim Geraghty put it in the Washington Post a couple of days ago—“a return to normalcy”—let’s not kid ourselves what this would mean. Yes, it would mean a return to normalcy in the sense that you can trust DeSantis to read from a teleprompter and not break out into expressly racist slurs at any moment.
But DeSantis’ silence is telling. He’s not willing to denounce Trump over his overt fascism, over his blatant violation of the rule of law, over his fraternizing with literal White nationalists—because he sees nothing to gain from it, and because, structurally, he doesn’t disagree with Trump on his dream of an autocratic, even dictatorial leader. In a way Geraghty is correct—though not in the way he thinks. The return to normalcy is an indictment of the far-right character of the GOP, not a sign of moderation on DeSantis’ part. DeSantis might be too smart to say it out loud—but his silence is just as loud as an endorsement of Trump’s actions would be.
Trump’s open embrace of fascism and antisemitism has been mainstreamed on the American Right. So even if Trump were to be ousted from the movement because Republicans finally decided that he’s no longer useful, the fascist and antisemitic tendencies in their politics would remain—their lies about a secret cabal that “indoctrinates” children, sexualizes and molests them; about “coastal elites” who suppress free speech of “real” (meaning White, conservative, Christian) Americans; and the moral panic over LGBTQ, especially trans, people and Critical Race Theory all harken back to versions of the antisemitic conspiracy theory of Cultural Marxism which has a long tradition amongst the Christian Right.
The antisemitic narratives at core of the ramped-up moral panics peddled by Republicans can be found in the century-old antisemitic Russian forgery, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” In its current form it’s the lie that Jews use Civil Rights (or any kind of Social Justice cause) to bring Bolshevism, communism, socialism—pick your poison!—to the US, and that they use Black people to divide the country and usher in their Bolshevik/communist/socialist dystopia. You can hear echoes and variations of this story every day on Fox News.
As long as Republicans don’t step back from these harmful, antisemitic narratives, it doesn’t even matter if they condemn individual acts of political violence or antisemitism—because they’re signalling to their supporters that they’re still on board with the hateful message that unites them: That the US belongs to a certain kind of people; that “the Left” is a deeply un-American force that must not simply be beaten in an election, but destroyed and eviscerated; and that everyone whose existence is an affront to White Christian heterosexual conservatives must be purged from public civic life.
Ideologically, however, there’s no off-ramp, no way to moderate, because it’s antithetical to the tale American conservatives have spun for decades—according to these stories, nothing less than the fate of civilization hangs in the balance. And now that their base has thoroughly absorbed these stories they’re more than willing to go along with the outpouring of violence and hatred that has sprung from them.