A NEWSLETTER FROM DAVID CORN
Is This the End of Donald Trump?
By David Corn November 15, 2022
Donald Trump speaks to guests at his Mar-a-Lago resort on Election Day, November 8, 2022. Andrew Harnik/AP
They stab it with their steely knives
But they just can't kill the beast
Maybe because I’ve been in Southern California these past few days, but this couplet from the Eagles’ “Hotel California” came to mind, as I absorbed all the punditry about Donald Trump and the midterm elections. Commentators of the left and right pronounced the former reality-TV president the huge loser in the midterms, and talk turned to the question of whether the Republicans should and/or might finally rid themselves the narcissistic demagogue. Much was made of the Murdoch empire’s apparent pivot from Trump, with Fox, the New York Post, (“Trumpty Dumpty”!) and the Wall Street Journal (“Trump Is the Republican Party’s Biggest Loser”) conveying the unsubtle message that it is time for Trump to go. Hate-monger Ann Coulter, author of the 2016 worst-seller In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome, told Trump to “shut the fuck up, forever.” Headlines blared the news. “Republicans Seek Distance from Trump,” the New York Times declared, and the Washington Post weighed in with, “Republican rivals start plotting a post-Trump future.” Numerous GOP officials pushed the talking point that the party at this point has no single chieftain, meaning Trump is no longer their Dear Leader.
We’ve seen this movie before. After the January 6 insurrectionist riot that Trump inspired with his GOP-embraced Big Lie, top Republicans, most notably Senate and House Republican leaders Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, moved to separate their party from The Former Guy. (Here’s our chance!) Yet that effort was about as long-lived as the life of a fruit fly. Why? For the same reason that we ought to question the current moves to wipe the Trump stink off the GOP: Republican voters.
Shortly after Trump’s brownshirts assaulted the Capitol, it became clear that the radicalized GOP electorate was not horrified by the events of January 6. They did not hold Trump accountable for lying about the 2020 vote, trying to overthrow the election, and fomenting violence. They were behind his attempt to sabotage the constitutional order, and the attack on Congress did not change that. If there were going to be a showdown between the GOP establishment and Trump, the base was ready to line up with the carnival barker. Taking on Trump, the GOP poohbahs realized, would would blow up the party and be catastrophic for Republican fundraising. Trump had a tight grip on the thousands—or millions—of folks who sent small donations to the party. McConnell and McCarthy quickly sheathed their swords and fell to their knees. Mutiny canceled. The same pattern occurred years earlier with the Access Hollywood tape.
Yet now, with Trump branded with a big L—for loser, not liar—will the party and the conservative movement truly take another stab at breaking up with Trump, even as he is poised to make his “big” announcement today, which may, or may not be, the proclamation that he is running in 2024?
What’s noteworthy in this current commotion is that the conversation is not propelled by ideology. This is not the usual internal squabbling that often occurs between moderates and the die-hards within both major parties. In 1964, the GOP split between the Goldwater conservatives and the Rockefeller liberals. In 1976, Ronald Reagan, a movement conservative, challenged incumbent President Gerald Ford, who the rightists derided as an establishment collaborator. In the 1992 and 1996 Republican primary campaigns, Pat Buchanan mounted right-wing crusades against the candidates of the GOP establishment (first President George H.W. Bush, then Kansas Sen. Robert Dole) and tried to pull the party toward the far right. After President Barack Obama smoked Mitt Romney in 2012—and the GOP failed to win a presidential majority in five of the previous six presidential elections—Reince Priebus, the chair of the Republican National Committee, commissioned an autopsy report that concluded the GOP had to become less extreme and engage the growing group of minority voters. Trump and the base did not get the memo.
All of these internal debates had an ideological component. With few moderates left in the GOP, what’s happening now is not a showdown pitting moderates against conservatives. The post-midterms hoopla is merely about winning and losing. The grousing about Trump isn’t driven by his policies or his actions as president. Nor is it prompted by his war on American democracy or his embrace of QAnon conspiracies, or his publication of an antisemitic social media post, or his absconding with crucial national security documents. No, the crucial issue is whether Trump’s supersized influence within the party saddled the GOP with lousy candidates, such as Herschel Walker in Georgia and Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania. Has he become a drag on the party?
The Trump alternative of the moment is Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who cruised to a mammoth reelection victory in the midterms and appears to have turn Florida solidly red. Like Trump, he’s a race-baiting demagogue with authoritarian impulses and a desire to fight culture wars and create or exacerbate phony moral panics. (See his stunt of kidnapping migrants and transporting them to Martha’s Vineyard.) His troll-the-libs approach to Covid led to a high rate of death for Floridians. He has targeted Black voters. He is Trumpism without Trump.
The GOP and the conservative movement do not yearn for a new direction for the party. They want a new drum major leading the parade of extremism. There’s no sign that the Republican base has shifted. As I noted a few weeks ago:
Recent polling shows that 49 percent of Republicans and 52 percent of Trump voters in 2020 said they believed Democrats were involved in child sex-trafficking operations—a foundation of the loony QAnon conspiracy theory that Trump has recently embraced….[A] 2019 survey found that 56 percent of Republicans said it was “probably true” or “definitely true” that Obama had been born in Kenya. As for the 2020 election, according to Politifact, “Roughly 70% of Republicans don’t see Biden as the legitimate winner. Surveys by different pollsters show virtually the same results, with the exception of a Washington Post/University of Maryland poll that dropped it to 61%.” A poll taken in June revealed that 61 percent of Republicans considered the events of January 6 a “legitimate protest.”
I doubt these attitudes of the GOP base have changed because of lost elections last week. Some of the looniest election deniers—such as the Republican candidates for secretary of state in Arizona and Nevada—did fall but the contests were tight. That indicates Republicans are still willing, perhaps eager, to vote for the crazies. And as I write this, it seems the Republicans are about to seize the House, and they will likely end up with a majority of the accumulated vote in all the House races. As the Washington Post reported, “Although many candidates denying the outcome of the 2020 vote came up short in their bids for state office, the US House was a different matter. At least 150 election deniers were projected to win their House races as of Saturday—an increase over the 139 Republicans who voted against the electoral college count following the assault on the US Capitol by a pro-Trump mob on Jan. 6, 2021.”
The anti-reality wing of the GOP will have a stronger presence in the next Congress. Republican voters backed the extremists. They have not lost their taste for the sort of red meat Trump has been hurling them for years.
A few anti-Trump Republicans are trying to turn the party’s poor midterm performance into a sign that GOP must change course. Outgoing Republican Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, who has been hinting he might run for president, said this weekend, “I’ve been saying since 2020 that we have to get back to a party that appeals to more people, that can win in tough places like I’ve done in Maryland, and I think that lane is much wider now than it was a week ago.” The size of that lane depends on the Republican electorate.
So while some party influencer might believe they can boot Trump, the decision will be up to the party’s base, which could well remain mired in the swamp of extremism and conspiracism. In American Psychosis, I chronicled how the GOP has over the past decades radicalized its voters and conditioned them to dehumanize and demonize the political opposition and to crave politics that inflame grievance, resentment, racism, and paranoia. Shunting Trump aside will not address this fundamental evolution.
Of course, there is no reason to believe that Trump will ever go gently into that good night. He is a creature of revenge, as I’ve pointed out many times. And there is no GOP central command that can push a button and shift popular support from Trump to DeSantis. Prying the party from Trump’s little hands will not be bloodless. He will burn down the castle and torch all surrounding lands rather than lose the crown. There’s no reason to assume DeSantis or any other GOP contender can prevail in a cage match with the Thief of Mar-a-Lago. Just ask President Chris Christie, President Bobby Jindal, President Jeb Bush, President Scott Walker, President Ted Cruz, President Marco Rubio, and the rest.
Still, while the party may not be stuck with Trump, it is indeed stuck with its Trumpist base. Whether or not there is a Trump defenestration, it’s unlikely there will be any cleansing of Trumpism from the party’s dark soul. In other words…
You can check out any time you want
But you can never leave.
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A Thank You to Our Subscribers
Thanks to Our Land subscribers for being supportive of this newsletter through the crazy midterms. You might note that I never predicted or assumed a red wave. But I was always concerned about the potential damage that could come with Republicans—a party of election deniers and supporters of Trump’s war on democracy—gaining control of the House. Consequently, I focused on Democratic messaging, believing it not as fierce or robust as it should be. I still think that. And with the GOP the likely victor of the battle for the House, the Democrats may well have to up their game on this front for the elections ahead. With the GOP in charge of one-half of Congress, there will be much lunacy with which to contend. Some folks I’ve talked to in recent days speculate that a narrow majority will cause problems for the House GOP leadership and hinder its ability to advance its far-right agenda. Perhaps. But it could just as easily lead to chaos that empowers the nuttiest of House Republicans. Imagine Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) or Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia) playing the role of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.). In any event, we’ll be here to go through whatever comes next together. Keep those cards and letters coming.
Where Were You When the Senate Contest Was Called?
I was at a benefit concert in Santa Monica for The Actors’ Gang, when the news came that Sen. Catherine Cortex Masto (D-Nev.) had won reelection and that the Democrats had held the Senate. The audience, awaiting the on-stage arrival of Jackson Browne, hollered up a storm of joy. This was not surprising in a crowd full of LA progressives who had turned out to support the experimental theater company run by Tim Robbins, which was celebrating its 40th anniversary. The Actors' Gang was founded by a group of punk rock theater activists, and its alumni include Jack Black, John Cusack, John C. Reilly, Helen Hunt, Fisher Stevens, Jeremy Piven, Jon Favreau, Kate Mulligan, Ebbe Roe Smith, and others. What I find most impressive about the group is its commitment to providing theater education for students in marginalized communities and for inmates in prisons. You can’t act, if you don’t have confidence and you’re unable to process and control your emotions. These are obviously good skills for everyone, but especially for young people and adults in more challenging circumstances. Kudos to The Actors' Gang for doing more than pushing artistic boundaries.
When Robbins introduced Browne, he noted that a few years back, when he was going through a rough patch, Browne recommended that he listen to a Warren Zevon song. (Browne had produced Zevon’s early albums.) Robbins didn’t identify the song. It must be, I guessed, “Don’t Let Us Get Sick,” one of my favorite Zevon tunes and a composition I’ve often thought of when things go wrong. A few songs into Browne’s set, Robbins came out to perform that song with Browne. Here’s a snippet:
Don’t let us get sick—that’s a good prayer for American politics.
The Watch, Read, and Listen List
World Record, Neil Young and Crazy Horse. One of the longest running acts in the rock biz, Neil Young and Crazy Horse have been generating albums of grunge anthems, ethereal ballads, and ear-catching ditties since 1969. In between his solo albums, Young has put out the call for the band to gather and produce some of the best garage rock of the past half-century. Billy Talbot on bass and Ralph Molina on drums have been the core of Crazy Horse, with other musicians joining in, most notably guitarist Nils Lofgren, who also is a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. (Is there any other guitarist who has simultaneously been part of two long-running powerhouse ensembles?) And this week, Young and the guys are releasing a new album, which was produced by Rick Rubin, the legendary producer who co-founded Def Jam Recordings and helped popularize hip hop by promoting Run-DMC, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, and the Beastie Boys. An odd pick for Young and Crazy Horse? Not necessarily. Rubin has laid his producer’s hands on a wide assortment of musicians, including Johnny Cash, Joe Strummer, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Chicks, and Metallica.
The album, called World Record, was recorded in Rubin’s Malibu studio during Covid and, according to a press release, it includes Young songs contemplating the state of the Earth, as well as Young’s relationship with cars. (Remember “Long May You Run”?) Two tracks have been released prior to the album dropping. “Love Earth” falls into the aforementioned ditty category, and the video follows a barefoot Young taking a stroll. “Break the Chain” shows Young, Lofgren, Talbot, and Molina rock-jamming out in their traditional fashion. Some things—thankfully—don’t change.
Read Recent Issues of Our Land
November 12, 2022: The 2022 midterms and the state of Trumpism; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Special Election Edition); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
November 8, 2022: It’s election day…and it’s the Beatles; and more.
November 5, 2022: Has Biden lowballed the threat to American democracy; American Psychosis in the news; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Kari Lake); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
November 1, 2022: Elon Musk: a problem, not a solution, when it comes to right-wing extremism; Barack Obama gets it right; Jason Kander’s gutsy and empathetic memoirs; Robert Gordon, RIP; and more.
October, 29, 2022: How Covid disappeared—politically; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Mehmet Oz); the Mailbag, MoxieCam™; and more.
October 25, 2022: Why Joe Biden and the Democrats should be talking about teeth; Michael Flynn’s greatest hits; the brilliance of Peaky Blinders; and more.
October 22, 2022: Attack ads—why they work (then and now); Tulsi Gabbard’s short, strange trip; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Marjorie Taylor Greene); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
October 18, 2022: John Durham confirms Donald Turmp is a liar; the big takeaway from the Cuban missile crisis; a new Bruce Springsteen tune; Bill Berry return to rock ‘n’ roll; and more.
October 15, 2022: The Mailbag: should you worry about the midterms; the final January 6 committee hearing; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Charlie Kirk); MoxieCam™; and more.
Got suggestions, comments, complaints, tips related to any of the above, or anything else? Email me at email@example.com.