After the GOP lost the presidential election in 2012, the Republican National Committee mounted an autopsy that it called the “most comprehensive post-election review” ever made of an electoral loss. That postmortem concluded that the party had a weak message and a lousy ground game and needed to better pitch its policies to reach out to women, voters of color, and gay Americans. Of course, the party did none of that and in 2016 allowed itself to become a cult that celebrated a bigoted and misogynistic demagogue with little allegiance to principle or policy. Now in the aftermath of the GOP’s 2020 loss, rather than conduct another dissection, the party is feasting on its own entrails, as it reconfirms it is mostly a party for pissed-off white people who are obsessed with grievances, real or imagined.
Following Joe Biden’s victory, no GOP leader has suggested the party ought to take a hard look at itself. Donald Trump continues to reign supreme within Republican and conservative circles. The RNC retained Ronna McDaniel, a Trump loyalist, as its chairperson. Congressional Rs act as if the Trump-inspired attack on the Capitol didn’t happen. (Though Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell blamed Trump for inciting the seditious riot, he subsequently said he would support Trump should he become the GOP’s presidential nominee in 2024.) It’s no surprise that Republican pols who acted cravenly during the Trump years are continuing to genuflect before the former president, who still holds sway with their party’s base. But the real sign of the party’s debasement is that base. Many of these people, to put it kindly, are living within a world of paranoid psychosis. And the GOP has become a vehicle to exploit and fuel their irrational resentment.
Look at this survey that came out a few days ago. The Pew Research Center surveyed Americans on their beliefs about discrimination. Asked if there is “a lot” of discrimination against Black people, 17 percent of Republicans agreed. Yet 26 percent of Republicans said there is “a lot” of bias against white people. An additional 37 percent of Republicans noted that there is “some” discrimination against white folks. Hold on. Republicans, as a group, think white people more than Black people are the targets of racism? That’s what the poll indicates. And a quarter of Republicans also believe evangelical Christians confront “a lot” of discrimination, and only 12 percent said Hispanic people have to deal with this level of bias. (Seventy-one percent of Democrats said there was a great amount of discrimination against Black people, and a negligible amount of Ds concurred that whites face significant bias.)
About 83 percent of Republicans are white (with 3 percent or so Black), and one out of four Republicans believe that white people have to contend with powerful forces of discrimination. This is 50 percent more than the number of GOPers who recognize that Black people encounter substantial discrimination. That is a stark departure from reality—and a disturbing view into the mindset of many Republicans. As far as they see it, they (or white people in general) are the injured party. And with that distorted perspective, these Americans, naturally, will turn to champions who signal that they realize this. This grievance—we are the victims—has become the core notion of the GOP.
To show that they get this, Republican politicians don’t need ideas or policies. They must convey that they understand. Trump was a master of this. And the Trump wannabes are doing their best to emulate the scoundrel. That’s why leading Republicans have made cancel culture their rallying cry. Their message is, it’s not about Dr. Seuss, it’s about you. In a fundraising email he recently zapped out, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), the infamous fist-pumper of January 6, explicitly made this case: “The Left has become UNHINGED. They want to cancel Mr. Potato Head. They want to cancel Dr. Seuss. They want to cancel the American Dream. They want to cancel President Trump. And most disturbingly they want to CANCEL YOU!”
While a pandemic continues to rage across the country and millions are dealing with severe economic hardship, Republicans wailed about the discontinuation of a handful of Seuss books. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) has been offering signed copies of Green Eggs and Ham to those who donate $60 to his election fund. (The signature is from Cruz, not Dr. Seuss.) House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy posted on social media a video of him reading this book (which was not one of the discontinued Seuss volumes). Republicans were linking the removal of six Seuss books that contained racist imagery to some vague and imaginary assault on millions of (white) Americans. But here was an opportunity for them to acknowledge the false sense of victimhood that exists among conservatives and Republicans and to strut their culture-warrior stuff.
As the nation continues to contend with COVID-19 and economic dislocation, the Republican Party has not come forward with policies to address these challenges. There have been no grand GOP alternatives to Biden and the Democrats’ proposals. A few Republican senators, including Mitt Romney, did try to negotiate down the price of Biden’s pandemic relief package, but most of their party stuck to a simple stance: No. Republicans grouse about deficit spending, now that a Democratic president is in charge. (Trump’s deficit-boosting tax cuts did not weigh on their fiscal consciences.) Republicans have opposed (or griped about) pandemic-slowing lockdowns and restrictions; they have not in recent months presented many ideas for rescuing the country from the coronavirus. In recent days, they have ginned up their noise machine regarding the “crisis” at the US-Mexico border. But this is mostly fear-mongering, not policy-making. The Republicans’ main legislative initiative of the moment is to pass laws at the state level to suppress voting in order to preserve their own political power. The all-too-obvious goal is to negate the votes of Black Americans and increase the influence of white Republican voters, including those who believe they are casualties of anti-white discrimination.
The Republican Party is not a party of ideas or policies. It is a party of grievance—including phony grievance—that is animated by the organizing principle of tribal resentment. It is hard to compromise with that, and it is tough to achieve unity with those who embrace such a stand. GOP leaders now see their future as tied to the exploitation of unfounded angst, the fanning of false narratives, and the suppression of democracy. The party resides within a dark, nonsensical, racist framework—and there is no sign this is a framework its leaders or its voters wish to cancel.