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34 weeks


It’s difficult to hold these two thoughts in mind at the same time:

(1) Everything Donald Trump represents has been at least latent in movement conservatism and the Republican party since the days of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

(2) Trumpism represents a qualitative transformation of the GOP into an explicitly authoritarian anti-democratic party, and this transformation makes that party a fundamentally different entity than it was even eight years ago.

This column from lifelong Republican and conservative Peter Wehner naturally emphasizes the second point:

The Republican Party has grown more radical, unhinged and cultlike every year since Mr. Trump took control of it. In 2016, there was outrage among Republicans after the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape. On the tape, in words that shocked the nation, Mr. Trump said that when you’re a star, “You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

In 2023, Mr. Trump was found liable for sexual abuse. His “locker room talk” turned out to be more than just talk. Yet no Republican of significance said a critical word about it.

The same was true earlier this year when Mr. Trump was found liable for civil fraud. The judge in the case, Arthur F. Engoron, said that the former president’s “complete lack of contrition” bordered on “pathological.” Yet Republicans were united in their outrage, not in response to Mr. Trump’s actions but at the judge for the size of the penalty.

Today, many Republicans not only profess to believe that the election was stolen; prominent members of Congress like Representative Elise Stefanik and Senator J.D. Vance say they would not have certified the 2020 election results, as Vice President Mike Pence, to his credit, did. Mike Johnson, who played a leading role in trying to overturn the election, is speaker of the House.

Republicans not only excuse the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6. Mr. Trump and his party also now glorify the insurrectionists. At his kickoff campaign rally for 2024, a song called “Justice for All” played, featuring Mr. Trump and the J6 Prison Choir, made up of prisoners charged with crimes related to the riot. Republicans are not only convinced that Mr. Trump was unfairly impeached and unfairly indicted; they are also completely untroubled by his threats against (and slander of) judges, law clerks and prosecutors, not to mention his attempts to influence and intimidate witnesses.

They are fine with the former president referring to “the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country” and insinuating that the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, deserved to be executed for committing treason. They are fine with Mr. Trump encouraging Russia to attack our NATO allies and comparing himself with Alexei Navalny, the Kremlin’s fiercest and bravest critic, who died while serving time in a remote Russian prison for his political beliefs. They are fine with him suggesting “termination” of the Constitution and with one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers arguing that if as president, Mr. Trump ordered SEAL Team Six to assassinate an opponent, he could be immune from criminal prosecution. And this is only a tiny representation of what he’s been saying and doing for years.

Call them Fifth Avenue Republicans.

Fifth Avenue Republicans support Mr. Trump regardless of what he does — even if, as he said in 2016, he stood in the middle of Fifth Avenue in New York and shot someone. This wasn’t an exaggeration; it was prophecy. . .

Mr. Trump will be the Republican nominee for the third time. His imprint on the Republican Party is now comparable with — and in some ways exceeds — Ronald Reagan’s. And that imprint is likely to last for at least a generation. It is a staggering achievement.

It also presents a profound threat to the country. Whatever one thought of the Republican Party pre-Trump, it was not fundamentally illiberal or nihilistic; its leaders were not sociopathic, merciless con men, wantonly cruel and lawless. No area of Mr. Trump’s life appears to have been untouched by moral corruption.

As someone who may have been the first person to point out in cyber-print that the parallels between Trump and Reagan meant he actually had a chance to be elected president, at a time when all right-thinking people considered this idea transparently absurd, I nevertheless want to say that I think that Wehner and other genuine never-Trump conservatives (the adjectival modifier makes this a very small group indeed) are right about this. The Republican party today is a vastly greater threat to liberal democracy than it was eight years ago, and this is wholly a product of Trump and Trumpism.

The next 34 weeks are among the more consequential in the life of this nation. Mr. Trump was a clear danger in 2016; he’s much more of a danger now. The former president is more vengeful, more bitter and more unstable than he was, which is saying something. There would be fewer guardrails and more true believers in a second Trump term. He’s already shown he’ll overturn an election, support a violent insurrection and even allow his vice president to be hanged. There’s nothing he won’t do. It’s up to the rest of us to keep him from doing it.

This is also a true thing.

. . . BradinVA:

It’s funny, but these two things have never seemed that difficult to grasp or in opposition to one another. My usual way of thinking about this is that Trump is both a symptom and an accelerant. And he is definitely and clearly accelerating towards something very dark.

But if it helps, another way to think about this is to remember the old axiom “more is different.” The white supremacist and authoritarian strains may have always represented latent strains of belief and behavior in the Republican party, but becoming the dominant way of thinking (not just at an executive level, but also up and down the various legislative, judicial hierarchies and even the messaging/outreach apparatus) means that the whole really is now different than it was.

I’d never heard the phrase “more is different,” but it really does capture what’s happening here.

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