As the election season heats up, the insanity of which is far beyond the scope of a single Carroll County Times column, it’s an opportune time to step back and consider the state of the Republican Party.
There are four general groups of Republicans these days. At the extremes are the Never Trumpers, and the Forever Trumpers. Never Trumpers are the small group, perhaps 10-15% of self-identified R’s, who have loudly declared their opposition to the President, even to the point of openly campaigning for Joe Biden. Conservatives such as Charlie Sykes, Max Boot, Mona Charen, Stephen Schwartz, Jennifer Rubin, and Jerry Taylor have either publicly come to terms with their roles in putting the country in our current situation, or are wrestling with it through their opposition to the President. They are not popular with most Trump supporters.
Forever Trumpers are disproportionately members of a subset of the population political scientists describe as having an authoritarian disposition. Dr. Karen Stenner, in her book “The Authoritarian Dynamic,” notes that the U.S. has always had about 20% of the population, on the right and left, who have authoritarian inclinations. They are generally uncomfortable with ambiguity, diversity, compromise, and the messy give and take of democracy. They crave hierarchy, order, and binary choices presented by a single strongman: good and evil, right and wrong, us and them. Principles take a back seat to a sense of belonging to a group, and just as importantly, aggressively punishing anyone outside the group threatening the status quo. They believe that for all his other shortcomings, some openly acknowledged, President Trump is a leader who fights for them, understands their fears, and promises to punish those who they feel threatened by. There is no act of criminality, immorality, or treason that will shake their faith in their leader.
You’d think the Forever Trumpers would be the most vocal opponents of the Never Trumpers, but that misses another important group, known as the Anti-anti-Trumpers. This group consists of people who object to President Trump, but still hate Democrats and “the liberals” more, the result of decades of hyperpartisan propaganda and the right wing media bubble. Despite their objections to President Trump, they cannot abide the fact that Never Trumpers ever say nice things about Democrats, immigrants, Dr. Fauci, and anyone else the president doesn’t like. These are people like Rich Lowry and Dan McLaughlin at the National Review. I suspect that as members of the right wing media machine, they are biding their time, hoping to revert back to the lucrative partisan warfare business as usual once the Trump presidency recedes into history.
The remaining 40-50%, let’s call them Middle Republicans, are somewhere on a spectrum between nagging doubts to thoughts of voting for a Democrat for the first time in their life. The latter group knows we are on the wrong track, deeply regret their vote for Trump in 2016, and are quietly mulling their options. Some will stay home, some will hold their noses and vote for Biden, and some are starting the painful process of questioning everything they thought they knew about the party they called home for their adult years.
The rest aren’t there yet, but they also know they aren’t Forever Trump, are uncomfortable with fanaticism, and are beginning to suspect they’re being lied to. The disconnect between traditional conservative beliefs and the president’s behavior, words, and policies makes them uneasy, but maybe they haven’t consciously acknowledged why. They may listen to the words of the Anti-anti-Trumpers and initially agree, but a nagging suspicion that something is amiss just won’t go away. Perhaps the price of those tax cuts and conservative judges may be more than they are willing to pay.
In the first detailed public account of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, author John Hersey relates an anecdote about a group of teenage girls trapped in the rubble of a heavy collapsed wall. Pinned by debris, choking on dust, some of the girls tried to keep up morale by singing the emperor worshiping national anthem. One girl, named Kayoko Nobutoki, decided to dig instead of sing. Kayoko freed herself and survived. The rest suffocated in the ruins.
Middle Republicans face a choice: start digging, or keep singing. The rest of us will be up here on the surface, cleaning up the mess.
Robert Wack writes from Westminster. He can be reached at Robert.email@example.com