Heeding the Lessons of WeimarHistorians in the News
To say that Donald J. Trump has transformed the Republican party in the last five years would be an understatement. Before he came to office, the GOP defended American traditions—including constitutionally limited government, free enterprise, and faith. By the time he left, it had abandoned many of its high-minded commitments and become a cult of personality pushing a crude populist nationalism to redress majoritarian grievances.
Even Trump’s parting act of political vandalism—siccing a mob on the Capitol to prevent the peaceful transfer of power—hasn’t dimmed his appeal to his party. A majority of Republicans believe that left-wing agitators, and not Trump, deserve most of the blame for the violence of January 6. Delivering his first post-presidential speech, Trump received a hero’s welcome at CPAC, the annual gathering of conservative activists and leaders. Those few Republicans who have dared to condemn his role in instigating the attack, such as Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney, chair of the House Republican Conference, have been censured by their states’ GOP chapters.
As for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, he voted to acquit Trump after his second impeachment trial; then immediately condemned him, making a detailed case for holding Trump criminally or civilly accountable; then, after observing the undeterred enthusiasm of the GOP rank-and-file, flipped again: If Trump were the 2024 GOP presidential nominee, McConnell declared, he’d “absolutely” support him.
Ditto for Nikki Haley, South Carolina’s former Republican governor and Trump’s former ambassador to the United Nations. In February, she said “he let us down” and “went down a path he shouldn’t have, and we shouldn’t have followed him.” She insisted that “we can’t let that ever happen again,” He has “fallen so far” that he couldn’t run for re-election, she said. But last week, Haley changed her tune about 2024, saying that not only would she “not run if President Trump ran”—but that she would support him if he did.
Meanwhile, Indiana Republican Congressman Jim Banks wrote House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy a memo recently telling him that all the working-class voters that President Trump had brought to the GOP through his anti-immigration and anti-woke policies were a “gift [that] didn’t come with a receipt”—and one that the party would spurn at its political peril.
There aren’t many examples in the annals of liberal democracy when a major party abandoned so much of what it stood for so quickly for the sake of one man. The most notorious parallel is of course Weimar Germany.
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