It’s Not the Same Old Gang

How long will it take for Republicans to be reasonably sane again? Maybe never. From Sarah Longwell for The Bulwark:

There are events so epochal that they create clear periods of before and after: Hiroshima; the fall of the Berlin Wall; 9/11. Eight years after he declared his intention to run for president, it’s now clear that we should consider Dxxxx Txxxx’s 2016 campaign not as part of America’s political continuum but as one of these temporal dividing lines.

In American politics, there were conventions and candidates that existed in 2015 Republican politics as the before times. 2015 B.T.. Before Txxxx.

Before the escalator and “grab ’em by the p***y.” Before Muslim bans and a wall Mexico would never pay for. Before we’d heard of Marjorie Taylor Greene, or Lauren Boebert, or the QAnon shaman. Before an American president sided with Vladimir Putin over his own government’s intelligence network. Before Dxxxx Txxxx became the first president to turn his back on the peaceful transfer of power.

This period has existed outside of nearly all established norms, yet many Americans seem to believe that it is an interregnum. An aberration. An accident of history that will undo itself—soon—as norms and the old equilibrium return.

I think this view misunderstands the true nature of what has happened to the Republican party because it does not see what has happened to Republican voters.

I’ve sat through hundreds of focus groups with Republican voters over the last four years and one thing is perfectly clear: The Republican party has been irretrievably altered and, as one voter put it succinctly, “We’re never going back.”

It’s easy to identify people who don’t realize the transformation undergone by GOP voters. Many of them, in fact, have been talking about running for president. Nikki Haley, Mike Pence, Chris Christie, Asa Hutchinson, Mike Pompeo—these are Before Txxxx (B.T.) politicians who don’t quite realize they’re living in an After Txxxx (A.T.) world.

Take Pence: the OG of B.T.. Voters tell me variously that the former vice president “became too entrenched in the establishment,” “alienated everyone,” “seems like a perfectly nice man, but [doesn’t] have a chance,” is “just a puppet,” and “doesn’t have a spine.”

As one voter put it, speaking for the group, a Pence presidency “would just be a return to pre-2016, which is what . . . the elite want. They want everything to go back to the way it was before Txxxx got elected. And that would be the wrong direction.”

Or Nikki Haley. The former South Carolina governor is currently running as far and fast as she can away from her signature accomplishment in office: taking down the Confederate flag after the massacre at a black church in Charleston in 2015. Instead, she’s reinvented herself as a hardline Txxxx devotee who loves to kick her enemies. But trying to sound Txxxxy doesn’t cover up the fact that she’s an avatar of the before times.

Haley is at 2 percent in the polls. Voters I talk to call her “a milquetoast Republican” and “a status quo politician, basically,” telling me “she’s just going to be a return to what everything was before 2016.”

Others say they “don’t think she’s anything different than the Republicans we’ve seen in the past. She’s just going to be more of the same cookie-cutter views.” And: “She would just be right back to the Paul Ryan, John Boehner kind of a thing. That’s a no-go for me.”

… If you forged your political identity pre-Txxxx, then you belong to a Republican establishment now loathed by a majority of the party’s primary voters. Even if you agree with Txxxx. Even if you worked for Txxxx. Even if you were on Txxxx’s ticket as his vice president.

Sure, you can still get applause on the think tank circuit, and donors will look at your candidacy hopefully, checkbooks out. But the actual voters live in a new world. You’re selling buggy whips to people who are buying cars.

Consider the case of Ron DeSantis. He is the only viable challenger to Txxxx at the moment. He has remade Florida in his image, becoming America’s premier culture warrior. He is notable primarily for:

  • Taking stands against vaccines
  • Hiring quack doctors for public health positions
  • Yelling at college kids
  • Demonizing gays and lesbians as pedophile groomers
  • Making it illegal to discuss race in schools
  • Attacking Disney’s corporate status because the company’s cartoons are too “woke”
  • Shipping refugees to Martha’s Vineyard

More than any other politician in America, DeSantis has labored to turn himself into a mini-Txxxx.

And what is DeSantis’s big weakness in his looming primary fight? It’s his B.T. political career.

Because before he became Txxxx’s handpicked governor, DeSantis was a normie mid-2010s Republican: … He was hawkish on Russia. He was a founding father of the House Freedom Caucus. And like all good Ryan-era conservatives, he wanted to privatize Social Security….

Txxxx is already trying to hang DeSantis with his B.T. record, attacking him as beholden to “Establishment RINO Advisors” and a “RINO in disguise!” who would gut Social Security and Medicare.

There are signs that these attacks are working….Voters I talked to recently say they’re “a little concerned” about DeSantis “because he’s still establishment,” and that “he seems like more of an open-borders, Paul Ryan kind of guy.” Others called him “more of a politician than Txxxx is” and said “he is very much one of those political, swampy guys.”

Words that stood out when we asked voters to describe DeSantis: “wishy-washy,” “a little shady,” and “not trustworthy.” One said, “I just don’t have a good feeling in my gut about him.”

… DeSantis realizes that his only chance to win the nomination is to convince voters that the optimistic, conservative B.T.-version of himself didn’t exist.

Yet whatever happens from here on out, I suspect that 2023 will be the year that puts to rest the view that the old days will return. By the time this campaign hits New Hampshire, everyone in America—even the conservative think tank donors—will understand that we aren’t living through an interregnum, but rather have passed into a new age….


Nobody knows if the Republican Party will ever go back to being reasonably sane. Losing elections by ever-increasing margins and/or older voters dying off might make it a relatively normal conservative political party again. Or it could get worse.

A more immediate question is: How long will it take for leading Democrats and the people in charge of corporate media to accept the fact that this is no longer the party of Ronald Reagan or even Dick Cheney?

Will it ever become obvious to everybody that the normal conventions of political negotiation — like trusting the other side to play fair — and journalism — like trying to achieve balance in your reporting — don’t apply when you’re dealing with people this radical, extreme, crazy, authoritarian and <insert your own adjectives here>?