The embryo of this effort can be found in this big New York Times piece about GOP maneuvering over Trumpâ€™s rage about his loss. Trump is MIA as president, mostly ignoring the vaccine rollout and refusing to condemn Russiaâ€™s massive cyberattack, instead focusing on overturning the election.
But, the Times reports, some Republicans profess to see an â€œupsideâ€ in Trumpâ€™s disinterest in specifics and in his coming absence:
They believe the presidentâ€™s departure might allow Republicans to return to some of the themes that proved effective in down-ballot races last month, while also depriving Democrats of their most dependable boogeyman.
Going forward, Republicans believe Trumpâ€™s â€œfocus will never linger on one matter for long,â€ the Times notes, and they can get back to elevating the â€œperceived excesses of the leftâ€:
â€œWhen Trump is no longer in office thereâ€™s going to be less focus on personality and â€˜What did he tweet today, what did he say today?â€™â€ predicted Senator John Cornyn of Texas, adding, hopefully, that Democrats would soon struggle with internal divisions in a â€œTea Party momentâ€ akin to what Republicans faced a decade ago.
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was even more succinct, arguing that the Democratsâ€™ left wing would alienate moderate voters.
â€œOur problem is tone, their problem is policy,â€ Mr. Graham said of the two parties. â€œWeâ€™ve both got to overcome problems, but I like our chances better because we can act better and itâ€™s harder for them to legislate differently.â€
Spot the trick? Cornyn and Graham are professing relief that we wonâ€™t have to focus on Trumpâ€™s â€œtweetsâ€ and his â€œtoneâ€ anymore. This is supposed to look as if Republicans are criticizing Trumpâ€™s excesses while wistfully wanting to get back to substantive arguments over the nationâ€™s direction with â€œthe left.â€ You can almost see them admiring their halos in the mirror.
But no one should be fooled by this game, especially when you hear a lot more of it. Trumpâ€™s destruction went far beyond tone, and it continues right now. Many Republicans were active collaborators in much of that destruction. And the destructive influence of both that collaboration and the role of their ideology in facilitating it will continue for the foreseeable future.
Trump plays footsie with â€˜martial lawâ€™
We just learned from the Times that Trump privately asked advisers about a supporterâ€™s suggestion that martial law be imposed to â€œrerunâ€ the election. Trumpâ€™s lawyer Rudolph Giuliani pushed for the state to seize voting machines as part of his effort to invalidate countless votes.
Those ideas were shot down. But the damage from Trumpâ€™s active efforts to overturn the election is ongoing. As Rosie Grayâ€™s reporting demonstrates, Trump is potentially creating a mass of followers behind the idea that election outcomes are only legitimate when they get their way, and that overturning hated results is not just acceptable, but is correct.
Cornyn and his ilk will soon piously insist Trumpâ€™s electoral subversion amounted to a few â€œtweets.â€ They will pretend they merely wanted to let Trump and his voters down easy, because Trump was â€œin denialâ€ and his voters â€œactually believedâ€ Trump won, leaving them in a â€œdifficultâ€ spot.
But once again, Trump and his supporters do not actually believe Joe Biden didnâ€™t win. They want to invalidate a legitimate election, because they lost it. As Tom Nichols says, itâ€™s time to stop treating these â€œfeelingsâ€ as vaguely legitimate. These folks are angry not that democracy failed, but that it worked, and they claim the right to reverse this.
That is what many Republicans actively validated, by backing up Trump in his refusal to admit his loss for weeks. Though there were notable exceptions, very few condemned his actual tactic of trying to get state legislatures to subvert millions of votes, which will be attempted again.
We simply donâ€™t know how vast the damage will prove in the future, now that millions have bought into this understanding. Republicans actively collaborated in creating the conditions for this.
Insulating right-wing ideology
Conservatives can claim opposition to more government assistance next year on grounds of principle, of course. But the suddenly discovered concern about deficits that will fake-justify this is pure fraudulence.
It is true that Democratic governors posted serious virus-related failures. But as Brian Beutler points out, conservative Republican disdain for government action â€” in the face of coronavirus and the resulting economic calamity â€” will be in no small part responsible for the extensive and continuing national damage weâ€™ll see next year.
If vaccine distribution goes well, and the economy bounces back, Republicans eyeing the 2022 midterms will need to instill mass amnesia about the wreckage unleashed in part by their ideology, and by the still-undertheorized fact that it so easily melded with Trumpâ€™s toxic illiberalism to create one of the biggest governing disasters in modern times.
We know how theyâ€™ll do this. As the Times piece notes, Republicans want to get past Trump, to get back to attacking â€œthe most extreme ideas on the left.â€ This is a polite way of saying that Republicans want to get back to conventional GOP plutocratic economic orthodoxy, advanced under cover of fictions about Democratic extremism.
And as Republicans are already showing, they will also do this by claiming Trumpâ€™s degradations were merely about â€œtweetsâ€ and â€œtone.â€