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If you want a quick study on the state of Republican politics, this is a pretty good week to tune in.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger ended his own career in the House last week, saying he preferred to fight the Trumpist wing of his GOP from the outside. Glenn Youngkin is heading into Election Day tomorrow in strong contention to become the 74th Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, a Trumpian heir to Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe. And a politically popular package of proposals like paid family leave and free pre-K care are flailing on Capitol Hill without a whiff of Republican support because, if they succeed, they could give President Joe Biden some tailwinds.
This is the state of the Republican Party at the moment: beholden to All Things Trump and fearful of seeming to give him or his allies even a moderate setback.
Since Election Day of last year, the GOP has been in sustained panic. Trump lost handily at the polls in an election that saw him compete for bombast but not technocratic accomplishments. Trump banked on the false belief that loud superseded competent and came up short. In defeat, he decided to claim the election was stolen. Trump tried—with zero success or credibility—to argue the whole affair was rigged and should be set aside. Having exhausted even his most ardent allies, he then urged a mob on Jan. 6 to descend on the U.S. Capitol to force Congress to discard the results. Despite some harrowing hours, that attempt failed too, Congress rejected Trump’s antics and Biden was confirmed the winner.
Well, fast forward some 10 months, and that terrifying day wasn’t merely a one-off. The GOP remains boxed-in by Trump’s false assertion, which deservedly is known in D.C. as The Big Lie. More than two-thirds of Republicans believe it. For those who watch Fox News, that number is 82%. For consumers of far-right news—think Newsmax and OAN—that number reaches near universal belief, at 97%.
These numbers are courtesy of a new study, out today, from the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution. The findings follow a similar May survey from the same pollsters and suggest a hardening of the belief that Trump is the rightful winner of the 2020 vote. In other words, the grievance is growing and the misinformation metastasizing.
If the ramifications of these sentiments were limited to what happened with Trump in 2020, this mightn’t be so worrisome. But it pervades the political environment. It’s why Kinzinger, one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 riots and one of two Republicans participating in the House probe of it, has decided to exit stage right. (Illinois redistricting maps didn’t help, either, to be fair.) Youngkin’s embrace of the MAGA agenda in Virginia makes more sense given these numbers, despite its threat to alienate the independents that comprise roughly a quarter of the Virginia electorate. And Congressional Republicans’ refusal to consider the soft-infrastructure elements of Biden’s Build Back Better makes sense in this light as well.
The numbers also offer a bleak picture of how Republicans view this country. The survey suggests the GOP is hostile to change. More than half of the Republicans say they feel like a stranger in America and 80% of them say the country is at risk of losing its culture. That anxiety and paranoia can be toxic features in a political space, but animating nonetheless.
The survey also includes a rich piece of irony. When asked to define what makes someone “truly American,” a full 96% of Republicans say “respecting political institutions and laws” are critical—just as long as those institutions and laws defer to Trump and his Big Lie.
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