The future of the GOP.

Where does the party go from here?

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free or subscribe for Friday editions, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.


Today’s read: 13 minutes.

Where do Republicans go from here? Plus, a question about all the resignations in the Trump administration.


Correction.

Yesterday, I wrote that Merrick Garland was nominated for the Supreme Court and that his seat “eventually went to Brett Kavanaugh.” Of course, Garland’s seat actually went to Neil Gorsuch, who was the first Supreme Court justice sat by President Trump.

This is the 27th Tangle correction in its 72-week existence and the first since last Thursday. I track corrections in an effort to be transparent and am realizing that writing 4,000 words a day without making silly mistakes is very hard.


A note.

In the last few weeks, I’ve heard from quite a few readers who have been frustrated that links to news outlets that Tangle redirected them to have paywalls. I understand the frustration, but generally speaking, my policy is to try to link to the news outlets that originally report a story — which usually ensures the most accuracy (imagining news as a game of telephone, once it’s been passed through a few sources the original story can change in meaning or details). It’s a policy we’re reviewing, but if you run into a paywall that’s the reason why.


Quick hits.

  1. The House approved a resolution calling on Vice President Mike Pence to remove Trump from office, but Pence said he would refuse. Today, they are expected to vote to impeach Trump for a second time, with support from as many as ten House Republicans. 

  2. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is said to be pleased about impeachment, hoping it rids the party of President Trump permanently. 

  3. A day before the riots at the Capitol, the FBI issued a previously unreported warning that extremists were going to travel to Washington to commit violence and “war.” 

  4. Joe Biden and Senate Democrats are already plotting an aggressive COVID-19 response “in the trillions of dollars” with or without Senate Republican support. 

  5. With Republicans immersed in a fight over the post-Trump world, Democrats are already looking ahead to the 2022 midterms, hoping to avoid a “shellacking” and even increase their majority in the Senate. 


What D.C. is talking about.

The future of the Republican party. House Democrats are primed to impeach President Donald Trump for a second time, and some top Republicans are actually on board this time around. The New York Times reported last night that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is privately backing impeachment and infuriated with Trump. Axios reports that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy “would love a Trumpless world, but doesn't want to knife him with fingerprints.”

Powerful Republicans in Congress and the donor class are rallying around a posture that was unthinkable just two months ago: they’re done with Trump, and they want him gone for good. After twin losses in Georgia, the Republican party has gone from controlling the White House, House and Senate in 2017 to losing control of all three in 2021. 

Of course, it’s not all Republicans. It isn’t even the majority, and a minority of Republican voters. This creates a difficult situation for Republican politicians and figures: the party understands the power of the “Trump base” and many are trying to navigate a new world where they show loyalty to the voters who handed them that power in 2017 but reject the man who’s responsible for losing it.

As a result, a debate is opening up about where Republicans go in a post-Trump world. I’ve also received hundreds of questions from readers on the same topic and on what I think the future is for the GOP. Today, we’ll explore some of the hypotheses from the right and left.


What the right is saying.

The right is generally divided into three camps: First, those who support the president and believe Republicans must keep his voters together as a bulwark against the left; second, those who believe the party could be headed for an irredeemable fracture; and third, those who believe the party has already been destroyed.

In The American Conservative, Robert Merry said the GOP “must nurture and preserve significant elements of Trumpism while extricating themselves from Trump himself… The outgoing president is so toxic now that he can never be used as a vehicle for reaching a majority coalition in America… The Trump legacy resides solely in the issues and political thinking that he brought forward during the 2016 campaign.”  

These include ideas such as that “the country’s porous-border policies of recent decades, involving both legal and illegal entry, have brought us to a point where challenges of assimilation are most important today in the immigration debate; that America’s commitment to free trade has made the country a sucker for abusive commercial practices of our trading partners, particularly China; that the hollowing out of the country’s industrial base was a travesty of harmful policymaking that needs to be reversed wherever possible… that endless U.S. wars in the Middle East and the intensity of our belligerence toward Russia have diminished our ability to deal with our greatest geopolitical challenge, the Chinese resurgence in Asia; that the persistent attack on American nationalism by liberal globalists and the ongoing assault on the Western heritage enervates the country by driving wedges through it.

“The Democratic Party coming into power now despises nearly all of this and will try to smash it in coming months and years in favor of initiatives designed to bolster federal governmental power and the influence of the country’s elite institutions in the name of humanitarianism,” Merry wrote. “The question facing Republicans is whether they can resist this assault effectively without distancing themselves from the man who put them in their current situation through his own toxicity.”

In The New York Times, Ross Douthat discussed a world where the Republican party may finally fracture. He noted that “reversion to the gridlocked mean” is a safe bet, and in that case “you’d expect the MAGA extremes to return to their fantasy world, the threat of violence to ebb, Trump to fade without his Twitter feed and the combination of Biden-administration liberalism and Big Tech overreach to bring the right’s blocking coalition back together in time for 2022.” But he also pointed out the problems.

“The Republican Party has succeeded in the past decade, despite its decadence and growing provincialism, by providing a harbor for voters who want to cast a vote, for all kinds of different reasons, against consolidated liberal power,” he wrote. “And it has found new support in unexpected places: first the Obama-Trump voters of the Midwest in 2016, then the immigrant neighborhoods that trended rightward in 2020. But the implicit bargain of the Trump era required traditional Republicans — from upper-middle-class suburbanites to the elites of the Federalist Society — to live with a lot of craziness from their leader, and a lot of even crazier ideas from the very-online portions of his base, in return for denying Democrats the White House. And it’s not clear that this bargain can survive the irruption of all that crazy into the halls of the Capitol, and the QAnon-ification of the right that made the riot possible.”

In The National Review, Kevin Williamson wrote about “the end of the GOP,” explaining to readers that he is a conservative made in the mold few modern Republicans would ever appreciate: someone who supports the establishment. “The modern GOP hates the Establishment so intensely that the party establishment works overtime to establish its anti-establishment credentials… I have met the people, I know them well. And if this country has any future, it is with the Establishment. The People are insane,” Williamson writes.

He described the current party as “post 9/11 Republicans” who have become completely radicalized.

“Donald Trump is the candidate of the 9/11 Republicans, whose politics is Kulturkampf and whose style is paranoid,” he said. “Donald Trump, an avid conspiracy buff — 9/11, vaccines, Barack Obama’s place of birth, etc. — found himself in a petri dish practically tailored to his cultural DNA. And he found himself there just as the right-wing radicals were abandoning the policy debate… It did not matter that Trump had been, until five minutes before seeking the Republican nomination, pro-abortion and pro-gun control. It did not matter that he was a Democrat who had donated a six-figure sum to the Clinton Foundation. It certainly did not matter that, as a Republican candidate, he remained vocally in favor of raising taxes on investment — the people who cared intensely about investment taxes had either left the Republican Party already or were thoroughly marginalized within it.”


What the left is saying.

The left is hoping to capitalize on the moment by bringing in the conservatives who reject Trump and by calling for a more progressive future, which actually speaks to many of Trump’s voters. 

Thomas Friedman wrote that Trump is “blowing apart the GOP,” and “God bless him” for it. Friedman writes there are actually four GOP factions already: “principled conservatives, cynically tactical conservatives, unprincipled conservatives and Trump cultists.

“My No. 1 wish for America today is for this Republican Party to fracture, splitting off the principled Republicans from the unprincipled Republicans and Trump cultists,” he wrote. “First, because it could actually end the gridlock in Congress and enable us to do some big things on infrastructure, education and health care that would help ALL Americans — not the least those in Trump’s camp, who are there precisely because they feel ignored, humiliated and left behind… Second, if the principled Republicans split from the Trump cult, the rump pro-Trump G.O.P. would have a very hard time winning a national election anytime soon. And given what we’ve just seen, these Trumpers absolutely cannot be trusted with power again.

“This is a time for choosing for Republicans,” Friedman added. “The old straddle — ‘I would never let Trump coach my kid’s Little League team, but I love his tax cuts, Israel policies, judges or abortion position’ — won’t work anymore. Trump has gone too far, and the base is still with him. So it really is his party. Every Republican is going to have to ask himself and herself: Is it still mine, too?”

Katrina vanden Heuvel criticized Joe Biden for putting together a coalition more diverse in identity than ideology, saying progressives should be leading the charge on turning the page on the Trump years.

“[Bernie] Sanders and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, have laid out comprehensive plans, including expansive covid-19 relief, large investments in clean energy and infrastructure to meet the climate challenge and put people back to work, lowering the eligibility age of Medicare, comprehensive criminal justice and immigration reform, and making the tax system more progressive,” she wrote. 

“Meanwhile, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has detailed the excitement Biden could create by accompanying a bold legislative agenda with a flurry of executive orders in his first days — canceling billions in student loan debt, lowering drug prices on critical drugs, issuing enforceable health and safety standards for workplaces, raising the minimum wage for federal contractors to $15 an hour, declaring the climate crisis a national emergency to begin marshaling resources, and issuing comprehensive ethics and anti-corruption standards.”


My take.

The next two years, like the last four, will be some of the most interesting in American political history. I believe the direction of the Republican party — and the left-right balance in the country — will be crystallized in the 2022 Senate races, when Republicans are defending 20 seats and Democrats are defending 14. As CNN’s Chris Cillizza pointed out, defending the 20 seats will be made even more interesting by the fact at least four of them are going to be vacated — meaning Republicans won’t have an incumbent to run, which usually makes winning Senate races easier for challengers.

Why does this matter? Aside from control of the chamber, it matters because a year from now Republicans are going to have to begin redefining themselves for an election season. And there’s significant debate about what that definition will look like.

From a purely political perspective, Republicans have what looks to me like a few winning paths forward. It starts with abandoning the faction of the right, however big or small, that believes Democrats are a satanic cult or that a “communist takeover” is going to tear away every American freedom. Even though it’s a minority, that faction is currently defining the party — and hampering them severely. I truly don’t think this socialist scare tactic stuff is going to work into the future, especially if the next two years end up being relatively normal Democratic politics. 

It’s also okay to disavow and condemn the Capitol rioters, given that they don’t actually represent the vast majority of Republicans or Trump voters. As Wall Street Journal’s William McGurn noted, “A Reuters/Ipsos poll reports that only 9% of Americans consider the rioters ‘concerned citizens’ and 5% call them ‘patriots.’ The remaining 90% includes millions of Trump voters.”

There will be the traditional Republican politics that continue to work: anti-abortion, pro-gun rights, military strength abroad and the “traditional family.” A focus on remembering what life is like in rural America and an attachment to words like freedom, patriotism and liberty aren’t going anywhere either. 

But it does mean embracing many of the non-traditional policy views Trump brought into the party. Williamson is right that the “Republican establishment” is on its deathbed, and if the right wants to keep winning elections, it will probably have to stay that way. Railing against the government, against Congress and against the people making the laws is one of the easiest and most relatable things to do in this country. And the way the COVID-19 pandemic relief negotiations went down has only reinforced the idea that many members of Congress are just self-interested, wealthy bureaucrats who don’t understand the real pain being felt across the country.

Of course, that’s why Trump’s push for $2,000 stimulus checks, and calls for massive federal unemployment support got so much traction with his base. The idea that conservatives don’t support government spending has always been a bit of a myth, given that the disagreement is more about where that money is spent (conservatives consistently support “corporate welfare,” massive military bills, subsidies for the farming and manufacturing industries, though they may not support spending big on unemployment or public health care). Trump abandoned any pretense of actually caring about how much the government spent, and I’m not convinced at all he lost a single voter who wasn’t already off the ship as a result.

It’s also true that the “America First” messaging is a winner. So much so that Joe Biden is basically stealing it with his “Build Back Better” program that aims to do things like “ensure that the future is made in America,” and “bring home critical supply chains so that we aren’t dependent on other countries in future crises.” Sound familiar?

There’s a good chance anti-immigration is still a winning policy for the right, too. Again, this is the kind of thing where Trump's rhetoric obscures the support for his policy. Americans’ support for a border wall has plummeted, and calls to “ban” Muslims or define Mexicans by their criminality blew up in Trump’s face throughout his presidency. But messaging about prioritizing American citizens during the economic recovery, or getting Americans to work in jobs that are being outsourced to India, or securing the border, or that drugs from Mexico are killing Americans, or that undocumented immigrants commit violent crime, or that waves of immigration suppress wages, whether the core claims are true or not, is still a winner in right-wing politics. Trump proved that in 2016, when the election was defined in large part by immigration. And he reinforced it in 2020 when he lost an election that barely touched on immigration. And he’s successfully reduced legal and illegal immigration, a promise fulfilled for his backers. 

I wrote last week about The End of Trump. Of course, that does not mean the end of Trumpism, and it certainly doesn’t mean the Republican party just goes back to what it was in 2004. Trump’s influence will be felt for years, even if he doesn’t run again in 2024. But it does mean that Trump the person has successfully alienated and infuriated enough of the country to surrender Republicans’ stranglehold on the government to the left. It also means his political career is all but done, especially if he’s convicted in the Senate. And yet the 75 million people who voted for him — whether they held their noses or stormed the Capitol to fight for him — prove that his policy positions, even if just as a bulwark against the left, are still wildly popular and effective. So don’t expect the Republicans still in government to run in the opposite direction. 


Blindspot report.

As part of a partnership with Ground News, an app and website that tracks the political bias in news reporting, I feature parts of Ground News’s “Blindspot Report” in Tangle. The Blindspot Report tells you what stories folks on the left and right miss each week because of their media echochambers.

The right missed a story about Europe having its hottest year ever on record

The left missed a story about China denying its coercive birth control measures.

Want to check out Ground News’s bias ratings, blindspot reports or other news sources? Click here.


Your questions, answered.

Q: I'm curious to know your thoughts on the deluge of resignations we have seen in the last week. How common are resignations at this point in an administration anyway? What have been the most significant of the recent resignations? What message are they trying to send and is that message coming across? 

— Casandra, Santa Ana, California

Tangle: I have two different reactions to them. 

The cynical side of me says these are some really paltry last-ditch attempts to save face. As many of you know, few things enraged me as much in our political world as watching Trump lie about the election being stolen for two full months. I wish more principled staffers had resigned in protest in, say, late November, when there was no longer any doubt that his claims were totally absurd. Many of them not only didn’t resign, they refused to publicly rebuke Trump at all.

As the backlash to the Capitol riots unfolded, a few things happened: major corporate players paused political donations, people involved in the Stop the Steal rally began facing boycotts of their businesses, and members of Congress swore to blacklist Trump staffers who wanted to get into the lobbying world. For creatures of D.C., this is a huge deal. Everyone knows a job in an administration is only temporary, and most look to move into private sector political jobs when they are done working for an administration. But if they’re associated with what we witnessed last week… those job prospects dry up in a hurry.

The less cynical side of me says that there was genuinely a breach of trust. 

The most significant resignation to me was Mick Mulvaney’s because he spent most of the last four years as one of the most staunch Trump allies — and literally served as acting Chief of Staff for the White House under Trump. He seemed genuinely heartbroken and infuriated by the events of last week and resigned in a fit. 

Elaine Chao stepped down in explicit protest — and it’s now clear her husband, Mitch McConnell, is also infuriated with Trump. I have a hard time buying that much of anything Betsy DeVos does is genuine, given her track record, but she was never really a rabid “pro-Trump” person so much as an opportunist who saw a chance to remake our education system in her own image. She also has no need for post-election work, given her exorbitant wealth. So she may truly just be shocked and disgusted by what happened.

All that’s to say I really don’t know. I think some of them genuinely wanted to make a statement, and move Republicans forward in a unified and peaceful way. I think they truly felt moved to action after seeing what we all watched last week. But I also think it’s fair to interpret this not just as a “save the face” moment, but as a “save the career” moment.


A story that matters.

The United States will require COVID-19 testing for all international air passengers coming here, beginning January 26th. The CDC says it will institute broad pre-flight testing that may end up replacing restrictive pre-travel quarantines in order to increase air travel again. Airline passengers will be required to test negative up to three days before their scheduled flights and show written documentation of the negative test in order to board a flight into the U.S. 


Numbers.

  • 57%. The percentage of Americans who think Trump should leave office as soon as possible instead of staying until the end of his term, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll. 

  • 92%. The percentage of Democrats who said they opposed the mob that broke into the Capitol building.

  • 71%. The percentage of Republicans who said they opposed the mob that broke into the Capitol building.

  • 77%. The percentage of Republicans who want Trump to finish out his term. 

  • 37%. The percentage of Black students nationally who attended schools with a majority of white students in 1988.

  • 19%. The percentage of Black students nationally who attended schools with a majority of white students in 2018.


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