COMMENTARY

Yes, plenty of Republicans want to topple the king — but he won't go easily

Many GOP voters would prefer a friendlier face for fascism — but they're still held hostage by the Trump cult

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published December 3, 2022 12:00PM (EST)

Donald Trump address an audience at the The Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center on July 25, 2016 in Roanoke, Virginia. (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images/Sara D. Davis)
Donald Trump address an audience at the The Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center on July 25, 2016 in Roanoke, Virginia. (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images/Sara D. Davis)

How many terrifying chapters remain in the Book of Donald Trump? The American people are in the process of finding out as they try to escape a seemingly endless story. 

Public opinion research shows that a large number of Americans — for various reasons, not all of them entirely noble or about saving "democracy" — are tired of the extremism, turmoil and chaos of Trumpism and the larger Republican fascist movement. In the recent midterm elections, millions of Americans voted to slow or stop the Republican Party's "red tide" and in doing so won a brief reprieve in the struggle against authoritarian rule.

On a fundamental level, the midterms also represented a direct pushback against Donald Trump as most major candidates he personally endorsed, along with other banner-carriers for the Big Lie about the 2020 election, were rebuffed at the polls. Even Republican voters and previous Trump voters appear to be tiring of him.

Many such voters still support Trumpism and neofascism for various reasons — including racial grievance-mongering, political thuggery, moral panics over "culture war" issues and other anti-democratic behavior — but would prefer those things in a "friendlier" and less "toxic" package. Let's not delude ourselves: Many if not most Trump and Republican and other right-wing voters want to end multiracial pluralistic democracy in America, but want to do it in a more "respectable" or "professional" fashion.

Republican elites and gatekeepers have clearly grown tired of what they now see as Donald Trump's limitations in advancing their authoritarian agenda. In essence, the Trump movement was a successful proof of concept about how to undermine American democracy in the 21st century by breaking longstanding norms and institutions — up to and including the attempted coup that culminated on Jan. 6, 2021. As president, Trump also had enormous instrumental value for the "conservative" movement's reactionary-revolutionary agenda, largely because he appointed three right-wing Supreme Court justices and reshaped the federal judiciary.

The mainstream media and its professional centrists are also growing tired of Trump and his movement and appear eager to anoint a new Republican leader who is more "mainstream" and "traditional," supposedly heralding a return to "normal politics" and an end to the existential threat to American democracy. Such a conclusion is premature and based more on hope than evidence. Indeed, it represents a fundamental misunderstanding of political reality and the true danger of American neofascism.

Here is the basic problem: By and large, the American people and the political class are tired of Donald Trump. But he is not tired of the spotlight or ready to leave the public stage.


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That is unmistakably a dangerous situation. Trump is likely a sociopath, if not a psychopath. He is a cult leader who possesses tremendous allure and dark magnetism, and who still commands a following in the many tens of millions. He continues to threaten violence and chaos if he is indicted and prosecuted for his many obvious crimes, which include violating the Espionage Act and the coup attempt of January 2021. Recently Trump has embraced the most extreme figures in the white supremacist movement, which includes avowed neo-Nazis and other antisemitic hate-mongers.

For Trump's followers, the destructive, antisocial energy he has unleashed is experienced as a powerful force of liberation, an opportunity for revenge against the elites they believe have oppressed them.

Several weeks ago, Trump finally announced that he will run for president again in 2024. Trump has suggested that if he returns to the White House he will seek revenge against his designated enemies -- which would include putting journalists and by implication other people who criticize him in prison. Trump has also said he will pardon his followers who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Trump's followers and cultists would welcome such a tyrannical reign, of course. They never want the story to end. For them, the chaotic, destructive and antisocial energy of Trumpism is experienced as a powerful force of liberation, an opportunity for revenge against "political correctness" and "the elites" they believe have oppressed and marginalized them. 

In a recent interview with the Guardian, Rick Wilson, Republican strategist, co-founder of the Lincoln Project and leading never-Trump conservative, issued a warning about the likely course of the 2024 presidential campaign. He noted that the conservatives who have turned against Trump in 2022 are the same people who, six or seven years ago, "were confidently asserting Donald Trump could never, ever under any circumstances win the Republican nomination, and there were never any circumstances where Donald Trump could beat Hillary Clinton": 

"I know that the Republicans who right now are acting very bold and the donors who are acting very frisky — as Trump starts winning primaries, they will bend the knee, they will break, they will fall, they will all come back into line. …

"Right now they're all talking so much shit: 'I'm not going to get with Trump. I'm going to be with the hot new number, DeSantis.' When DeSantis gets his ass handed to him, when he gets his clock cleaned in a debate or forum or just by Trump grinding away at him, eating him alive mentally for weeks on end, and suddenly Donald Trump's numbers start posting up again, all the conservative thinkers who are right now like, 'We will never vote for Trump again, we have integrity!' will find themselves some excuse. 'Well, you know, we don't like Trump's tweets, but otherwise it's pure communism!'

"It's all bullshit, it's all a fucking game, and that game is going to play out in a way that does not result in the outcome that the donor class thinks they're going to get."

Wilson is highly skeptical that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the mainstream media's anointed Trump replacement, can actually beat Trump in a head-to-head matchup. "Has he actually faced up against a full campaign of the brutality and the cruelty that Donald Trump will level against him?" Wilson asks. "He has not": 

"In a Republican primary against Trump, even Trump in a weakened state still has an innate feral sense of cruelty and cunning that Ron DeSantis does not have. ...

"All of a sudden, all that donor money is going to go, 'Oh, fuck,' and then they're going to call Ron's people and go, 'Hey, listen, we love Ron but we're worried. We're gonna have to sit this one out for a little while. Let's see what it looks like in a month.'

"And then a month will pass and all of a sudden Donald Trump is the nominee. That's how it's going to go and I don't say this out of any joy; I say this because I've just been to this fucking party too many times now."

Donald Trump has multiple pathways to remaining in control of the Republican Party and continuing to menace the American people. At this point, he remains the leading Republican candidate for 2024. He has a firm base of support among older and more conservative voters, one that is far stronger and deeper than any of his rivals command. He has amassed a huge war chest for his 2024 campaign and associated super PACs.

Republican voters will choose Trump knowing that his return to power will bring renewed chaos and destruction. 

If Republican voters and right-leaning independents are offered the choice between Donald Trump and Joe Biden (or literally any other Democrat), nearly all of them will overcome whatever reluctance they feel and choose Trump. They will do this knowing that a second Trump term will bring renewed chaos and destruction. And of course, If Trump is somehow not the Republican Party's presidential nominee in 2024, he will do everything in his power to destroy it in an act of spite and revenge.

Mainstream media, professional politics watchers and "respectable" conservatives have repeatedly assured us that the Republican Party and its voters are on the verge of abandoning Trump and returning to some semblance of political normalcy. It never happens. Ultimately, Trump understands the party and its voters — and the underlying cultural and societal sicknesses and troubles that spawned his neofascist movement — far better than conservative or media elites do. Until and unless the Republican leadership solve that riddle, they will remain in the thrall of Donald Trump and his followers no matter how much they wish they could escape.


By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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Authoritarianism Commentary Democracy Donald Trump Elections Fascism Republicans Rick Wilson Ron Desantis