Soon after announcing his candidacy, Donald Trump jumped out to an early lead in Republican presidential primary polling and never lost it. No matter how pollsters sorted respondents—registered Republicans, likely Republican voters, Republican leaners, whatever—Trump maintained a clear lead throughout the primary calendar and in the end won nearly twice the number of primary votes as his closest rival. The belief, widespread in elite conservative circles, that a split field helped his chances is unfounded; he consistently led in various head-to-head matchups with his GOP primary opponents. He won more closed primaries than any other candidate, and carried registered Republicans in every open primary he won. Nearly 90 percent of voters who identified as Republicans cast a ballot for Trump in the general election, the same number that had voted for John McCain in 2008 and barely fewer than had voted for Mitt Romney in 2012.
In seven months of governing, Donald Trump has not made a single appointment that a Republican president plucked at random from Congress could not conceivably have also made. His signature accomplishment to date has been the appointment to the Supreme Court of a far-right jurist beloved by the conservative establishment, the culmination of an obscene, antidemocratic, Republican plot to deprive the previous president of his constitutional power to fill the seat. His Education Secretary is a billionaire heiress who has devoted her adult life to the erosion of public education, a mainstream Republican goal for many decades. His Treasury Secretary is a former Goldman Sachs executive intent on dismantling what few consumer protections and checks on the financial industry’s power remain, another core GOP objective. His Attorney General is a lifelong Republican who personifies the GOP’s postwar realignment into a party sustained by racist law-and-order appeals to white voters concentrated in the South.
Donald Trump stands for the transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich—the supreme principle around which Republican politics have been organized for even longer than they have championed white supremacy. Indeed, if anything separates him from the typical Republican politician, it is that he is especially Republican, a Republican’s Republican, in the degree to which his life has exemplified the party’s all-consuming drive to redistribute wealth upwards. He inherited millions from his father and used it to build a real-estate empire on the back of nearly $1 billion in public subsidies and tax breaks and untold millions in unpaid labor. In his latter days in the private sector, he used his celebrity to exploit and defraud vulnerable working people, and his election to the presidency was nothing if not the same fraud on a massive scale, a great victory for the wealthiest and most powerful won through a false prosperity-gospel swindling of crucial working-class voting blocs in the Rust Belt and elsewhere. In this he pulled off an only slightly more lurid version of the cons Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush had successfully run before him.
Donald Trump tacked hard to the right on immigration and positioned himself as the candidate of unrepentant nativism—just like Romney, who, despite his current reputation an avatar of the kinder, gentler GOP of yore, spent the 2012 Republican primary repeatedly attacking his opponent Rick Perry for supporting legislation that protected undocumented Texans brought to the U.S. as children. Trump has openly flirted with white supremacists and anti-Semites, as down-ballot Republicans and right-wing media outlets have done for decades. His fear-mongering invocations of “rapists” and drug dealers entering the country from Mexico, or the “hell” and “carnage” of America’s inner cities, fit comfortably into a grand Republican tradition of racist demagoguery, from Richard Nixon’s dark warning of “cities enveloped in smoke and flame” to Reagan’s decrial of “welfare queens” and “strapping young bucks” buying steaks with food stamps.
Donald Trump campaigned on a promise to murder Arab women and children and has repeatedly applauded an apocryphal war crime to justify the wholesale slaughter of Muslims—merely a cruder-than-average rendition of the vicious Islamophobia and war hawkery that have animated Republican foreign policy since 9/11. He’s followed through on these heinous promises by killing as many civilians in Iraq and Syria in the first six months of his term as Coalition bombs killed in the final three years of the Obama administration, and last month he ordered an intensification of the endless and unwinnable war in Afghanistan. Beneath the surface, his entire administration has begun to resemble a kind of ad-hoc military junta, with former general John Kelly taking over as White House Chief of Staff and allying with other current or ex-uniformed officers to form a “nexus of power” at the highest levels of the executive branch. It’s a fitting consummation of decades of silver-spooned, flag-humping Republican worship of American empire and the war machine.
Donald Trump denies the existence of global warming—a position held by the mainstream of the GOP and no other major political party in the world. Donald Trump hates the media—a compulsory trait for Republican politicians, pundits, and voters since the early nineties. Donald Trump’s administration is hard at work achieving longstanding Republican policy goals on health care, “tax reform,” voting rights, mass incarceration, environmental safety, the Paris Agreement, net neutrality, the Cuban embargo, Title IX, for-profit colleges, and much, much more. The average Republican member of Congress has voted with Trump 94% of the time. His approval rating among Republicans is holding steady at just under 80 percent. He is the beloved arch-capitalist, white-nationalist figurehead of an arch-capitalist, white-nationalist party.
He is also vulgar, and self-absorbed, and profoundly, almost impossibly stupid. He is overtly wretched in ways that most politicians take care at least not to appear to be. The dysfunction and unconventionality of his campaign allowed a handful of ideas that ran counter to Republican orthodoxy—resurgent protectionism, Steve Bannon’s (racist) populism—to momentarily gain purchase in conservative policymaking circles before they were summarily cast out. His pathological lack of discipline or a fully-considered worldview means that he is occasionally—though not nearly as often as has been idly claimed in the last few days—unpredictable.
What it does not mean, however, is that Trump is not a Republican “in spirit,” or that he is “an independent,” or that he is “upending 150 years of two-party rule.” That Donald Trump is a demented old bigot often reduced to acting purely out of hate and greed and vanity and spite does not make him un-Republican; on the contrary, it makes him the Republican who has best managed to inhabit his party’s hideous, shrieking id, the black hole at the heart of its politics, the terrible chained beast at the frozen center of the Republican soul. That upon glimpsing this monster some Republicans—not very many at all—have recoiled in genuine horror proves only that they have lived in a state of denial about its existence. Plenty will be determined to stay there.
The word “gaslight” has been drafted into the political lexicon over the last year or so in an attempt to capture the unprecedented ease, frequency, and effectiveness with which Trump and his staffers have lied to the public. But make no mistake: this mendacity will seem like petty theft compared to the Fort Knox heist of gaslighting that’s coming. When Trump is finally gone—whether in seven months or (God help us) seven years—the Republican Party is going to launch itself into a surreal, breakneck effort to disown his crimes and lies and failures and humiliations and forever disassociate itself from the suffering and misery his very ordinary Republican policies will have caused.
The “Never Trumpers” will run riot; they will deem the Trump presidency a black swan event whose connection to the GOP was superficial and arbitrary; they will declare a mulligan on Republican rule. The media will let them do it. Too many Democrats will be eager to help, and indeed Hillary Clinton’s campaign already laid the groundwork by expressly declining to tie Trump to his party in a doomed effort to win over moderate Republican voters. This will be among the most insanely audacious campaigns of historical revisionism ever undertaken, and it will be a massive and coordinated and extremely lucrative enterprise, because the fortunes of the entire rotten conservative project will, for a time, depend on it. The work has already started; anyone wishing to stand against the oncoming tide of revisionist reaction better start beating it back now.