Trump's announcement proves it, again: Republicans aren't tough — they're a bunch of weenies

Republicans know Trump is bad for the party, the country and the world — but they'll still grovel before Daddy

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published November 16, 2022 6:00AM (EST)

Former U.S. President Donald Trump walks away after speaking to the media during an election night event at Mar-a-Lago on November 08, 2022 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Donald Trump walks away after speaking to the media during an election night event at Mar-a-Lago on November 08, 2022 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

If one indisputable truth has emerged from the midterm elections, it's that Donald Trump is the political equivalent of herpes. Sure, the MAGA base loves him, but mainly as a blight they can inflict upon liberals, since infecting all Democrats with literal herpes is a logistical impossibility. Everyone else despises Trump, so much so that Republican candidates, by aligning themselves too closely with Trump, surrendered a significant chunk of voters and lost a bunch of otherwise winnable elections. 

So for the past week, Republican talking heads have been lining up to declare that it's finally time to abandon the tiny-fingered parasite who sucks voters out of the R column. As Salon's Areeba Shah has documented, even some of the most shameless Trump sycophants, like Candace Owens of the Daily Wire and former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, have been out there imploring their onetime godhead to take a step back from another presidential campaign. The GOP chattering class has turned its lonely eyes to Florida Gov. Ron "Don't Say Gay" DeSantis as the next-level Trump challenger, in the hope that he can be evil enough to satisfy the MAGA base, while tricking normie voters into thinking he's not quite as bad as the Bad Orange Man. 

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After spending six years playing Renfield to their pumpkin-colored Dracula, you'd think Republicans would better understand that even the mildest criticism of their psychotic-narcissistic nominal leader is bound to backfire. Any Republican who asks Trump to humble himself might as well wear a sign that says, "Please beat me into submission, sir." Trump already had plenty of reasons to run for office, such as his immense ego and the hopes that an official campaign may keep him out of prison. Now he has one more motivation: Reminding other Republicans that he's the boss and compelling them to line up to lick his boots. Which they, despite an oh-so-exciting week of feigned independence, will be doing in short order.

In his rambling, conspiracy theory-laden speech announcing his presidential run from his Mar-a-Lago home in Florida, Trump employed the sleepy but sing-songy tone he uses when he's trying to appear "serious." Despite his claims that this campaign would "bring people together," Trump failed to hide the terminal narcissism fueling this run. He griped that the "fake news" was failing to report his supposedly fantastic "endorsement success rate." The speech was so long-winded and whiny that CNN only lasted a few minutes before cutting away, a dramatic departure from the 2016 coverage Trump received, in which his ratings-grabbing stemwinders would often be aired without commentary on cable news in their entirety. 

The air does feel like it's deflated from Trump's surly tires. It makes no matter. Republicans may hate themselves for it, but they will fall in line. 

The elite Republican failure to fathom Trump's entirely predictable behavior is perhaps understandable. After all, it's a group of people who don't know themselves very well, which is why they spent a week laboring under the delusion that they're just about ready to stand up to Trump, in recognition of all the damage he's done to them or their party. But if there is one thing as inevitable as Trump's Tuesday announcement, it's that the Republican establishment will come crawling back to him, each supposed leader more eager than the last to prostrate themselves before a man who views them with utter and undisguised contempt. 

We know this because the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. For more than six years, Republican leaders have shown there's nothing Trump can say or do that will result in their turning on him. Does he call a Republican rival's wife ugly, and accuse the rival's late father of assassinating JFK? Ask Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who endured all that and more only to abase himself as one of Trump's most loyal lapdogs. 

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After Trump defended the neo-Nazis who rioted in Charlottesville in 2017, Republicans responded by embracing a more overt form of racism. After Trump led Republicans to heavy losses in the 2018 midterms, they doubled down by running even more overtly MAGA candidates. After Trump was impeached for trying to extort the president of Ukraine, a major U.S. ally, Republicans refused to convict him. When Trump started pressuring Republicans to risk prison to help him steal the 2020 election, they made excuses for him. When Trump sent a murderous crowd after his vice president and members of Congress on Jan. 6, Republicans shielded him from consequences. If they can't turn their back on the man for attempted murder-by-MAGA-goons, then there's really nothing that will make them rethink their allegiance to President Drink Bleach

To be fair, part of the reason the GOP elite cannot quit Trump is rational. As Heather Digby Parton notes, "40% or so of the party faithful" still worship Trump, and any serious attempt to run Trump out of the party will result in the base turning on Republican leaders, not on Trump. Witness, after all, how Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming saw her career in Congress end because she took a stand against Trump. (As did the careers of nearly every other House Republican who voted to impeach him.) Trump metaphorically hung her head on the castle walls as a warning to others, and they got the message. It's important to understand that Trump's voters hate the Republican elite almost as much as they hate liberals. Watching Trump push around GOP bigwigs in D.C. is nearly as sweet to the MAGA faithful as watching him own the libs. That's especially true when it comes to the 4chan losers who turn out to vote for Trump but otherwise tend to skip elections

Plus, if he doesn't get the nomination, he's bound to go on the warpath against whoever does, convincing QAnoners, Alex Jones fans, and other assorted dirtbags to not vote for the Republican who did get the nomination. It's a hostage-taking situation, and Trump has all the leverage. 

But truly, the inability to disentangle themselves from Trump is about something even deeper in the Republican psyche: Right-wingers are born bootlickers. Hierarchal thinking and a near-erotic obsession with power and domination define the conservative mentality, especially in the era of rising authoritarianism. While Republicans love to play-act as independent-minded, freedom-loving pioneers, they not-so-secretly cannot wait to kneel before the biggest, loudest bully in the room. 

Yet they're also embarrassed about this, which is no doubt why so many of them are making noises about rejecting Trump in favor of DeSantis — despite the fact that the Sunshine State governor exhibits an unhealthy fixation on Dear Orange Leader that led him to change the way he looks, moves and dresses to appear ever more Trumpy, like he's Jennifer Jason Leigh in "Single White Female." But authoritarians cannot help but give into their desire to fall in line behind a leader whose main attribute is how thoroughly he demeans them. Trump himself, as much as he likes to act like a strongman, has the same mentality. When he's around dictators he views as more dominant than himself, like Russian President Vladimir Putin or North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Trump flops on his back, begging them for tummy rubs and baby talk about what a good and obedient boy he is. 

Trump's clownish conduct only makes total submission to him more humiliating, and therefore more irresistible, to the Republican leadership. It's a mentality that's largely foreign to liberals, except perhaps in the controlled environment of the bedroom or the sex club. But this kind of willful subjugation is a 24/7 way of life for conservatives, whose entire worldview is about power and pecking orders. They had their fun pretending to resist Trump, but now he's pulled out the whip and yanked the chain. As they have a hundred times before, they'll fall on their knees, begging for a chance to serve the fake-tanned fraud they've made their master. 

"We're not a cult," Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana said on "Meet the Press" over the weekend. "We're not like, 'OK, there's one person who leads our party."

But of course that's what everyone in a cult says. Cassidy also wouldn't say whether he'd vote for Trump if he runs again in 2024. Nor did he need to. That's OK, senator: We all know the answer.

By 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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