Republicans splinter: It's Trump versus the GOP establishment — again

Trump skeptics in the GOP have finally reached their limit

By Heather Digby Parton


Published November 22, 2021 11:12AM (EST)

Chris Christie, Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Chris Christie, Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Two prominent conservative voices have finally decided they've had enough and quit their gigs at Fox News.

Stephen Hayes, author of "The Connection: How al Qaeda's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein has Endangered America," and Jonah Goldberg of "Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Change" fame announced that they resigned from the flagship right-wing network over "Patriot Purge," Tucker Carlson's fraudulent "documentary" about January 6th. I guess everyone has their breaking point, although it's kind of hard to believe it was Carlson's scurrilous project that did it rather than the event itself.

Considering their body of work, however, I suppose the news about Goldberg and Hayes is not too surprising. Goldberg told Ben Smith of the New York Times that "they had stayed on at Fox News as long they did because of a sense from conversations at Fox that, after Mr. Trump's defeat, the network would try to recover some of its independence and, as he put it, 'right the ship.'" Apparently, they were under the inexplicable impression that Fox wanted to change course — which is kind of hilarious. After all, their biggest star, Tucker Carlson, has been pushing increasingly extremist rhetoric and philosophy on his show for months.

Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp runs Fox News, spoke to shareholders last week and pointedly said that Donald Trump should get over the 2020 election — which didn't stop Trump from appearing on the network on Sunday night to whine about the 2020 election. Neither does it seem that Murdoch is taking any action to rein in top talent like Carlson whose "Patriot Purge" just adds fuel to the Big Lie. As Bloomberg's Timothy O'Brien observed, perhaps the patriarch has actually handed over those reins to his son, Lachlan, who seems to be simpatico with the Fox flamethrowers and has backed Carlson to the hilt throughout his descent into far-right extremism.

Murdoch isn't the only one who wants to have it both ways.

I wrote about Chris Christie's rather pathetic attempt to carve out a "middle lane" for himself in a GOP primary, extolling Trump's allegedly super-impressive accomplishments while trying to distance himself from the Big Lie. He's also working hard to stay in the good graces of the Fox flamethrowers, so he winds up on the opposite side of people like Hayes and Goldberg. Watching Chris Christie walk that tightrope is not a pretty picture.

Meanwhile, we have a bunch of Republican governors who met this past week for their annual confab toasting their newest member, Glenn Youngkin of Virginia, while, according to Jonathan Martin of the NY Times, meeting furtively behind the scenes to privately gripe about Donald Trump's "cancel culture." They were referring, of course, to his penchant for gleefully bringing the hammer down on any Republican who looks at him sideways.

The head of the Republican Governors Association, Steve Ducey of Arizona, pledged to all the incumbents up for reelection in 2022 that the group would back them regardless of Trump's endorsement, which is probably not all that reassuring. Contrary to the conventional wisdom that has the Youngkin victory putting Trump on the defensive since Youngkin didn't openly embrace the former president, Trump sees the Republican victory in Virginia as a personal vindication:

Mr. Youngkin's success in a campaign in which his Democratic opponent relentlessly linked him to Mr. Trump has emboldened the former president to further tighten his grip on the party, one whose base remains deeply loyal to him.

Those poor GOP governors all thought it would show him that he needs to stay on the down low so the party can win. Naturally, Trump took the opposite lesson. And now he's feeling his oats:

Moving beyond the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him this year, Mr. Trump is now threatening to unseat lawmakers who voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill. He taunts Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell as an "old crow" on a near-daily basis, while demanding that Mr. McConnell be removed from his leadership post. And, most alarming to the clubby cadre of Republican governors, Mr. Trump has already endorsed two challengers against incumbent governors and is threatening to unseat others.

For all the hand-wringing and pearl-clutching over the Democrats' chances in 2022, the desperate grasping at straws taking place among Republicans as they head into another election season with Donald Trump dominating their party is a story that should not be ignored. As Jonathan Martin quipped on Twitter:

And needless to say, the MAGA army is already gathering on the battlefield for 2024.

The Atlantic's Peter Nicholas attended the same meeting and reports that one of Trump's former advisers has a plan to make Trump back down: Teach him about Adlai Stevenson. 

"I think that would resonate. Trump hates losers," the former advisor told Nicolas that he plans to explain to Trump that if he loses in 2024 he would be like Stevenson, one of history's serial losers.

That's the plan. I'm not kidding. 

Apparently, some people on this planet have not yet discovered that Trump doesn't believe he lost in 2020 and will never admit to losing anything ever. He believes that he can create his own reality, simply by saying what he wants people to believe over and over again. Even former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who you'd think would know better, told Nicholas, "I don't think he wants to risk losing twice. Once, you can argue about the outcome. Twice, it becomes a repudiation." Actually, the twice impeached president who made a spectacle of himself on the world stage, played politics with a deadly pandemic, left the economy a smoldering wreck and incited a violent insurrection was rightfully repudiated in no uncertain terms by a majority of voters. The fact that he'll probably be given a mulligan after that dreadful performance is a sad comment on the Republican Party.

I suppose it's good news that two more Trump skeptics have finally reached their limit and walked away from Fox News. And yes it's a positive step that some Republican governors and other officials are criticizing Trump among themselves. But let's not pretend that this is some kind of trend. We just watched the entire GOP House caucus gather in support of a violent., white nationalist nut, Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, and then Trump immediately endorsed him for re-election. It's obvious which way the wind is blowing. 

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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