From The Bulwark, by Jonathan V. Last:
One of the theories I’ve floated here over the last couple years is the idea that the GOP is no longer a traditional political party—an institution with diffuse power centers and clear policy goals—but rather an authoritarian personality cult.
I mean this not pejoratively, but descriptively. The institution of the Republican party now takes whatever position Donald Trump insists because if the party does not, the party’s voters will turn on it.
- Maintaining that the COVID pandemic was overhyped.
- Declaring that the 2020 election was stolen.
- Defending people who refuse to be vaccinated.
Each of these postures hurt the “Republican party” in that they were unpopular and hurt the party’s chances of winning elections.
But each position became mandatory for one reason and one reason only: Because Donald Trump took them.
This is a serious question: If Trump had conceded the election and said it was a tough fight and that he’d be back in 2024, what percentage of GOP voters would today say that the election had been “stolen”?
Because right now, something like 60 percent of Republicans say that Trump actually won.
So if all of the facts remained the same, but Trump had not demanded that people believe he was the victor, what would that percentage be?
If your answer is “less than 60 percent” then it means we’re looking at a cult where people are taking their positions purely on the say-so of the maximum leader.
In the current Republican party, all of the normative behaviors are being anchored by the whims of one guy. And the norm for election loss is now to refuse to acknowledge it. It’s stop the steal, all the way down.
Another serious question: If you are a losing Republican candidate, what penalty will you pay for insisting that your election was stolen? Will you be read out of your local party? Will you be unable to raise money for future elections? Will your fellow travelers snicker about you behind your back?
I doubt it.
Now take the opposite angle: If you are a losing Republican candidate, what penalty will you pay if you concede your loss? I suspect that such a concession will put you crosswise with your party’s base voters and make any future campaigns more difficult. You will be labeled a RINO cuck who was afraid to fight and get kicked to the curb by the next MAGA clone looking to take your spot.
I will be very interested to see what happens with Glenn Youngkin in Virginia.
Youngkin is the millionaire CEO running as the working-man’s champion in the Virginia governor’s race. He might well win.¹ But if he loses, what’s he going to do?
Youngkin was the establishment pick in Virginia—the horse the state GOP chose to beat back the really MAGA candidates. He’s the reasonable guy. The one who would nod at all the right places, but didn’t actually believe any of that crazy stuff. He just wants to cut taxes and create jobs like every pre-2016 Republican before him.
And yet, Youngkin is a realist. He played footsie with the #StopTheSteal crowd. He spoke at an “election integrity” rally at Falwell State. His campaign has an Election Integrity Task Force—with its own membership card!
So you’re Glenn Youngkin and you’re desperate to buy your way into Republican politics. You’ve gone pretty close to all-in on 2020 having been stolen, though you’ve tried to never totally, unequivocally, say it out loud. You’ve made “election integrity” a signature part of your campaign.
Let’s say you lose by a few thousand votes.
What do you do? If you want to run for office again as a Republican, you’re going to have to say the race was stolen.
That’s the new precondition for being a Republican in good standing with the party’s base.