In congressional races across the United States, Republican candidates are sounding more and more like President Donald Trump -- from calls for jailing “Crooked Hillary” to complaints of a “rigged system” and “fake news”.
And the Republican base is eating it up, increasingly satisfied by Trumpism in ways with which traditional conservative policies -- tax cuts, small government, et cetera -- simply can’t compete.
What does that mean for American democracy? Are Republicans sliding further down the spectrum toward authoritarianism?
Around the country, Republicans embroiled in tough primaries are increasingly emulating President Trump — by echoing his xenophobia, his veiled racist appeals, his attacks on the news media, and even occasionally his calls for imprisoning his political opponents.
Meanwhile, all indications are that Trump is heading for a serious confrontation with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III or Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein over the Russia investigation.
So how long until multiple GOP primary candidates begin seriously running on the message that the Mueller probe is part of an illegitimate Deep State coup that justifies Trump shutting it down by any means necessary — that is, on a message of unabashed authoritarianism?
Sargent offers a short list of examples:
- The GOP Senate candidate in Tennessee ran an ad that promises to stand with Trump “every step of the way to build that wall,” and even echoes Trump’s attacks on African American football players protesting systemic racism and police brutality: “I stand when the president walks in the room. And yes, I stand when I hear ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.'”
- in the Indiana Senate GOP primary, Mike Braun, the candidate who is most vocally emphasizing Trump’s messages — on trade, the Washington “swamp” and “amnesty” — appears to be gaining the advantage. Braun’s ads basically recast true conservatism as Trumpism in its incarnation as populist anti-establishment ethno-nationalism.
- As the Indianapolis Star recently reported, one of the Indiana GOP Senate candidates has bashed “Crooked Hillary Clinton,” and all three have cast aspersions on the Mueller probe. One called it a “fishing expedition,” and another claimed: “Nothing’s been turned up except that Hillary Clinton is the real guilty party here.”
As the numerous exits of congressional Republicans seem to show, the GOP establishment looks to be losing its grip on voters as Trumpism takes center stage.
And this bodes well for neither the Republican party nor the American people at large:
What happens if Trump fires Rosenstein or makes a serious effort to remove Mueller? It is not hard to envision many GOP candidates siding with Trump as a way to energize Republican voters, thus further rallying them against the investigation and making it even less likely that GOP lawmakers intervene. In other words, the GOP’s slide into authoritarianism could get a whole lot worse.