‘The US Can Still Become a Fascist Country’: Frances Fox Piven’s Midterms Postmortem
Fri, 11/25/2022 – 19:20
‘The US Can Still Become a Fascist Country’: Frances Fox Piven’s Midterms Postmortem
Fri, 11/25/2022 – 19:20
There is an understandable eagerness to celebrate that the Republican party failed to generate a “red wave,” and even experienced some major defeats, in this year’s election. Equally understandable is the inclination to seize on post-election Republican in-fighting as a hopeful sign of the party’s weakening.
There is currently a blame game going on the right, and for perhaps the first time since 2016, some once-significant Republican leaders—former Governors Chris Christie and Larry Hogan, former House Speaker Paul Ryan, even Trump’s Attorney General William Barr—have called for a break with Donald Trump. Others, most notably former Vice President Mike Pence and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, have distanced themselves from Trump, positioning for possible runs in a 2024 presidential primary. The blame game is real. Equally real is in-fighting within the Republican Senate and House caucuses, especially the latter, where titular leaders Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy face challengers who are making real demands as a condition of future support—demands that will no doubt be met, for both McConnell and especially McCarthy are unprincipled cowards willing to do whatever is necessary for them to hold power.
This is all very real. And every fissure within the Republican Party is worth noting and—if possible—exploiting. But it would be a huge political and even moral mistake to exaggerate the importance of these intra-Republican differences.
It is tempting to believe that voters this November repudiated election denialism and an obsession with The Big Lie and registered a preference for “normality.” And some voters did do this in some settings, like Michigan. But a great many did not. Wisconsin voters returned Democratic Governor Tony Evers; but they also returned Republican majorities to both houses of the state legislature, and re-elected Ron Johnson, one of Trump’s strongest supporters, to the U.S. Senate. Texas voters re-elected far-right Governor Greg Abbott, and Florida voters re-elected even farther-right Governor Ron DeSantis, both of whom remain wedded to The Big Lie to this day, however much they might be out of favor with Trump, and however much their “accomplishments” extended beyond the re-litigation of 2020.
The voters who returned a majority of Republicans under the leadership of McCarthy, Steve Scalise, Elise Stefaniak, and Jim Jordan to the House surely did not repudiate election denialism. As CBS News observed: “In the next Congress, there are projected to be 156 GOP House members who have raised doubts about the validity of the 2020 election, an increase from the 147 GOP House members who, in January 2021, voted to object to the certification of the Electoral College.” Virtually every House Republican who voted against the certification of Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory on January 6, and then voted against any effort to investigate that insurrection, is returning to Congress. Indeed, they will be accompanied by some new members who actually participated in or at least actively supported the January 6 episode. As the Washington Post reports: “While the Republican Party suffered surprising losses in the midterms, including defeats of many who bought into Trump’s false election claims, the arrival of freshman lawmakers who had come to Washington as pro-Trump activists on that violent day underscores the extent to which the House Republican caucus remains a haven for election deniers.”
The House Republican leadership made very clear, long before the election, that if the party was returned to power, it would use this power to subject the Biden administration and even House Democrats to relentless investigation. And now that its control of the House in 2023 is assured, the same leaders have reiterated this promise. Kevin McCarthy, virtually certain to be the next Speaker of the House, has gone further, pledging to remove three high-profile Democrats—Reps. Adam Schiff, Eric Swalwell, and Ilhan Omar—from their important committee assignments in retaliation for Nancy Pelosi’s similar treatment of Marjorie Taylor-Greene in 2021. (Back in February 2021 Pelosi, when asked if she had concerns about a precedent being set, replied: “None, not at all . . . If any of our members threatened the safety of other members, we’d be the first ones to take them off a committee.” Now McCarthy will punish some of the Democrats’ most public defenders of democracy, while elevating neo-fascist Greene to a major role in the new Congress.)
Writing in The New Republic, Alex Shephard argues that “A New Republican Civil War is About to Begin,” explaining that “the GOP’s old guard is pinning their renaissance on a Ron DeSantis renaissance. But Donald Trump’s counterestablishment has beaten them once before.” Shepherd’s piece nicely outlines the sources of friction within the Republican party and the foolishness of counting out Trump. At the same time, the piece’s caption is misleading. For there really is no longer a GOP “old guard,” though there are some, like McConnell, who are old and whose loyalty to the party preceded Trump and has often been tested by him. The GOP is the party of Trumpism even if there are now others, beyond Trump, who now might vie for its leadership—or might ultimately refuse to vie for leadership, ceding it to the twice-impeached, disgraced former President who remains the most popular leader among Republican voters, currently holding a 30 point lead over his nearest rival, DeSantis.
Yascha Mounck writes in The Atlantic about “How Moderates Won the Midterms.” Yes, some fanatics were defeated. But who are the “moderates” among the current leaders of the Republican Party either inside of Congress or outside of it? It is true that a handful of pretty far-right Republicans who refused to embrace the January 6 insurrection, such as Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, won election. But these candidates are hardly “moderates”; Kemp’s support for the Senate candidacy of Herschel Walker furnishes clear proof of that.
Perhaps the best clue to the meaning of the current recriminations among Republicans is contained in a recent Guardian piece entitled “Trump for 2024 would be ‘bad mistake,’ Republican says as blame game deepens.” The piece quotes an important Republican who recently vacated his House seat to run for the U.S. Senate: “It would be a bad mistake for the Republicans to have Donald Trump as their nominee in 2024. . . Donald Trump has proven himself to be dishonest, disloyal, incompetent, crude and a lot of other things that alienate so many independents and Republicans. Even a candidate who campaigns from his basement can beat him.”
These are powerful words . . . . spoken by Mo Brooks, until very recently one of Trump’s most fanatical supporters, who refused to concede Biden’s victory in 2020, and who spoke at Trump’s January 6 Ellipse rally, declaring “Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.”
If ever there was a MAGA-inspired insurrectionist, it was Brooks, who entered the Alabama Senate race in 2021 with the blessing of Trump, only to run afoul of Trump’s ego, causing Trump to shift his support in the Republican primary to Big Lie proponent Katie Britt. Here is how Politico described the bitter battle that ensued between the two Republican candidates:
Even after Trump put his weight behind Britt in the runoff — and as public and internal polling showed Brooks’ prospects as weak — top conservative commentators like Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Mark Levin and Charlie Kirk declared their support for Brooks up to the final day of the campaign. Kirk, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Reps. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), Mark Green (R-Tenn.) and Chip Roy (R-Texas) and Arizona Republican Party chair Kelli Ward spent Monday night on a tele-town hall in support of Brooks, as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) also continued to lend their support.
. . . Throughout the runoff campaign, Britt continued to rack up her own endorsements from high profile Republicans, including Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa). In the final weeks, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the GOP nominee for governor in Arkansas, and commentator Steve Cortes have also put out statements and videos in support of Britt’s campaign. That follows several other incumbent senators endorsing her earlier this year.
Britt proceeded to win the primary and then the Senate seat in November’s election. The first woman elected to an Alabama Senate seat, Britt’s victory hardly attests to the failure of Trump-aligned election denial. And Brooks’s very public denunciations of Trump hardly attest to ascendancy of Republican “old guard moderates”—unless the likes of Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Charlie Kirk, Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton, Rand Paul and Marjorie Taylor-Greene are considered voices of moderation. Indeed, once Britt won the primary, these leaders of The Grand Old Party came together behind her, just as they have all more recently denounced the Justice Department investigation of Trump, rallying behind Jim Jordan’s demand for Congressional investigation of the well-known Critical Race Theorizing Marxist, Merrick Garland.
This is moderation? This signifies real disagreements within the Republican Party?
It is surely true that some Republican voters have lost their appetite for Trump. It is just as true that Trump remains by far the most popular leader among Republican voters, and that, just as in 2016, it is very possible for him to win the Republican nomination, and the presidency, even without the support of a majority of voters. But the more important truth is that should Trump fail to be the Republican nominee in 2024, the nominee is very likely to be another far-right Republican, someone, like Ron DeSantis, whose intelligence and proven autocratic savvy make him even more dangerous.
As Jelani Cobb has recently argued in The New Yorker, Trumpism has an enduring power that far exceeds Trump himself, and “the forces of intolerance, racism, and belligerence he harnessed in American politics will persist” regardless of whether Trump ever again runs for political office.
These forces continue to circulate in civil society and the body politic, spreading lies and conspiracy theories, taking over school boards across the country, and waiting to be re-mobilized by Republican leaders in 2024. In the meantime, House Republicans will use their very real congressional powers to obstruct the Biden presidency, relentlessly attack the Democratic Party, and create chaos in the heart of the federal government.
Only a few short weeks and months ago it was widely understood by a wide range of commentators that the Republican Party is an explicitly illiberal party that most resembles “autocratic parties in Hungary and Turkey,” and is indeed an “antidemocracy party.” No less an authority than retired U.S. Judge J. Michael Luttig, one of the premier Republican jurists in the country, said as much in public testimony before the House January 6 Committee, declaring that “one of our national political parties . . . the former President’s party cynically and embarrassingly rationalizes January 6,” refusing to commit itself to the Constitution and continuing to undermine the legitimacy of liberal democracy.
Yes, in this year’s election some of the most cynical and embarrassing Republican candidates were repudiated—though many were not. Yes, there is back-biting and in-fighting among Republican leaders jockeying for position as the next election cycle looms. But has the Republican Party really changed? Some might wish it has. But wishing does not make it so. And so the party continues to represent a clear and present danger to American democracy.
Sometimes, the scholarly life means taking delight in unexpectedly relevant news items: a new adaptation…
The New Right emerged to theorize Trumpism’s rise. Can they explain its defeat?
In the heady days before the 2022 midterms, conservatives looked out at America and saw a country on the verge of inflicting a major blow in the culture war: rewarding Republicans despite the end of Roe and punishing Democrats for embracing allegedly radical positions on race and gender. The New Right, a loose grouping of conservative thinkers who advocate aggressively wielding state power to promote a more conservative culture, smelled blood in the water.
“Political horse-race types are predicting a GOP blowout in today’s midterm elections, and if it comes to pass, Democrats won’t have much to blame beyond their own insanity,” Sohrab Ahmari, a leading New Right figure, wrote in an Election Day piece for The American Conservative magazine. Democrats, he argued, had alienated the mass public through the spread of “drag queen story hour,” masking in schools, the accommodation of “gender ideologues,” and permissive immigration rules.
“There is only so much of it the nation could tolerate,” Ahmari predicted.
Two days later, after the voters rendered a different verdict, Ahmari penned a piece in the New York Times blaming the defeat on the GOP’s failure to embrace true populism: blasting the party for “ginning up outrage over ‘woke’ sensitivity trainings in the workplace” while remaining “indifferent to issues like wages and workplace power.”
Ahmari’s pivot reflects the difficult spot that the New Right finds itself in the wake of the midterm results. The faction, which rose to prominence after 2016 to put meat on Trumpism’s intellectual bones, believed that the future of Republican politics rested in a vision of relentless, aggressive cultural warfare. When the voters seemed unmoved by their cultural preoccupations in 2022 — and clearly sided with Democrats on abortion — New Right thinkers didn’t have easy answers.
In the weeks following the election, some incipient cleavages have started to emerge inside the New Right and its many subfactions, with the most interesting debates falling into three distinct, but interconnected, buckets.
The first bucket is the question of how best to prosecute the culture war going forward. Some on the New Right sound surprisingly open to some tactical moderation in light of the midterm results — most notably by bracketing abortion or even softening the GOP’s position on the issue. It’s a debate that directly parallels the “popularism” conversation happening on the Democratic side, and one that speaks to deep sociological divides in the post-Trump coalition.
The second bucket centers on 2024: whether Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis represents the movement’s future, and what reasons there are to prefer one over the other. Interestingly, the battle lines do not necessarily line up in the way that one might expect (DeSantis shoring up the relative moderates and Trump the radicals).
The third and final bucket centers on democracy. A minority of New Right thinkers responded to defeat by suggesting the electorate is too far gone for conservatives to ever triumph — and even questioning the value of democracy itself.
“Democracy did not end slavery, and democracy will not end abortion,” declared Chad Pecknold, a self-described “postliberal” theologian at Catholic University.
What we’re seeing, through all these arguments, are the fissures splitting the Right’s most vibrant intellectual movement — fault lines that could divide conservatism in the coming years.
There is no set definition of the “New Right,” no list of who belongs or strict criteria that one can use to assess whether a particular figure is a member. Sam Adler-Bell, a leftist writer who profiled the movement in The New Republic, described it as being “cohered as much by temperament as ideology — and by certain fiercely held enmities.” This amorphousness can make it hard to identify who’s “New Right” and who’s just plain vanilla right.
But broadly speaking, New Right members share a foundational belief that American institutions — including the Republican Party — are rotted, and that a certain cultural degeneracy has taken root in society writ large. They believe that the right’s traditional commitment to limited government stands in the way of waging an effective counterrevolution; the culture war can only be won by jettisoning libertarianism and using the levers of policy to roll back the left’s cultural victories. Out with tax cuts, in with bans on critical race theory in schools.
Abandoning the culture war, on this perspective, is not mere folly but national suicide. For some on the New Right, the idea that their approach to these issues might be unpopular is unthinkable. But after 2022, some on the New Right are starting to see the case for a little bit of selective moderation.
Take Richard Hanania, the president of the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology think tank. Hanania is by no means a squish; he recently wrote that “if I owned Twitter, I wouldn’t let feminists, trans activists, or socialists post.”
Yet in his election postmortem, Hanania put the blame squarely on the party’s pro-life commitments. “Abortion itself was on the ballot last night in 5 states, and the pro-choice position universally ran ahead of Democratic candidates, sometimes by a very wide margin,” he wrote. “As with Democrats and affirmative action, Republicans have been pushed by a small group of noisy activists to take an unpopular position that isn’t even a top issue for their own voters.”
An essay in City Journal, a publication of the Manhattan Institute think tank, goes even further. The piece’s author, Jesse Arm, argues for what he terms “conservative popularism” — for Republicans to pick and choose their cultural battles based on what polls well. On these grounds, he argues that the party should tone it down on abortion, abandoning no-exception prohibitions in favor of 15-week bans, while going hard on crime and “anti-wokeness.”
Why might some of the most ardent culture warriors consider an abortion compromise? There’s a helpful clue in the post-election episode of the NatCon Squad, a podcast that represents the so-called “national conservative” subfaction of the New Right. National conservatives aim to build a conservative nationalist vision of American identity, leading them to be harshly critical of immigration, multiculturalism, and untrammeled free trade. While some of its leading figures are religious, like the Israeli political philosopher Yoram Hazony, abortion is not one of its central ideological preoccupations.
On the podcast, host Inez Stepman argues that abortion is politically distinct from the debates over critical race theory and LGBTQ education in schools that preoccupy the national conservatives and the broader New Right:
The culture is the big tent [but] I want to split abortion off from that. I think that’s a new issue reintroduced in 2022, but has more “traditional” sides in the culture war from the Moral Majority in the 1990s. But issues like the differences between male and female, indoctrination in schools, crime, immigration…those are all issues that I think can be cobbled into very successful campaigns that do reach across the aisle.
The argument here is that abortion represents an older, pre-Trump generation of culture war — one that, by implication, hurt the GOP in 2022. By contrast, refocusing on newer issues like “indoctrination in schools” can appeal to moderates and even conservative Democrats, creating an emerging Republican majority.
The extent to which this last bit is true is open to debate. The 1776 Project PAC, an outfit that spent millions around the country supporting school board candidates concerned with fighting LGBTQ education and “critical race theory,” only won a third of its races (per an AP report). But Stepman’s move speaks to something important about the New Right: It’s not as religious as the old one.
Some of the most prominent figures on the New Right, like Ahmari, are Catholic conservatives. But many are not, reflecting the fact that the New Right is a post-Trump movement — and that Trump managed to win over an unusual number of non-religious voters in his 2016 presidential bid. It’s a point that Nate Hochman, a writer at National Review and one of the New Right’s young stars, made at length in the New York Times this summer.
“The conservative political project is no longer specifically Christian,” Hochman wrote. “That may seem strange to say at a moment when a mostly Catholic conservative majority on the Supreme Court appears poised to overturn Roe v. Wade. But a reversal of the landmark 1973 ruling would be more of a last gasp than a sign of strength for the religious right.”
Events afterward seem to have borne out Hochman’s suggestion. Not only has abortion clearly emerged as a losing issue for the right, but at least some conservative culture warriors are willing to say that out loud.
While the New Right remains committed to its secularized culture war, if not necessarily the old-school variant, there is still an open debate over who it wants to lead the charge. Like the GOP faithful more broadly, the New Right’s thinkers are increasingly divided on the question of Ron DeSantis versus Donald Trump.
The arguments among the New Right about 2024 are roughly the same as those among the right writ large: DeSantis supporters say he is a more competent and popular upgrade on the former president, while Trump supporters argue that he has a unique ability to connect with the GOP base. On balance, it seems like the DeSantis supporters are more vocal and more prominent among New Right thinkers — at least for now.
Christopher Rufo, the New Right’s most influential activist, is emblematic in this regard. Rufo worked with Trump on his executive order banning so-called “critical race theory” in federal agency trainings, and went on to advise DeSantis on some of his prominent culture war initiatives (like the STOP WOKE act targeting higher education, which was recently ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge). In theory, you could imagine Rufo supporting either man in 2024.
But his election postmortem, published in City Journal, is practically a DeSantis press release. Rufo describes DeSantis as “a master at picking and choosing his fights,” praises his “keen mind for public policy,” and claims that he “backstops his culture-war agenda with capable governance.” This is in contrast to the way that “many conservative leaders stoke the culture war to generate media attention and fundraising dollars” — a line that looks a lot like a shot at Trump, among others.
Rufo’s endorsement is notable not only because of his outsized prominence on the right, but because he’s no one’s idea of a moderate.
Last year, he declared his intention “to clean house in America: remove the attorney general, lay siege to the universities, abolish the teachers’ unions, and overturn the school boards” (all through legal means, Rufo later clarified). He has argued that “reform around the edges is not enough” to protect America from the progressive “revolution,” and that conservatives should embrace a “defund the left” political strategy in which they “strangle new identity programs in red tape” and “accelerate the student loan Ponzi scheme [and] make universities partially responsible for defaults.”
This is a wonkish blueprint for cultural revolution, a New Right long march through America’s institutions. Rufo has thrown in with Team DeSantis not because he’s more “moderate” than Trump in any sense, but because he’s seen as a better bet to deliver on radical ends.
Interestingly, DeSantis’s willingness to compromise on abortion — after Dobbs, Florida enacted a 15-week ban on abortion rather than a full prohibition — does not seem to count against him on this front. In fact, abortion goes entirely unmentioned in Rufo’s piece; it is simply not the kind of culture war at the top of his mind.
But not everyone on the New Right is ready to give up on Trump.
Shortly after the election, Ohio Senator-elect JD Vance penned a piece in The American Conservative defending Trump against the allegation that his influence sunk the party. Vance, perhaps the New Right’s favorite candidate in the 2022 midterms, argues that Democrats won not because of poor endorsement choices by Trump, but because of the Democratic Party’s structural advantages (primarily its superior fundraising network). Any Republican effort to counter this advantage, he argues, depends on the party’s ability to activate Trump and his supporters: “Our party has one major asset, contra conventional wisdom, to rally these voters: President Donald Trump.”
It’s easy to dismiss this analysis as self-serving: Vance won Trump’s endorsement in the primary and went on to dramatically underperform compared to the more moderate Governor Mike DeWine. He is living proof that Trump may not, in fact, be picking the most electable candidates — in part because he has elevated the New Right to new political heights.
In 2022, the New Right’s favored candidates — Vance and the defeated Blake Masters in Arizona — both won their primaries thanks in large part to Trump’s endorsement. But the midterms showed that these candidates’ radicalism turned off normie voters; their use of New Right ideas and language, like describing the American government and social system as a hostile “regime,” was part of the problem.
This is a point that Stepman, the NatCon Squad podcast host, acknowledged in her analysis. “I think chaos really is unattractive,” she said. “A lot of the voters who may be persuadable on some of the cultural messaging … are really turned off by, frankly, a lot of the things that we talk about, that I talk about, that I think are really important and true about the country,”
If DeSantis wants to consolidate support from the GOP establishment in his bid to topple Trump, he may need to tone down his own employment of New Right tropes — and certainly should avoid endorsing statewide candidates like Vance and Masters who embody the party’s “candidate quality” problem.
The New Right today may soon find itself in a strange situation: Its intellectual center of gravity shifting toward DeSantis and his veneer of normalcy, while Trump’s patronage remains a better bet vaulting its people into the upper echelons of power.
But not everyone on the New Right is willing to countenance moderation, either on policy or rhetoric. Declan Leary, the managing editor of The American Conservative magazine, argued that none of the usual — abortion, Trump, or the GOP’s “candidate quality” problems — should bear the blame for defeat.
The GOP’s problem wasn’t too little moderation, he claims; it was too much.
“The red wave didn’t fail because the GOP leaned too hard into the MAGA movement [or] because of Dobbs,” he writes. “The Republican Party lost this week for the same reason it always loses: it’s soft. Up against the party of infanticide and child mutilation and carnage in Ukraine, the best attack it could muster was ‘…Inflation!’”
Leary hails from a particular element of the New Right: the so-called “integralists,” Catholic arch-conservatives who believe that the United States government should be replaced with a religious Catholic state.
Integralists are a part of a broader “postliberal” trend among right-wing intellectuals that traces the cultural decay of American society back to its ruling liberal political philosophy: the doctrine that government should liberate people to pursue their own visions of the good life. Liberalism, they argue, promotes licentiousness and a corrosive individualism: It is the root cause of social ills like drug addiction, “deaths of despair,” and family breakdown.
Postliberals believe that instead of protecting individual freedom, government should aim to promote the “common good” or “highest good”: to create a citizenry where people live good lives as defined by scripture and religious doctrine. This leads them to support an even more active role for the state than even the national conservatives, endorsing not only aggressive efforts to legislate morality but also expansions of the welfare state.
From this point of view, the 2022 elections are a particularly bitter pill to swallow. Abandoning pro-life absolutism is not an option for them like it is for some national conservatives. For those integralists unwilling to engage in Leary’s denialism, the dominant reaction to 2022 has been to blame the electorate — and even democracy itself.
Take this tweet from Adrian Vermeule, a law professor at Harvard and the country’s most formidable integralist intellectual. In his view, Americans are hopelessly in hock to liberal philosophical ideals; the New Right’s attempt to overthrow liberal cultural hegemony at the ballot box is essentially hopeless.
It’s funny to see GOP types debating which candidates or issues would have made a difference, when the simplest hypothesis is that there is a critical mass of voters who will support left-liberalism on essentially theological grounds, regardless of the conditions it produces.
— Adrian Vermeule (@Vermeullarmine) November 9, 2022
This is the wellspring from which Pecknold’s denunciation of democracy — “democracy did not end slavery, and democracy will not end abortion” — flows.
Like most on the broader New Right, integralists and other postliberals see themselves as engaging in a countercultural project: a self-consciously elite effort to foment rebellion against the American mainstream. But their ambitions are even more revolutionary: they want to create the foundation for a wholesale moral restructuring of the American political system — an ambition that Patrick Deneen, a political theorist at Notre Dame and prominent postliberal, describes as “regime change.”
Accomplishing such sweeping ends through electoral politics was always a long shot, especially with a country that’s not-even-close to majority Catholic (and where the overwhelming majority of Catholics are not themselves integralists). The end of Roe offered some hope, but even at the time Dobbs was released they criticized the court for not going far enough. Pat Smith, one such integralist writer, claimed vindication after the midterms — and argued, with Vermeule and Pecknold, that democracy should not stand in the way of their goals.
“The common good is the common good notwithstanding the will of the people,” he writes. “And the essence of political life is to seek the common good.”
But scholarly postliberals are not alone in seeing the midterms as evidence that the New Right should start thinking beyond democracy. A pair of essays on American Greatness, a pro-Trump news commentary site, come to a similar conclusion from a young radical’s perspective.
The first of these articles — ominously titled “The Last Election?” — focuses on Biden’s overwhelming margins among under-30s as reason for electoral despair. The author, a young pundit named Eric Lendrum, argues that his generation is lost to the GOP — “the indoctrination these children have gone through was too persistent for too long, and it is now part of their very way of life.” As a result, “the slow march of time only pulls us further and further away from the glory of 2016, which is now starting to feel less like the ‘dawn of a new day,’ and instead appears to more closely resemble a last defiant breath.”
Lendrum is a radical MAGA type — he had previously written that the right should be “celebrating the events of [January 6] as our Storming of the Bastille” — but he’s not alone among the new generation of conservatives. Josiah Lippincott, a PhD student at the right-wing Hillsdale College and repeat Fox News guest, argued in a separate election postmortem that the system is simply too rigged against conservatives for victory to be possible.
“The Left utterly dominates every institution of American political life. We are not a republic governed by a constitution but a despotism ruled by an elite class,” he writes.
So what is to be done? It’s worth quoting Lippincott at length:
The partisans of the Right need to lift weights, buy guns, and find comrades. The future of the fight against the latest iteration of global communism requires that young men especially take up the cause of liberty and moral righteousness. They are needed now more than ever. The Boomers, whatever their virtues and vices, do not represent the future.
The Right needs to inspire and motivate the people in ways that only Donald Trump has touched on. It needs to be able to mobilize millions. The mass rally, general strike, and paralyzing protest are the most promising political weapons of the future Right.
Lippincott concludes his piece by favorably comparing the American right to the Afghan militants who would eventually become the Taliban.
“The Mujahideen fighters who brought the Soviets to their knees in Afghanistan were outmanned and outgunned. And yet they removed the godless occupiers from their land.” he writes. “The modern American Right should take the same attitude. We are not bound to the four-year election cycle. We fight on God’s time. We will fight for our country, our faith, and our children until we win. God is on our side. Glory be to God.”
To be clear, such calls-to-arms are not mainstream even on the New Right, which is far more interested in culture war than actual war. Yet they should not be ignored either: They show how the sense of alienation from mainstream culture that powers the New Right’s politics more broadly can curdle into something even more sinister.
If thinking like this continues to spread on the right’s young cadres, the debates over the future of American conservatism could become even more bitter — and more grim — than they already are.
Right-wing extremist violence in the U.S. is part of a global phenomenon. It should be treated that way.
Trump is running for president again. If he wins, he wouldn’t hold back anymore.
Besieged by legal problems and facing blame for Republicans’ disappointing midterm performance, Donald Trump finally made official what he’s been signaling for months: He’s running for president again.
“In order to make America great and glorious again I am tonight announcing my candidacy for president of the United States,” Trump said, in an announcement at his Florida club Tuesday night. He officially filed paperwork for his campaign with the Federal Election Commission Tuesday as well.
The announcement sets up an enormously consequential campaign, one that may decide the future of the United States, its government, and its electoral system. Trump has never accepted his defeat by Joe Biden in 2020, and abused his powers to an unprecedented degree in his effort to overturn that election result and in stay in office. The effort failed, but he has made clear he regrets none of it.
President Biden has not yet said for certain whether he will run for reelection, but he has indicated he intends to do so. A Biden-Trump rematch, then, is quite possible, even likely.
But before the general election, Trump has to make it through the Republican primary process. There’s been much speculation about whether he’ll face a challenge, perhaps from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who won in a landslide last week while many high-profile Trump-endorsed candidates went down to defeat. It is unclear whether DeSantis will take the risk of trying to defeat Trump, though. (Before the midterms, national polls showed that about 50 percent of GOP voters said they’d vote for Trump in a 2024 primary, which you can interpret either as a commanding lead over a split field or as a surprisingly weak showing for a recent president.)
If Trump makes it to the general election, the question becomes, can he win? With Biden’s and Trump’s approval ratings both hovering around 40 percent, that certainly isn’t out of the question. And despite Democrats’ better-than-expected performance in the midterms and against Trump-friendly candidates in swing states, they did likely lose the House popular vote to the GOP. More to the point, the general election is still two years away; much can happen before then, and Trump will have ample time to attack Biden — as he did extensively in his speech, mocking some of the president’s verbal misstatements and arguing that he “is leading us to the brink of nuclear war.”
Should Trump win, it would be a mistake to assume a second Trump term would roughly resemble the first. In that first term, Trump heavily relied for his appointments on the “Republican establishment,” including many officials who did try at least somewhat to rein in his most extreme or corrupt impulses. Since, he’s become more reliant on extreme advisers who have little interest in the norms of liberal democracy. That means a second-term Trump could well be far more successful at actually doing the corrupt things he always wanted to do.
Many in politics feared or hoped that Trump would exit politics for good following the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol. And he could have been banned from holding federal office again had he been convicted in a Senate impeachment trial. But most Senate Republicans instead voted to acquit him in his February 2021 trial, meaning he is perfectly free to run again. (Trump mentioned his stolen election claims obliquely in his speech, claiming that he would eliminate “cheating” and speed up counting by requiring same-day voting and paper ballots.)
Since then, Trump has regained influence in the GOP, and his endorsements appeared to help swing many contested Republican primaries in 2022. Yet many of his most-hyped candidates subsequently went down to defeat last week. This has surfaced a GOP conversation that Trump previously tried to stave off with his stolen election lies — a conversation about whether Trump is, well, a loser.
Trump’s appeal to Republicans in the 2016 primary was based in large part on his claim that he’d be tough enough to win, unlike their previous party leaders. Then he actually did win the presidency, suggesting he had some electoral magic that kept propelling him to upset victories when the political establishment kept declaring him dead. Now, the magic may be gone, and Republicans frustrated at their party’s failure to retake the Senate are openly blaming Trump (while he, of course, points fingers elsewhere, including at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell).
“Much criticism is being placed on the fact that the Republican Party should have done better. Frankly, much of this blame is correct,” Trump said in his speech. “But the citizens of our country haven’t realized the full gravity of the pain our nation is going through and the total effect of the suffering is just starting to take hold.”
“I have no doubt that by 2024, it will sadly be much worse. They will see more clearly what happened and what is happening to our country and the voting will be much different,” Trump continued — in a rare acknowledgment that public opinion does not seem to be on his side.
Trump’s critics in both parties had also hoped he’d be taken off the board by his escalating legal problems. Federal prosecutors are investigating whether his attempt to stay in power broke any laws, and a separate probe into whether he mishandled classified information after leaving office looks quite serious. Prosecutors in Georgia are also investigating his attempt to flip the state’s electoral votes in his favor, while a civil lawsuit from New York’s attorney general may present a serious threat to his business as well.
Yet none of this was sufficient to deter Trump from running again, and may have even heightened his desire to do so.
If he’s indicted while campaigning, he can claim the charges are political and whip his supporters into a frenzy, as he did on January 6. Then, if he wins, he’d likely avoid federal prosecution while he’s in office (due to a longstanding Justice Department opinion that the sitting president should not be charged) and would gain the power to pardon federal crimes (even, perhaps, his own).
Trump’s partially prewritten, partially ad-libbed speech hit a litany of familiar notes and themes from his first campaign and first term — trade, immigration, crime, complaints about investigations into him and his family, anecdotes about his interactions with world leaders. The central theme was that the country was purportedly doing wonderfully in his first term (until Covid-19, which he says is China’s fault), but that now things are terrible, and that he would bring things back to the way they were.
So it might be tempting to expect Trump’s second term would resemble the early years of his first — one in which he was frequently erratic and chaotic but hemmed in by the GOP establishment and unable to follow through on many of his most extreme or dictatorial impulses. But that won’t necessarily be the case.
For example, during Trump’s first term he wanted the Justice Department to prosecute his political opponents, but the department refused. He wanted to withdraw from NATO but didn’t follow through on it. And as far as Trump did go in trying to overturn Biden’s win, he considered going even further — discussing, for instance, imposing martial law and commandeering the DOJ in his election-stealing effort — but was convinced to back down.
Now Trump would likely return to office with a different mindset and different incentives. He would no longer need to constrain himself with reelection in mind. And after January 6, he’s embittered against traditional Republican establishment forces he believes abandoned him.
He’d also return to power with a different party. Since Trump’s initial rise to power, the GOP has gradually been remaking itself in his image. Many of his most outspoken critics have since retired, lost primary challenges, or even become his staunch supporters. Most Republicans who were appalled at Trump’s disrespect for the norms of liberal democracy are either no longer in the party or no longer so outspoken.
And he could staff up a very different government. In contrast to the post-2016 transition, when Trump really had no idea what he was doing and had to rely on many traditional Republican elites to staff his administration, his team has gotten more obsessed with identifying reliable loyalists who would work to carry out his agenda and defend him personally next time. People close to Trump are reportedly exploring proposals to fire tens of thousands of civil servants in the federal government, replacing them with loyalists.
“We will dismantle the deep state and restore government by the people,” Trump said in his speech.
So Trump and his team may well become more skilled at identifying, appointing, and empowering officials who would act in Trump’s personal interests, even if it means defying law or tradition. Indeed, his recent legal peril will make that of paramount personal importance to him.
There’s every reason, then, to expect a second Trump term would be far more tumultuous than the first — and that it could lead the country, and our democracy, to some totally unprecedented places. The stakes are high, and the battle for America’s future has begun.
Update, November 15, 10:30 pm: This story has been updated with additional comments from Trump’s announcement speech.
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