Forget about a GOP crack-up: Republicans rally around a defeated Trump because they understand power

Sorry, but the GOP won't tear themselves apart — they're too attached to power to let Trump and QAnon break them up

By Amanda Marcotte
January 28, 2021 6:02PM (UTC)
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Donald Trump, Kevin McCarthy, Marjorie Taylor-Greene and Mitch McConnell (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

File it under too good to be true: The much-anticipated great Republican crack-up is not coming.

Last weekend, the Washington Post ran a story headlined, "Trump jumps into a divisive battle over the Republican Party — with a threat to start a 'MAGA Party.'" It focused on the internal battle between the (relatively few) Republicans who are angry about Donald Trump inciting an insurrection on the Capitol and the more numerous Republicans who are gung-ho about this turn towards fascism and cannot wait to push it further. This followed earlier reporting about a "[b]itter split GOP" promising "Republicans in open warfare" and similar reporting from the New York Times promising that "bitter infighting underscores the deep divisions" in the GOP. 

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There were similarly exciting stories about how business leaders were pulling away from the Republican Party and Republicans in battleground states were changing their party registration. Even we here at Salon got in on the action, with Heather "Digby" Parton writing a piece about "the inevitable post-election Republican implosion" resulting from the conflict between the QAnon types and the more staid (though also democracy-hostile) Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. 

I was skeptical, believing as I do that there are three inevitabilities in life: Death, taxes, and that Republicans are far too attached to power to demobilize.

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They may believe that there's an international cabal of blood-drinking Satanist pedophiles, but Republicans aren't so dumb as to think that there's anything to be gained from third parties or withholding their votes altogether. That level of self-defeating stupidity is a solidly progressive flaw. Republicans know that power means winning elections and winning elections means sticking together. That is how it always is and always shall be, or at least until they can end this whole "holding elections" business altogether. 


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Sure enough, on Wednesday, the same two reporters who recently wrote the Washington Post article about Republicans in disarray — Josh Dawsey and Michael Scherer — circled around with a very different headline: "Republicans back away from confronting Trump and his loyalists after the Capitol insurrection, embracing them instead."

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The Post's follow-up report looks at how Republican leadership is now lining up behind the fascistic ex-president and fighting Democratic efforts to convict Trump and prevent him from running again. Here at Salon, Parton Wednesday's column hit on the same theme, nothing that "Mitch McConnell believes in power," and that falling in line behind the Trump faction is apparently what he believes will get it for him. 

And all those supposed Republican voter de-registrations? Philip Bump and Lenny Bronner of the Washington Post did an in-depth analysis of historical trends. Their conclusion to the question of whether Republicans are bleeding support: "Eh, not really."

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As for all those business leaders supposedly peacing out, well, it's important to read the fine print. For instance, Google snagged laudatory headlines for withdrawing donations to any Republicans who voted to overthrow Joe Biden's electoral win, but buried in the text was that Google "will not be making any contributions this cycle." Emphasis mine, because this is an off-year with no federal elections. Google has likely just hit a temporary pause to let the bad press pass. Then it's back to giving money to people who are using their elected office to keep undermining the idea of elections altogether.

I'm not denying that there's a power struggle between the flagrantly bonkers faction of the Republican Party and the somewhat less bizarro faction. But ultimately, that power struggle is more about aesthetics and tactics than goals. The McConnell wing prefers to undermine democracy through procedural obstructionism that slips the notice of the average voter. The Trump wing wants violent insurrection and in your face gun-waving. Either way, the objective is the same: Installing minority rule, gutting democracy, and shutting the majority of Americans out of power. And so it was inevitable that the power struggle would be limited in scope and would never actually drive anyone out of the Republican Party. 

One case study is the spectacle around Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, a full-blown QAnon nut who has been drawing embarrassing coverage for her hateful antics, such as calling for the deaths of Democrats and harassing a school shooting survivor with her wild conspiracy theories. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Calif., promised he'd have "a conversation" with Taylor Greene, drawing hopeful speculation that he would contain her or even censure her. 

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Instead, Taylor Greene was handsomely rewarded for being the worst:

As Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D.-N.Y., said on MSNBC Wednesday, "Kevin McCarthy answers to these QAnon members of Congress, not the other way around."

Outside of Congress, we have the case study of Meghan McCain, co-host on "The View", daughter of former Arizona Sen. John McCain, and self-admiring protector of the supposedly sane wing of the Republican Party. Her mother, Cindy McCain, was targeted for censure for anti-Trump heresies by the Arizona Republican Party, headed by Kelli Ward, a Taylor-Greene-style figure. 

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"I'll die fighting for [the GOP]. I mean, I'm a lifelong conservative, unlike a lot of these heretics," Meghan McCain dramatically declared on "The View" on Tuesday. "I mean, I was born into this, raised into it, it's my whole entire life in all ways and truly at the bottom of my soul, I think as all of you know, I believe in the principles I was raised on."

What McCain avoided noting, however, is that she's married to Ben Domenech, who runs The Federalist, a far-right website that has been avidly defending the insurrectionists and floating conspiracy theories blaming the violence on "antifa," instead of the Trump supporters who are actually responsible for a riot that left 140 Capitol police officers injured, one murdered, and two dead by suicide. Domenech himself is more irate about social media platforms taking down pro-insurrection voices than he is about the actual attack. 

Perhaps McCain and her husband just politely disagree on the acceptability of armed insurrection to overturn free and fair elections. Nonetheless, their marriage is a perfect symbol of how the GOP operates. There might be some room for mild disapproval of fascistic behavior, but at the end of the day, they'll all stick together.


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Power is what really matters to them.

The slightly less nutty Republicans aren't going to break up with the blatant fascists any more than McCain plans to leave Domenech. These stories about Republican in-fighting are catnip to progressives, for understandable reasons. It would be so nice if the GOP would be sunk by intra-party squabbling, the same way Democrats get sunk over and over again. Wouldn't it be nice if it were Republicans, for once, who understood the pain of watching candidates like Hillary Clinton or Al Gore lose elections they should have won because of in-fighting? It's a beautiful, tempting fantasy. 

But that's all it is: A fantasy.

Republicans don't demobilize. They aren't stupid just because they're crazy. They know that they win by sticking together. They know that their differences matter less than their shared goal of maintaining power. No matter how baroque the conspiracy theories get or overt the fascist sentiment, Republicans aren't going to see much attrition. Beating them will continue requiring mass mobilization on the left, as hard as that can be. The GOP is here to stay, and the sooner Democratic voters accept that, the more disciplined they'll be at defeating them. 


Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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