Monday, November 14, 2022

The Fight for Democracy is Far From Over

No conservative has chronicled the implosion of the Republican Party more accurately than David Frum. He's at it again with a post-mortem following the 2022 midterms titled: "The Lesson Republicans Refuse to Learn."

The question after the 2022 midterms is: Can conservatives learn?

Through the Trump years, the Republican Party has organized itself as an anti-learning entity. Unwelcome information has been ignored or denied...

The historian Bernard Lewis once offered sage advice to any group that faces adverse circumstances: “The question, ‘Who did this to us?’ has led only to neurotic fantasies and conspiracy theories. The other question—‘What did we do wrong?’—has led naturally to a second question, ‘How do we put it right?’ In that question … lie[s] the best hope for the future.”

I was reminded that in 2012, after suffering heavy losses, the GOP did an autopsy and came to the conclusion that they needed to do more to reach out to Hispanics, women, and young voters. They then proceeded to do the exact opposite. 

Some things never change. As the 2022 results roll in, many of the loudest voices on the right are indulging in the "who [or what] did it to us" by attacking young people, women, and mail-in ballots. Questions like "what did we do wrong" and "how can we put it right" are impossible for them to answer because they only have three options on where to go from here.

1. Remain loyal to Trump. 

This one has been a losing proposition for the last three elections. Adding to that is that their cult leader is pretty old and about to face indictments for multiple crimes. 

2. Return to the failed policies of the Bush era.

This is what many of the NeverTrumpers are hoping for - including people like Liz Cheney. But there is a reason why the GOP stopped emphasizing their policies of the past: they failed miserably during the Bush/Cheney administration (Great Recession, two failed wars, Katrina, etc). 

3. Embrace the fascism of National Conservatives.

This is the group that I have been following pretty closely over the last few months. When it comes to politicians, it includes people like Ron DeSantis, Josh Hawley,  and J.D. Vance. Their loudest voice is, of course, Tucker Carlson. But behind the scenes are people like Rod Dreher, Peter Thiel, Sohrab Ahmari, and Curtis Yarvin. For a truly frightening look at that last one, I'd recommend reading a piece by Andrew Prokop titled "Curtis Yarvin wants American democracy toppled. He has some prominent Republican fans."

[Yarvin] stands out among right-wing commentators for being probably the single person who’s spent the most time gaming out how, exactly, the US government could be toppled and replaced — “rebooted” or “reset,” as he likes to say — with a monarch, CEO, or dictator at the helm. Yarvin argues that a creative and visionary leader — a “startup guy,” like, he says, Napoleon or Lenin was — should seize absolute power, dismantle the old regime, and build something new in its place.

That provides some context for this tweet from the guy who cheered on the January 6 insurrectionists: 

The hero for most of these guys (they're almost exclusively men) is Hungarian President Viktor Orban. That is important to keep in mind as the media begins to pay homage to DeSantis as the Republican who can defeat Trump. Here's what Zach Beauchamp wrote about the Florida governor last April:

DeSantis, who has built a profile as a pugilistic culture warrior with eyes on the presidency, has steadily put together a policy agenda with strong echoes of Orbán’s governing ethos — one in which an allegedly existential cultural threat from the left justifies aggressive uses of state power against the right’s enemies.

Most recently, there was DeSantis’s crackdown on Disney’s special tax exemption; using regulatory powers to punish opposing political speech is one of Orbán’s signature moves. On issues ranging from higher education to social media to gerrymandering, DeSantis has followed a trail blazed by Orbán, turning policy into a tool for targeting outgroups while entrenching his party’s hold on power... 
Orbán’s political model has frequently employed a demagogic two-step: Stand up a feared or marginalized group as an enemy then use the supposed need to combat this group’s influence to justify punitive policies that also happen to expand his regime’s power.

In other words, DeSantis envisions himself as the monarch/CEO/dictator Yarvin longs for. If you think I'm exaggerating, then you probably haven't seen the closing ad for the DeSantis campaign.   

Of course, there's some overlap between these three options. For example, Jeb Bush recently said that DeSantis has done a “great job” as governor, praising his COVID-19 response and education policies. Bush also said that the Florida governor has broad appeal outside of Florida because he has attacked cultural issues that are present in the Republican mindset.

Since I don't really have a dog in the fight between these three options, I'd suggest that the most important thing to keep in mind is that they all embrace two things: racism and sexism. Taking away a woman's right to chose has been part of the GOP platform for decades. The same thing is true for voter suppression. One of the basic tenants of the National Conservatives is that Republicans have been too soft on fighting the so-called "culture wars," so it is time to use government power to go after their "enemies."

This is the fight that is going to consume Republicans over the next two years. As I see it right now, the momentum is currently with the National Conservatives - especially following solid victories by DeSantis in Florida and Vance in Ohio. That's why the fight for democracy is far from over.


  1. It could be a battle between two men with an enormous Messiah Complex. Donald ("only I can fix it") Trump vs. Ron ("on the eighth day...") DeSantis.

    I agree the momentum is with the Nat Cons, esp DeSantis. Some of the adulation from GOP elites for the FL guv has been creepy. Likewise, from some regular media folk. TBD: how NeverTrump GOPers respond (do they go back to the party?).

    Hard to predict the future, as always. But assuming Trump, DeSantis, and a few others are running, I think the question is how much of the GOP base does Trump have in his corner going into the primaries. If it's 40% or more, he'll be hard to beat. 30%, then it matters how many other candidates split the vote. 25%, and Trump may still have the edge. (A new poll has Trump up 22% over DeSantis among Republicans.)

    Trump in '16 entered the primaries with a relatively small slice of GOP support (less than 30%, iirc), but it was bigger than anyone else's share, and the winner-take-all nature of many GOP primaries gives a huge edge to front-runners.

    My gut says DeSantis will have trouble. He's a thin-skinned stiff and he'll find out the rest of the country ain't like Florida (which should be a top lesson from Tuesday).

  2. I know much of the focus is on DeSantis, but we can't ignore the aspirations of Greg Abbot (Texas) or Brian Kemp (Georgia) either.

    Kemp, in particular, might attract a good portion of the non-rabid-Trumpists of the GOP. His actions in Georgia are definitely in line with national Republican desires, and that is going to appeal to a lot of the rest of them. Kemp appears more competent and capable of delivering results to DeSantis' flamboyance.

    It's difficult to objectively analyze each of these "people" (admittedly, I use that term loosely) when so many of them should be behind bars or otherwise far, far away from anything resembling the levers of power in our society...


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