“If you’ve been watching the news, you know that Putin is having a border dispute with a nation called Ukraine. Now, the main thing to know about Ukraine, for our purposes, is that its leaders once sent millions of dollars to Joe Biden’s family.” It is at this point that you might suspect an idiot is talking—you’re right. It’s Tucker Carlson. He goes on: “Not surprisingly, Ukraine is now one of Biden’s favorite countries…. The administration assures us this has nothing at all to do with repaying Joe Biden’s personal debts to Ukrainian oligarchs, not at all.… But Joe Biden likes Ukraine, so Putin bad, war good.”
Tucker Carlson is the highest-rated host on the highest-rated cable-news network, Fox. He is a Trump Republican, which means he says whatever it takes to keep Trump happy. And Trump is all in for Putin. Not only has Trump not condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he called it “genius.” The night before the invasion, he told a political fundraiser at his little Paraguay-by-the-Sea, Mar-a-Lago, “He’s taking over a country for $2 worth of sanctions. I’d say that’s pretty smart.” His former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who recently spent $30,000 to improve his media appearances and may have overpaid by $29,950, used one of those appearances to purr, “[Putin] has a lot of gifts. He was a K.G.B. agent, for goodness sake. He knows how to use power…. I have enormous respect for him.”
No Republican before Trump would ever have spoken this way about Russia. To Ronald Reagan, the man who used to be the Republican ideal but who now would be crushed in the doors of the Capitol if he got in the way of an insurrection, Russia was the “evil empire.” Not to Trump, and therefore not to Tucker Carlson, Mike Pompeo, nor anyone else chasing the Trump base.
When Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939, imagine if Churchill had dismissed it as “a border dispute.” And later on, when Hitler took his troops into Czechoslovakia, Austria, Poland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, and France, imagine if Roosevelt had chimed in, “Hitler sure knows how to use power—I admire that!” In fact, in the face of passionate isolationism in the U.S., F.D.R. continually condemned Hitler’s actions. To this minute, Trump has not criticized any aspect of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (Let us not forget that, in 2019, Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine while he tried to squeeze that government for information about Hunter Biden.)
On Morning Joe recently, the otherwise exemplary Willie Geist used the phrase “some extremist Republicans,” which suggests a slender slice of an otherwise mainstream party. But is “extremist Republican” not now a redundancy? In today’s G.O.P., it is the tiny minority who still believe in nato, the Constitution, and science who are the extremists. What has happened to this party?
The Republican Party was created to promote an extreme idea: In the 19th century, honorable members of the Whig Party resigned over the party’s failure to take a strong stance against slavery. They created the G.O.P., with opposition to the spread of slavery one of its most vital founding principles. And it was a Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, who achieved the elimination of slavery—arguably the most extreme thing ever done in the United States.
That’s how the Republican Party started, and ever since then it has been trying to forget those years like a drunken weekend in a syphilitic whorehouse. Once the Civil War ended, the G.O.P. turned its attention toward business, from which it has rarely looked away. After the two terms of Republican Teddy Roosevelt, whose ideas about trust-busting and land conservation would bring a blush of delight to the cheeks of Elizabeth Warren, the party became what we traditionally think of when we think of Republicans: anti-tax, pro–big business, anti-immigration.
From T.R. on, the party’s domestic agenda would not change, but its ideas on foreign policy would. Between the World Wars, the party was fiercely isolationist and, until Pearl Harbor, opposed involvement in World War II. After the war, the G.O.P. became unwaveringly pro-Europe, anti-Communist, and interventionist, sometimes to a fault.
For the seven decades following World War II, if you were a Republican, you hated taxes and the Russians. One could cheer or choke on those positions, but there was no question that they were sincerely felt, and there was never any doubt that the party and its members deeply loved America. (All those chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”) More than anything, patriotism was the G.O.P. brand.
You can no longer say that.
As with so many things, Trump is to blame.
Even chief executives with the lowest level of achievement have the highest levels of self-regard. So Trump cannot be singled out for his vanity or his insistence that the party share his passions and his hatreds. The problem is that he has only one passion—himself—and that his hatred applies to anyone who doesn’t share that passion. Trump has never asked what he might do for his country, only what his country might do for him.
The Republican Party was created to promote an extreme idea. Opposition to the spread of slavery was one of the founding principles of the G.O.P.
His pinnacle of lowness came on January 6, 2021, a date which will stand with December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001, as one of the darkest in our life as a nation. Everything President Trump did that day disgraces him: his continuing promotion of the lie that he won the election; the pressure he put on Mike Pence to overturn the will of the electorate; Trump’s promise to walk with his supporters to the Capitol, which he never had any intention of doing (the longest walk he ever takes is to the door of his limo); and, finally, his contempt for democracy. Trump doesn’t value America for its democracy. To him, it’s just real estate. He feels the same about Ukraine. After Putin invaded, Trump called it “a great piece of land.”
As January 6 wore on, Trump did what he does best: he sat and watched TV. When, hours later, succumbing to pressure, Trump meekly asked the rioters to go home, he made one of the most extraordinary statements ever by a president to a mob of insurrectionists. He said, “We love you.”
He loves the insurrectionists, he thinks Putin is a genius, he was twice impeached, and he is the Republican standard-bearer. Mitch McConnell says he will support him if he is the nominee in 2024.
The insurrection was not Dr. King’s March on Washington, black and white hands linked, folk songs sweetening the air. This was war: police begging for their lives; windows smashed; Capitol Hill guards caught and crushed in doorways. In the Zapruder footage of the Kennedy assassination, you only see the crime, not the criminal: this time, everything was caught on video. There is nothing unclear about what happened or who did it.
Unless you are a Republican.
During the insurrection, Georgia representative Andrew S. Clyde was photographed inside the House chamber, pinned against the wall with a look of horror out of Edvard Munch. Seriously—look at the photograph and tell me that man’s liver isn’t melting with terror. A few months later, having had his life saved by the Capitol Police, Clyde claimed the behavior of the rioters was like “a normal tourist visit.” (Where on earth does he vacation?)
Here’s all you need to know about the state of the Republican Party in 2022: on Friday, February 4, the R.N.C. declared that the seditious riots of January 6, 2021, were “legitimate political discourse.” They then voted to censure Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, the only two Republican House members on the January 6 Commission, for participating in the effort to investigate the attacks. Would the D.N.C. please start running ads of the murderous footage of the insurrection with THIS IS THE G.O.P.’S IDEA OF LEGITIMATE POLITICAL DISCOURSE plastered all over it?
In the Zapruder footage of the Kennedy assassination, you only see the crime, not the criminal: this time, everything was caught on video.
The censure vote is only the latest assault on Liz Cheney, whom the party has turned on more aggressively than it has on Kinzinger, possibly because he’s said he won’t run again, but also possibly because it must gall Trump that he is being judged by a woman. Earlier, Kevin McCarthy had Cheney stripped of her role as the third-ranking Republican, and the Wyoming R.N.C. is financing primary challenges against her.
Making this all the more contemptible is that McCarthy was one of the first to denounce the attacks on January 6 and to hold Trump responsible. Then he requested a refund on the spine he had briefly found and ran to apologize at Mar-a-Lago (Spanish for “Come and submit”). This means McCarthy is punishing a woman with whom he agrees.
Unlike the Democratic Party, which is a collection of many different interest groups, the G.O.P. is made up of three basic groups: The first is Republican Classic, the ultra-rich for whom the only issue is the lowering of their taxes. Then there is a smaller group who think the party is still Reagan’s small-government, shining-city-on-the-hill thing—clearly, they’re not paying attention.
The rest of the party appear to be escapees from anger-management therapy, white as the fat cap on a pork butt, suspicious of anything smart, and Christian in a way that ignores the kind and forgiving teachings of Christ. According to a recent poll, this is 46 percent of the party, and they put loyalty to Trump before party and country.
This group, allergic to logic, will never be reached. But the members of the party who know better owe it to this country to denounce Trump and Tucker Carlson and Mike Pompeo as Russian puppets and to pull the party back to sanity. Otherwise, they should break away from this corrupt shell corporation and build something positive and new, as those noble Whigs did so long ago.
The G.O.P. used to enrage me because of what it believed. The new G.O.P. is far more dangerous because of what it doesn’t believe but pretends to. The G.O.P. knows that Biden won the election. They’re throwing up all these censures, rebukes, and attacks not because they’re fighting the good fight but to assuage the ego of a man who twice lost the popular vote and once the electoral vote, and under whose leadership the party lost control of the House and the Senate. And who now praises a murderous dictator who illegally invaded Ukraine.
The G.O.P. is no longer a legitimate political party—it’s an emotional-support group.
For a traitor.
Douglas McGrath is a filmmaker and a playwright. He wrote the book for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical