What hath the Republicans wrought: Will Trump's insanity finally rip the party apart?

Whatever happens in Georgia, Trump's conspiracy theories have created a deranged third force the GOP can't control

By Heather Digby Parton


Published December 4, 2020 9:07AM (EST)

Supporters of President Donald Trump gather to protest the election results (Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images)
Supporters of President Donald Trump gather to protest the election results (Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images)

Over the past few years both the media and Democratic officials have often reported that certain Republicans say on background or in private that they really can't stand Donald Trump. Veteran reporter Carl Bernstein even named some names a few days ago. Some people in the media and political classes would apparently prefer that the public see the Republican establishment as terrified of Donald Trump's base rather as than the cynics they are, eagerly taking advantage of Trump's chaos to advance their agenda.

Trump's post-election flights of lunacy provide an excellent case in point. While "mainstream" Republicans covertly whisper in Joe Biden's ear that they know he won the election, and assure him that they find Trump's twaddle about "rigged" votes and what have you terribly uncouth, they remain quiet in public, ostensibly because they want to let Trump have his tantrum and run out the clock, at which point we will pretend that all this unpleasantness never happened. This is, of course, nuts. President-elect Biden and every other Democrat who goes before the cameras to reassure Americans that the Republicans understand that Trump is off his rocker and that as soon as he's gone we'll all get back to normal are enabling them to continue the sabotage of our democracy. Democrats have no obligation to cover for Trump's accomplices and they need to stop doing it.

Republicans have been wringing their hands about "voter fraud" for years — despite no evidence to support such claims — in order to make voting more difficult, which is of course their ultimate goal. It's not as if Donald Trump came up with all this on his own. It's been a GOP staple for decades. He's just turned the dial up to 11, as he does with everything.

It's not hard to imagine that the more flamboyant Republicans who are egging Trump on, as well as the quiet ones who are content to let this play out, see an opportunity to leverage Trump's following to enact some truly egregious vote suppression tactics in swing states they know are not going their way. With 50 million angry Trump voters out there who at least claim to be convinced that the entire system is corrupt, who knows what they may be able to accomplish?

Republicans are counting on Trump fading away quickly while they continue to take advantage of the system he has broken. It's a risky play. The conspiracy theories have become so byzantine and surreal that it won't be easy to appease the mob, not even with extreme measures like outlawing early voting or voting by mail. Trump's followers are being whipped into a frenzy, and it's starting to blow back on the GOP.

Earlier this week Trump stood behind the presidential podium in the diplomatic reception room of the White House and delivered what he called "the most important speech" he'll ever give. You might have assumed a speech described in those terms would have been about the massive death toll the country is currently experiencing from the pandemic. But no. As the Washington Post's Philip Rucker put it, it was a prepared teleprompter speech in which "Trump tried to leverage the power of the presidency to subvert the vote and overturn the election results."

Oddly, perhaps, Trump didn't invite the press or an audience of any kind. (The number of cuts suggest the speech was delivered in several takes and then edited together.) Instead, the speech was streamed on Facebook and later broadcast in full on the right-wing cable networks. This was by design, obviously, in order to inject this diatribe directly into the Trumpist bloodstream, unadulterated by any commentary or fact checks. To my ears and those of anyone else who is living in reality, it sounded completely insane. To his followers, it was a formal presidential address.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell once said, "the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." I'm sure he will dedicate himself to the same task with respect to Joe Biden's incoming administration, if McConnell can hold on to power. I'm also sure he wishes Trump would shut his trap about the supposedly rigged votes in Georgia, but there's just no way to keep him quiet about this. And the longer Trump keeps his up, the more it's twisting the Republican Party in knots. Every day he's tweeting something like this:

The two screwball pro-Trump attorneys filing incompetent lawsuits on his behalf all over the country, Lin Wood and Sidney Powell, as well as the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani (who is also filing incompetent lawsuits all over the country), are holding rallies and testifying in various venues to make ridiculous demands. Powell and Wood held a rally on Wednesday in which they excoriated Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp for failing to call a special session of the state legislature to overturn the election results (inspiring "Lock him up " chants from the crowd) and exhorted voters not to vote for Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in the Georgia Senate runoffs unless those two get with the program.

Giuliani was in Atlanta on Thursday, making his own plea for state legislators to overturn the election and select their own electors. His "evidence" had already been investigated and his understanding of Georgia law was incorrect, of course.

Republicans are reportedly very nervous about Trump's planned super-spreader rally in Georgia on Saturday because he's likely to dwell on the "rigged election" instead of focusing on getting out the vote for Loeffler and Perdue. It will be a huge surprise if Trump doesn't just let his freak flag fly. It's his first rally since the election and he's hardly been seen on TV at all. He's dying for an audience. It's the air he breathes.

So it's left to others to fight this "Stop the Steal" movement. A Breitbart report exposed Lin Wood as someone who voted for Democrats in the past and Newt Gingrich, who's been fanning the conspiracy flames like crazy, calling the Georgia election a "left-wing power grab financed by people like George Soros," abruptly reversed course and accused Powell and Wood of being "totally destructive." Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas jumped in, calling Wood a "clown" who is trying to "mislead voters." Even the Trump War Room got in on the act.

Wood hasn't backed down, telling the Daily Beast:

[T]he Trump campaign needs to demand that Governor Brian Kemp call a special session of [the] Georgia legislature. … Loeffler and Perdue should make that same demand. The general election was a fraud. After [the] legislature fixes the voting process, then get out and vote. Seems like good old common sense to me.

Look who sounds like he's on the same page:

And here we have Michelle Malkin of Newsmax, a formerly fringe network whose ratings are going through the roof as the MAGA crowd emigrates from the deep-state propaganda of Fox News:

Oh, what a tangled web we weave. It appears that the cult has a life of its own now and is in the process of disengaging from the Republican mothership. Whether this will affect the Georgia runoff remains to be seen. But it's pretty clear that this "rigged election" gambit may have some far-reaching effects that the Republican establishment did not anticipate when they sat back and smugly let Donald Trump run wild with his conspiracy theories. 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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