The Republican Party has devolved into the Party of Trump, where Trumpism is embodied by a populist and unlikely ragtag alliance of rabid racist nativists, anti-intellectualists, overt flag waving patriots, religious zealots, rich oligarchs and corporatists finding common ground to unabashedly defend everything their feared and heralded leader says and does, facts be damned.
Amazingly, this disparate compact of Republicans is holding together despite almost daily revelations of Trump’s lies, misdeeds and possible crimes, as well as his utter incompetence in administering to the task of governing. The concerns raised by many is what happens to this implacable coalition of angry Trump loyalists when Trump is no longer president, especially if he doesn’t survive to a second term?
That ugly and angry brand of Trumpism was on full display by Republicans during Michael Cohen’s testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. The hearing was notable for not only what we learned about Cohen’s confessions of dirty deeds over his 10-year tenure as a member of the Trump Organization, but also for what it revealed about how far the Republican Party has degenerated into the “Party of Trump” -- the alternative Republican reality where defending Trump’s attacks and lies have become the everyday norm in the party and obvious truths are brazenly dismissed.
While Democrats engaged in serious probing of events to seek the truth of Cohen’s and Trump’s involvement in potential crimes, the Republican Trump loyalists in the committee were having no part in it, instead obligingly attacking and discrediting the messenger as a liar at every opportunity. Republican Rep. Mark Green called Cohen a “fake witness” while Rep Paul Gosar called him a “disgraced lawyer” and mocked him with “liar, liar, pants on fire”. Those were just two examples of a continual barrage of accusations against not only Cohen but the Democrat majority in the committee for the audacity of inviting a convicted criminal and liar to speak before the committee.
In fact, Republicans over the course of the seven hours of testimony did not ask one serious question regarding Donald Trump or the Trump Organization. Their participation in the hearing became the “silly sideshow” notable for stunts like Mark Meadows bringing in Lynn Patton, an African-American women working in the Department of Housing and Development, into the hearing as a prop to counter Cohen’s charge that Trump was a racist. Republican members on the committee frequently yielded the remainder of their five minutes of questioning time to the angry Freedom Caucus members Meadows and Jim Jordan, the ranking member and bully-in-chief. Both were always ready to pounce on Cohen or Democrats with impunity and disregard for civil discourse.
Jordan’s repeated attacks and misrepresentation of Cohen’s testimony so ruffled Cohen’s feathers that at one point it prompted the otherwise cool Cohen to indignantly respond: "Mr. Jordan, that's not what I said, and you know that that's not what I said…I said I pled guilty and I take responsibility for my actions. Shame on you, Mr. Jordan."
For those who watched the seven hours of the testimony or the various clips, it seemed curious that the Republicans were attacking one of their own party for the very conduct of what they themselves had become…a party of Trump liars and apologists. Michael Cohen revealed that truth by responding directly to the Republicans on the committee on that point, “I’m responsible for your silliness, because I did the same thing that you’re doing now for ten years—I protected Mr. Trump for ten years,” he said, adding that, “Everybody’s job at the Trump Organization is to protect Mr. Trump. Every day, most of us knew we were coming in and we were going to lie for him on something. And that became the norm. That’s exactly what’s happening right now in this country, and it’s exactly what’s happening here in government.”
Michael Cohen in that statement defined the ugly truth about rabid Trumpism in the Republican Party. Cohen pondered the future of democracy in this country if the angry Trumpism on display at the hearing lives on unchecked to the 2020 election: "Indeed, given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020 that there will never be a peaceful transition of power," Cohen said. "This is why I agreed to appear before you today."
To be fair, the Republican tactics in this committee meeting did not originate with Trump. The Benghazi hearing to attack Hillary Clinton predated the Trump era. However, Trumpism has brought these committee meetings to a new low, and the bad behavior in the Benghazi hearings was even worse in the Cohen hearing with the clear absence of civility and intelligent discourse so characteristic of Trumpism.
Moderate Republican pundits like George Will, Bill Kristol, Charlie Sykes, and Nicole Wallace have either left the party or are openly opposing Trump’s policies, mannerisms and lack of decorum. However, it remains to be seen if the moderates can reclaim the party from the right-wing Freedom Caucus; nor is it assured that a Democrat can win in 2020 if Trumpism expands to become a greater populist movement of malcontented voters living in an alternative reality where emotions trump critical thinking.
As the 2016 election demonstrated, it doesn’t matter so much of how voters feel now. What matters is the levels of passion in the weeks and days before November 3, 2020. Russian interference in the 2016 election can just as likely shift votes just enough in that last week leading up to 2020 election.
What is next for the Republican Party and indeed our democracy if rabid Trumpism, with or without their feared and revered leader, brands the party as a “silly sideshow” of tribal loyalists beyond 2020?