Despite the beautiful spring weather, this week offered more grim news that Biden-era Washington Democrats have become accustomed to: the impending gutting of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court. The official start of an election season that is generally expected to be an “imminent political disaster”, a “midterm doom” and “the worst political environment” for the Party in decades. The potentially recession-triggering decision by the Federal Reserve to fight inflation with the biggest hike in interest rates in more than twenty years. And, by the tally you’re tracking, the millionth American death in the coronavirus pandemic, even as the vice president and secretary of state had to quarantine at home, after testing positive for the disease.
Faced with such challenges, President Biden seemed ready to finally let go of the pretense that he could once again unite the fractured nation and heal our Trump-distorted politics with old-fashioned bipartisan Senate deals. This heartwarming fiction helped him defeat Donald Trump in 2020, but was completely debunked by Biden’s later struggles to govern. In remarks to reporters on Wednesday, the president previewed his new, more partisan message for the upcoming campaign: “It’s about so much more than abortion,” he said. Republicans are radical and dangerous, not only anti-women but anti-gay, anti-personal freedom and anti-democracy. The Trumpist MAGA movement, he said, “is the most extreme political organization that has existed in recent American history”.
Not all of the week’s developments have been as dire as they might seem for Democrats and the struggling occupant of the White House. The leak of the Supreme Court’s draft abortion ruling offered fresh motivation for America’s otherwise uninspired pro-choice majority to get the vote. If nothing else, the clarifying urgency of the Court’s impending decision sure seemed to galvanize the Party’s midterm campaign, as indicated by Biden’s strong words and Vice President Kamala Harris‘s moving plea. “How dare they? How dare they tell a woman what she can and cannot do with her own body? The Fed’s interest rate hike, meanwhile, could do what it’s supposed to do: rein in some of the inflation that makes politics so toxic to Biden and his party. And, with nationwide deaths from the pandemic finally reduced to a few hundred a day, Americans are returning to pre-pandemic life, undeterred by the prospect of large-scale events such as the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, which predictably slaughtered many of the bold names in the capital.
Even Trump’s continued dominance of the Republican Party, and his potential return to the top of his ticket in 2024, is not as unchallenged as it was in 2020. Several prominent GOP figures, including the former vice- President Mike Pence, who challenged Trump on Jan. 6, 2021, is signaling that they can run for the Republican presidential nomination no matter what Trump does. And, even in a Trump-friendly state like Ohio, a recent Fox News poll found only sixty percent of Republicans said they want Trump as their nominee again. Many Republicans have also told pollsters they would rather not reconsider the 2020 election, which Trump continues to falsely claim was stolen from him. The violent consequences of his rigged election lies will also remain front and center; the chairman of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 bombing announced last week that the committee would hold a series of prime-time hearings in June and wrap up its work with a final report just before mid-term.
Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland, who was asked to run against Trump in the 2020 primaries but declined, now appears to be taking a run against the former president more seriously. This week, he offered a full-throated attack on Trump and Trumpism, on hallowed ground for the GOP: the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California. “We will not win back the White House by nominating Donald Trump or some cheap knockoff of him,” he said. “We must stand against extremes and for the majority of Americans.” Hogan was blunt, precise and ruthless in his challenge to the former president — exactly what many Trump critics across the ideological spectrum had hoped to see for so long in the Republican Party. It was also, to all appearances, spectacularly inopportune.
The day before Hogan’s speech, Politico revealed that the Supreme Court was about to ditch a decades-old abortion right favored by roughly two-thirds of Americans — a long-sought victory for a fervent Republican minority made possible by Trump. three appointments to the Court. And, as Hogan spoke, on Tuesday night, Trump-backed Senate nominee JD Vance thumped a wide primary field to become the Republican nominee in Ohio, a victory fueled by a late endorsement from the former president and made all the more relevant to the issue of the former president’s continued grip on the Republican Party by Vance’s dramatic journey from scathing critic of Trump, à la Hogan, to sycophant of Trump. Vance and others eager for his support are more than happy to endorse the lies about 2020 that fuel the former president’s narrative of grievance and minority rage. Vance’s latest campaign appearance came alongside two of Congress’ biggest pro-Trump extremists, Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz and Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, a QAnon adherent whose Trump’s embrace clearly shows in which direction the Party is heading.
Republicans need a “course correction,” Hogan said at the Reagan Library. But the truest metaphor belongs to Vance, who in 2016 called Trump a “cultural hero” for the Republican masses. The GOP has decided not to give up its Trump habit. Vance is just another junkie in a party full of them.
That’s how it seems to me, at least, after stepping away from the news cycle for a few months, to finish a book about Trump and his four years in the White House. Or maybe I should say: what might turn out to be his first four years in the White House.
The interlocking crises facing Biden are not separate, one-time problems. These are signs of an American political system in crisis, one that is trapped in an apocalyptic spiral of discord and division that Trump’s dangerous presidency has alarmingly accelerated. When Trump was defeated in 2020, it was possible to imagine a different outcome, certainly – a return to the American political norm championed by Biden and seemingly backed by the large popular and electoral majority he won.
But that didn’t happen. And, as the events of the past few months suggest, the nation’s problems are not getting better but getting worse, as a radicalized GOP has dug support for Trump, refused to let go of its false assertions about the illegitimacy of his successor and did everything he could to create a self-fulfilling narrative of Biden’s failure. Republicans have now lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections, but there is no indication that this abysmal record has prompted serious thinking within the Party about the course correction Hogan advocates. Trump himself is a twice impeached loser who has been repudiated by a majority of voters but not by his own party, which has instead re-committed itself to the path of minority government that Trump and his Capitol Hill converts are once again seeking. to enjoy. They could soon be rewarded with control of one or both houses of Congress, a midterm election outcome that will virtually guarantee that the final two years of Biden’s term will be mired in traffic jams and partisan accusations.
Biden, by raising expectations that he could restore a sense of normalcy to American politics, contributed to this momentum because, like Barack Obama, he predictably failed to deliver on a vision rooted in a different political era. Even Republicans who criticize Trump, not to mention many independents who voted for Biden in 2020, have come to accept the GOP’s criticism of Biden as a captive of “far-left” interests, as Hogan put it in his speech the other day — a leader who turned out to be “weak” and ineffectual. Under such circumstances, it was undoubtedly inevitable that Biden would go into partisan attack mode. In truth, there is no other mode that seems possible for a politician in America today.