Zach Beauchamp reviews three books on the question of why the contemporary Republican party got radicalized.
I think Matthew Continetti’s take is probably the most common one among elite Republicans, even though it’s basically absurd:
Continetti seems to condemn the Trump presidency in the book’s penultimate chapter, but his assessment is colored by the tendencies in conservatism he himself diagnosed. In Continetti’s view, the Trump presidency was not necessarily rotted from the core, but was a largely successful enterprise ruined almost single-handedly by the Capitol riot:
If Trump had followed the example of his predecessors and conceded power graciously and peacefully, he would have been remembered as a disruptive but consequential populist leader who, before the coronavirus pandemic, presided over an economic boom [and] reoriented America’s opinion of China… Instead, when historians write about the Trump era, they will do so through the lens of January 6.
This simply ignores that, far from being unexpected, Trump’s attempt to subvert democracy was something he had said over and over again he was going to do, and indeed is a necessary feature of his entire conspiratorial white supremacist frame.
The whole idea of Trumpism without Trump is oxymoronic, because Trump himself is more symptom than cause. “Trumpism” is just shorthand for herrenvolk democracy American style, meaning white supremacy coupled with nationalist theocratic Christianity. That the plutocrats who have traditionally controlled the Republican party thought they could exploit what is in fact the central motivating forces for contemporary conservatism without having those forces eventually take control of the entire movement is a monument to delusion in the service of impure greed.