With each passing month, week, and day, the Republican Party contrives to go a little crazier, one step more radical—to smash one more norm or tradition. If you still think that surely they’ll come to their senses one of these days, you’re just not paying attention.
What is to be done?
New Republic editor Michael Tomasky gathered four close observers of the party’s decline and fall via Zoom in early March to discuss the current and future state of the Republican Party: Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee from 2009 to 2011; Juleanna Glover, who worked for Vice President Dick Cheney and Attorney General John Ashcroft; Max Boot, a Washington Post columnist and author of The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right; and Nicolle Wallace, who was President George W. Bush’s communications director and senior adviser to John McCain’s 2008 campaign and now hosts MSNBC’s Deadline: White House.
Their assessment is, in a word, brutal. And they agree: It’s only going to keep getting worse. What can the rest of us do? Well, read to the end.
The conversation has been edited for clarity and space.
MICHAEL TOMASKY: My first question is a really simple one. Is the Republican Party as currently constituted salvageable?
NICOLLE WALLACE: For what?
MAX BOOT: Salvageable for parts.
WALLACE: I think that the mistake that I continue to make is that it wants to be salvaged. I think it is constituted as it wants to be. You see new Republicans emerge in the mold of destructors and not builders. And I think that the people who want to salvage it aren’t really vibrant, healthy parts of the Republican body politic anymore. And the people who like it as it is don’t want to be salvaged.
BOOT: Nicolle has certainly put her finger on a lot of the dysfunction in the current Republican Party, which I, like a lot of the other folks here, don’t recognize from the days when I was a Republican—when it stood for free markets, international leadership, was pro-immigration, was pro-NATO, pro- a lot of things that have been abandoned along the way. Although this has been a cruel period for a lot of us who were once affiliated with the GOP, I’ve kind of given up my expectation that I had a few years ago that this is going to lead to some giant crack-up that was going to lead to electoral annihilation, and the Republicans would come to their senses, because, unfortunately, I think the path that they’re on is actually reasonably popular.
I mean, they took control of the House, right? They’re not getting destroyed. They’re very close to the Senate. They have a reasonable chance to take back the White House, especially if they nominate Ron DeSantis rather than Donald Trump, because DeSantis is basically going to give you Trumpism without Trump. So that’s a formula that a lot of people think could be successful. Unfortunately, I think we’re not going to have any time in the foreseeable future a sane, center-right political party in this country. We’re going to have whatever the GOP is, which is largely this far-right populist construct. I wish that voters were rejecting it. But outside of the popular vote for presidential contests, they really aren’t rejecting it. It’s still a very viable political entity.
JULEANNA GLOVER: I feel as though the Republican Party is in a place where the Whigs were in the mid-1850s, which is dissolute, racked over a moral question, i.e., slavery. Then it came to dissolve, and something new arose after that.
TOMASKY: What, if I may ask, is the moral question today for the Republicans?
GLOVER: It’s Trumpism. Are our leaders people who we think should be, above all, principled, honest, exemplary human beings, or is this just about sort of thuggish survival of the fittest, whoever appears the strongest gets to rule the party? Of the Republicans who are currently going to run against Trump, I would not be able to support anybody except for maybe New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu and maybe former Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers—people who have been adamantly anti-Trump. Any of the folks that have brooked him or collaborated with him, they’re morally compromised. For whatever comes next, I think it’s going to be among those who have cleanly broken with Trump and have the moral standing to build what’s next.
MICHAEL STEELE: This has been a very difficult question for me. The easy one is, is the party broken? Is it repairable? Is it salvageable? In its current form, the answer is obviously no. And for all of the reasons that Juleanna and Max and Nicolle have put in front of us, for me, it’s been a particularly difficult journey to stay in it. I am still a card-carrying conservative Republican, and I am for a number of reasons. One, because I know it pisses the rest of them off. Two, because I like to claim I was here first. I was in this party at a time when it was not easy, particularly as a Black Republican, to carry water for the party, even back at that time in the mid-’70s.
I remember door-knocking as an 18-year-old in Washington, D.C.—you haven’t lived until you’ve door-knocked as a Black Republican in Washington, D.C.—asking people, “Would you like to vote Republican?” So I’ve been through those trials. Reagan was an animating figure for me, but even more animating than Reagan was Lincoln, which is why I’ve always termed myself a Lincoln Republican, because to Max’s point about those principles and policy that foundationally formed and, I think, really influenced and shaped all of us to come inside this tent, it was critically important for me, because I was so outside of it growing up.
To consciously decide to join the party was a big deal. And here I sit today looking at this shit show, this absolute, god-awful train wreck … actually, a train wreck looks better than this thing. And what pisses me off more than anything are the leaders, the Kevin McCarthys, the Mitch McConnells, the quiet enablers, the folks who sit there and wring their hands privately to Max and Juleanna and Nicolle and myself about how awful this is and “something has to be done.” They’re in the very position to do something about it, and they won’t.
The final point is, I get asked all the time, why are you still a Republican? I say, well, I’m kind of a Motel 6 Republican. Someone’s got to keep the lights on. And I’m standing there on the front porch, and I keep replacing the light bulb because these bastards keep coming by, shooting it out.
BOOT: I just wanted to jump in on the point that Michael was making about being a Lincoln Republican, which is reminding me that, let’s be honest here, the Republican Party didn’t take a wrong turn in 2016. Arguably, you could make the case that it took a wrong turn in 1964, when it really turned its back on the Lincoln legacy. I remember reading about the ’64 convention, held in the Cow Palace outside of San Francisco. And Jackie Robinson, who was a great Republican, was just horrified by what Barry Goldwater was saying. He couldn’t believe that the party of Lincoln was being taken over by the forces of intolerance and bigotry. Of course, that year, Goldwater was almost entirely wiped out.
Aside from Arizona, all the states he won were in the Deep South. That was really the beginning of the Southern strategy, the realignment of American politics. Obviously, things have gotten way crazier in the last few years, because we’ve gone from dog whistles on racism to wolf whistles. It’s become much more blatant. It’s become much more front-and-center in the Republican identity. There are roots to some of the current craziness that go back a long time. So that’s why it’s not going to be like turning a light switch, or one election, and it’s suddenly going to change. It’s not. There is a real appeal to a lot of the things that people like Trump and DeSantis are saying that goes back a long way in American history.
TOMASKY: Let me ask you all this question, because I give a lot of thought to this question, and I’m sure the four of you give more thought to it. You’ve basically said it’s not salvageable, but let’s pretend that it were. What would it take for there to be some kind of muscular, moderating force within the Republican Party? Every party has reward-and-punishment systems. Right now, all the rewards are for moving right, right, right. And all the punishments are for being moderate and reasonable.
I remember I read this interview with Barney Frank when he was leaving the House, and he told this story about people asking him about the Republicans in the House. They’d ask him, “Are you saying they’re all Michele Bachmann?” She was kind of the sine qua non at that point of this brand of politics. Frank would reply, “No, they’re not all Michele Bachmann. Half of them are Michele Bachmann. The other half are terrified of losing a primary to Michele Bachmann.”
That rang really true to me, and I think that’s the dynamic that we see. It seems to me the party can only change if that dynamic can be somehow dislodged. Nicolle, any thoughts on this? Is this just hopeless?
WALLACE: I think that’s the political piece of this. You’re talking about a way to break a cycle. I think that Liz Cheney sustained it over the summer during the period of public hearings for the January 6 select committee. Trumpism has to be repeatedly pushed through the frame of a threat to the democracy that it proved itself to be visibly on January 6, but that bears itself out as a threat of every single day. I mean, every voter integrity law is voter suppression being pushed through, predicated on a lie that there was fraud.
You can’t talk about a political remedy, which is fixing the primary process, until you decontaminate the lies. Trumpism isn’t just a bad idea, isn’t just a direction right or left on the spectrum. It’s a delusion. It isn’t real. He doesn’t believe in anything. So the fact that anyone grappled with how conservative or moderate was Romney, the Romney-Ryan years? It doesn’t matter. It’s been superseded by something that is fantastical. I think until you treat Trumpism like a threat to democracy in a consistent and sustained manner, the way really only Liz and Adam Kinzinger were able to do because of their roles on that committee, you don’t begin to wake up.
Rob Portman, to me, is the best avatar for why the country is at risk. I don’t know of anybody who knows better than Rob Portman. He was George W. Bush’s OMB [Office of Management and Budget] director. He also wore a second hat as sort of wise man and an adviser. And I knew the country was fucked when he didn’t walk away from Trump after good people on both sides did, when he stayed with it after grabbing the you-know-what. So you can talk about breaking the primary process and gerrymandering, but they’re all symptoms of the larger disease, which is going along with something that isn’t an ideology, it isn’t a direction on the right-left continuum. It is all a lie and a cult of personality.
STEELE: The Rob Portman example is so important and very telling and disappointing. I’ve known Rob since about 1985. But Rob Portman was probably, to Nicolle’s point, one of the more disappointing moments in this devolution of the GOP.
It goes back to what I was saying before about leadership: You’re going to need the leaders to do it. Max referenced the ’64 campaign. Well, understand also what was happening prior to the ’64 campaign, when the John Birch Society tried to rear its head up inside the GOP. What happened? The leadership pushed it down and pushed it out, at least to the greatest extent that it could. It stood up and said no, because it appreciated the party’s civil rights history. It appreciated the party’s legacy in protecting those Lincolnesque values about individual liberties. And that leadership has been absent throughout all of this.
This party needs a political enema. It needs it all cleaned out. To Nicolle’s exact point, you cannot hem and haw. It’s like cancer that has overrun an organ. At a point, you can’t say, “Well, we can take out half the liver.” We need to take out all of it. The reality for the party right now is, is it prepared to do that? The short answer is no. Which means that this thing only metastasizes further and becomes harder down the road.
GLOVER: I’m going to build on the Portman theme. In the summer and fall of 2016, the sort of wise men of the party—you know, the Dick Cheneys, the John Ashcrofts—didn’t stand up to stop this. I think part of it was because they both had children running in a Trump cycle. I just wonder at the sense of self-abnegation within the Republican Party, the sense of denying yourself something that’s important to you over a moral question. I think that’s gone. Even among our most esteemed leaders, the people famous for trying to do the right thing. I believe in the theory of a moral slippery slope: Once you start down it, every bad, unethical decision after that is made easier.
I’d also pinpoint some of this back to the Romney campaign in 2012. That campaign was run in a way where it raised historic amounts of money, but some top Romney aides owned the vendors that were being used within the organization. So what are the motivations there? What are the motivations there now in the Republican Party? Have we since 2012 been in a place where the candidate consultancy class is only about making the most amount of money in each cycle, not necessarily about electing the great and the good? I don’t know how to fix those systems-thinking flaws, other than just to try and do something totally different with like-minded individuals who are glad to forgo an immediate payday or a political benefit in order to be able to sleep well at night because they know they did or said the right thing.
STEELE: That was part of my problem as RNC chairman. My first month at the RNC, well, my first week, I was literally given about 15 to 20 million dollars in contracts that had been agreed to in the 2008 presidential cycle that were promised to be paid after the cycle, under the assumption that Mike Duncan would’ve been reelected chairman and not Michael Steele. Michael Steele comes in, they put 20 million worth of contracts…. I’m saying, what are these for? The presidential cycle’s over. “Well, we promised that we would pay these on the back end.” I’m like, nope. And I canceled all of the contracts, about 20 million dollars. Do you know who I pissed off that week? And do you know, literally about two weeks later, was the first call for my being fired as national chairman? So Juleanna puts her finger on an important aspect that undergirds a lot of the infrastructure of this corruption—the grifting and the moneymaking component of it, which drives a lot of the behavior of the leaders that we’re looking for.
BOOT: I’m in violent agreement with everything that I’m hearing. In fact, I actually wrote a column a few years ago making the very case that Rob Portman is a bigger threat to the republic than Marjorie Taylor Greene, because Marjorie Taylor Greene is stupid and crazy, but Rob Portman knows better. He’s just being cynical. And that’s the Republican leadership class in a nutshell. But the problem is, you know, welcome to politics. There are very few super principled people who are willing to do the right thing at great cost. And my hat’s off to Liz Cheney, because she is a profile in courage, the likes of which we have very seldom seen in American politics. But you can’t expect all of a sudden a bunch of Liz Cheneys to go out there and to commit political hari-kari to stop Trumpism.
It wouldn’t be effective anyway. Because the reality is that the politicians are responding to the signals they’re getting from the voters. And it’s not just the politicians, it’s also the megaphones. Fox News. It’s been fascinating to see, with this Dominion lawsuit against Fox News [Dominion has charged Fox with repeatedly airing debunked election-fraud theories involving Dominion’s voting machines, which saw heavy use in the 2020 election], the extent to which the hosts were not actually drinking their own Kool-Aid because they understood that this was all B.S. That there were not these conspiracies to change voting or whatever. But they are just complete cowards, people like Hannity and Tucker Carlson and others, and you can see it in their texts and emails.
They are terrified that if they say something that the audience doesn’t like, the audience will turn against them, and then these guys will lose their multimillion-dollar annual salaries. So it all comes back to, there are very unfortunate tendencies that are out there in the Republican grassroots that I think have always been out there. I think what’s changed is that, in the past, there were Republican leaders who would kind of pander to the grassroots at election time and then kind of ignore them while they were in office. The classic example being George H.W. Bush with his Willie Horton ads, and all this horrible catering to racism, which is not really what George H.W. Bush was about, but it’s what Lee Atwater told him he had to do to win the presidency.
Then he wins the presidency, and he governs in ways that piss off the hard-core right. And he winds up losing his reelection campaign. That was the old Republican Party in a nutshell. What Trump did was he broke down the distinction between campaigning and governing. He governed exactly the way that he campaigned. He never stopped pushing those buttons. He never stopped appealing to the worst side of human nature. He never stopped promoting the most rancid impulses in the Republican base. Unfortunately, it’s hard to put that genie back in the bottle. People like George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush, and McCain and Romney and all those others, we thought that they were RINOs, because in office they would not cater to our worst instincts. Now voters are basically demanding that they do that. It’s just very hard to find any politicians who can stand up to that right now.
TOMASKY: I’d be interested in having you all reflect on Trump’s rise. When this first happened, were you surprised, Nicolle, that the audience for that message and that messenger was that big? And what did it teach you or show you about the United States and about the Republican Party that took you by surprise, that you didn’t know?
WALLACE: I was not surprised. My parents were big Trump supporters. They were in from go. I was on The View at the time, and I remember saying one day that he was an embarrassment not just to the Republican Party I’d been a part of, but to the country. People all over the world would see this rich buffoon with his beautiful wife calling Mexicans rapists and murderers and think that that’s what we think of our neighbors. I got fired a few weeks later, and my parents at noon poured me a glass of wine and said, “I knew Donald was gonna get you fired.” I said, “What are you talking about?” And they said, “You know, he’s so powerful. You can’t humiliate him like that.”
I knew three things. One, that even people with advanced degrees were capable of going the whole Jonestown route with the Kool-Aid with Trump. I knew that every other Republican—and I knew most of them in that primary field—was fighting with their heads, and Trump had already grabbed them by the gut, and something lower. And I knew that Obama, and the Fox coverage of Obama for eight years, had radicalized previously normal Republicans into something totally different. Fox News’ coverage of the Obama years had primed the pump for conspiracy theorists to come in and platform conspiracy as a replacement ideology. Because Trump never ran on ideology. I mean, the whole “Build a wall.” That was almost like a branding exercise for American xenophobia, which is as old as time.
I also don’t buy that Trump is hapless, but I don’t buy that he’s brilliant and putting in place a conspiracy to stitch together disparate pieces of the electorate. I think he’s a flagrant racist, and racism is alive and well, and he had all sorts of tools in his tool kit to turn that into electoral strategy. But he was as shocked as anybody that he won. He’s covered as both dumber and more accidental than he is, and more maniacal and conspiratorial than he is. He’s just a run-of-the-mill Archie Bunker without all the sort of lovable personality traits.
TOMASKY: Can he be stopped in 2024? Juleanna, I looked this morning before we gathered at the last few multicandidate polls. He’s up 12, he’s up 16, he’s up 2, there’s a close one, he’s up 30, he’s up 18, et cetera. Can he be stopped in this election?
GLOVER: I’m not the person to ask on that. I mean, absent Sununu catching fire or former Maryland Governor Larry Hogan catching fire, I’m all in on reelecting Biden. So it’s not what I’m focused on.
TOMASKY: Just as a handicapper, would you call him the favorite today?
GLOVER: If there are seven different candidates running against him, in various degrees of not being Trump? Yeah, he’s going to win. The party’s going to have to consolidate around a single entity at least coming into South Carolina in order to stop that.
STEELE: Trump is the nominee until someone is able to say, without hesitation, you need to sit your ass down, you’re done, and I got this going forward. And if anybody wants to win again in this party, if anybody wants to put together a governing majority, then follow me. Otherwise, this ain’t happening, folks. This can’t be a primary of more than one other person against Donald Trump. Because if it’s two, it’s done. He’s got a lock on a third of the base. And unless a candidate is prepared to go down that lane in which they smack the crap out of Trump every single time, every single day he opens his mouth, puts out a tweet, or even wakes up in the morning, and then follows that up with a strategy that meticulously reinvigorates the remaining part of the Republican base that doesn’t vote in primaries …
Because we lose sight of the fact that you’re not talking about a lot of people in a Republican primary when you look at the party writ large. You’re only talking a fraction of the voters, that hard-edged right base that comes out and votes. There are lanes in which a Hogan, a Sununu, and others can create that space, but they can only do it if they’re standing mano a mano. I just don’t see anybody who has that capacity to do that. So Donald Trump has this right now. Those polls are reflective of that.
And the press needs to grow up, because the press gave him $3 billion worth of free advertising in 2016. So they’re very much a part of the creation of this Frankenstein monster as anything else. And despite all of their protestations and machinations, they like the shit show. They like the food fight. They’re already, we can see it, they’re setting it up, the way they’re hyping these polls and making all this noise and lulling people into believing that this is a legitimate race for the future of the country. It is not. This is not. If Donald Trump is on the other side, this is not legit. This is the delegitimization of our political process in our democracy. So, yeah, this is Trump’s until it isn’t. And I don’t know who’s going to take it from him.
BOOT: I think Michael’s right that the party’s kind of waiting for somebody who is willing to punch Trump in the nose. And right now it seems like it’s too dangerous to do that. But in some ways, it kind of reminds me of what Trump himself did in 2015, 2016, where he did things that were so outside conventional wisdom. He punched the Bushes in the nose. This seemed like, wow, you can’t do this. But it turned out there were actually a lot of people who didn’t like the Bushes, and they liked the fact that he was this so-called fearless truth teller. I think right now there’s a lot of dissatisfaction with Trump in the Republican Party, and people would actually like it if there was somebody who had the cojones to call out Trump and to his face and go toe to toe with him.
I think that there are only two people who could possibly be the Republican nominee. It’s either going to be Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis. I don’t think anybody else is even within spitting distance. I think DeSantis has a reasonable shot.
Trump is an ignoramus and a moron, but he does have certain branding and marketing skills, and he knows how to dump a load of toxic sludge on his opponents. He’s doing that right now with DeSantis. Is DeSantis going to just kind of cower there and try to pretend that he’s not getting smeared, or is he actually going to stand up and go toe to toe? That’s the big issue.
The other issue of course is: Is DeSantis actually preferable to Trump? Because my vantage point is not from somebody who wants the Republican Party to win the presidency. My vantage point is somebody who wants to preserve American democracy. So my question is how big of a threat does a DeSantis presidency pose to American democracy? And I would say, very tentatively at this point, less of a threat than Trump. I think he is less of an unhinged authoritarian than Trump, but he also has displayed a lot of authoritarian tendencies. And I think really, in a cynical kind of way, catering to the Orbanism in the Republican Party, because I think a lot of Republicans really want somebody like Viktor Orban. In some ways, DeSantis is offering that, saying I’m a smarter and more disciplined Orban for America than Donald Trump is. I won’t be as self-destructive as Trump. That’s kind of a worrisome message.
If Trump does get the nomination, I think he’s going to get annihilated by Biden. I put a caveat on it, because I thought he was going to be annihilated in 2016. But I do think that there is enough Trump fatigue out there that it would be very hard. It’s very possible for him to win the nomination, very hard for him to win the presidency.
TOMASKY: Nicolle, do you see some kind of civil war inside the party if he is the nominee?
WALLACE: Who fights against whom? The Never Trump movement, we all fit on a minibus. There’s only one side in this civil war. I keep fighting my capacity for shock. I’m tired of being shocked by it. At the beginning, it was shocking to me that after the Access Hollywood tape came out—I wasn’t shocked that Steve Bannon was like, this is gonna be good, or Kellyanne Conway stuck around. I was shocked that Chris Christie didn’t withdraw his support. I was shocked by other moments of his presidency, all of the Russia stuff. I mean, someone called me after Helsinki and said, you know what, maybe you guys were right all along. I’m sorry, we treated you like you were wearing tinfoil hats.
I think that what we have to stop waiting for is for a war to break out. The thing that the Trump people do really well is demonize people who say, “Hey, he’s a big ignoramus who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” They say, “Trump derangement syndrome!” “You’re so anti-Trump, you can’t see what’s in front of you.” Well, no, what’s in front of me is someone who is a political Frankenstein, as [Michael] has said. But the idea that some war is going to break out…. There’s nobody who cares enough to fight a war. They’re all zombies. They don’t give a shit.
And they’re afraid of Tucker Carlson. I mean, Ted Cruz called January 6 domestic terrorism, which is what Chris Wray called it, till Tucker Carlson admonished him for it. And then he went on Tucker Carlson and took it back. There is no courage. There are no spines. And the other thing that’s sort of sliding along is the rise of political violence and the rising acceptance of it. What do Republicans think they’ve unleashed by inviting the Proud Boys and the militias to Washington on January 6 and not condemning the attack on Paul Pelosi? They have unleashed a new—and, you know, it hasn’t played out yet—a new period of political violence in this country.
GLOVER: I did write a piece about how I thought Tucker Carlson was going to run. I still do believe that Tucker is going to run. I think the way he runs is he keeps doing what he’s doing, watching what happens from his anchor chair. Then, you know, the third week of December 2023, he says, “I’ve had it. I’ve got to step in and do this.” And he does not need an operation. He walks into auditoriums of 30, 40,000 people across the country. So I think he runs and he wins the nomination. I don’t think he will win the White House. But it’s very possible.
TOMASKY: What’s his argument against Trump?
GLOVER: That he’s not Trump. He’s much more media savvy. You know, Trump’s too old. There are many facets he can pick up on: incompetence, stupidity, et cetera.
STEELE: Can I put a little pin in what Juleanna says and why her thinking along this line is not that outsized. Just keep in mind, Donald Trump did something that upset the political system as we knew it. And you know what he did? He spent 14 years on national television creating this persona, and he translated his viewers into his voters. They came out for the guy that they saw on television. They believed him, this fictional character, to be an actual real person with principles and values and ideas. Tucker has done that. I don’t know if he actually does the thing, but the glide path to doing the thing is there, because we’ve seen it before.
TOMASKY: I want to move to talking about the rest of the party now. Let’s talk about the House Republican Conference. Let’s talk about Jim Jordan, James Comer, who surprises me a little bit more every week with the things he says. Where is this headed with these people?
WALLACE: Maybe they were always there. We haven’t talked much about Democrats or the Department of Justice, but there’s a price to a lack of accountability. I think Republicans in their current formulation represent a threat to our democracy. I think Democrats haven’t adequately responded to that threat. I think Liz Cheney showed them the way, and I think Jamie Raskin has led on this, and other members of the January 6 committee. That’s a long way of saying that the threat is in the body. That the members that threaten our democracy. What’s DOJ doing? Have they called them? Have they asked them? Has anyone tried to hold any Republican House members accountable? Or senators, frankly, for their role in planning a coup.
Some of it is that the words take us a long time to tumble out of our mouth. At first, they sound crazy: a coup. A coup plot. An insurrection. And because it takes us a minute to get the words, the Republicans read the room. And then they emerge two years later as the power brokers. McCarthy really only has a gavel. He doesn’t have the speakership. But the only reason he has a gavel is because he sought the approval of and won over the insurrectionists. That the other members are crazy is clear for everyone to see. The scary piece is that they’re not just ascendant. They are the power brokers in the House Republican Conference. And that is a danger to our democracy.
BOOT: I would say not just a danger to our democracy, but a danger to democracy around the world. Because one of the weird things about the Freedom Caucus and the MAGA Republicans is that they are violently anti-China, but they’re somewhat pro-Russia. They’re kind of Putin friendly, and they’re willing to get us into a war with China, but they don’t want us to do anything to help Ukraine and fight its war against the unprovoked Russian invasion, which is another example of the upside-down world of the current Republican Party, because I was old enough growing up in the 1980s when Ronald Reagan was supporting quote-unquote freedom fighters who were struggling against the evil empire, the contras or the mujahedin or others. And now the Ukraine war is as clear an example of good versus evil as I think we’ve seen since World War II. These horrible crimes being committed for no reason by the Russians against the poor people of Ukraine, and about half the Republican Party saying we’re doing too much to help Ukraine. And quite a few of them are saying we should cut off Ukraine.
We tend to watch the craziness in the House Republican Conference. It’s like watching the animals at the zoo, and there’s an entertainment value to it to some extent. We feed off of the insanity that you hear from the Matt Gaetzes or the Marjorie Taylor Greenes or whatever, and to some extent it’s contained as long as there are more responsible voices in charge of the Senate, whether it’s Democrats, or even Mitch McConnell’s a lot more responsible than these guys. But they have the ability to wreak havoc in the world if they, for example, manage to hold up future aid packages.
And that really comes back to Kevin McCarthy. Does Kevin McCarthy have the spine to stand up to the lunatics in his own caucus? Because there’s an easy majority in the House to support aid to Ukraine. It’s all the Democrats and probably half the Republicans. But he’s basically sold his soul to become speaker to the Freedom Caucus. And those are the people who are pro-Russia. Is Kevin McCarthy going to be willing to stand up to those lunatics to support Ukraine? On that question may turn the fate of Ukraine.
TOMASKY: And that breaks the Hastert Rule [an informal guideline followed by Republican speakers that says not to allow votes on bills that don’t have support from “the majority of the majority”]. He can’t pass something on that basis. Who thinks this is going to end up with Biden being impeached for some flimsy reason?
STEELE: There may be an attempt. There’ll be some noise. When Marjorie Taylor Greene decides to bring that to the caucus and push it out, it’ll be dependent on how Kevin McCarthy responds to that. My bet is he just bends over like he has so far on everything else. And it sets up the clown show that will be an impeachment trial. It was a promise made. We’ll see if it’s a promise kept.
GLOVER: I just think that the Republicans in the House will leap at any opportunity. And I think that the makeup of the Judiciary Committee in the House in particular, it’s not a somber, deliberative population among Republicans. So I expect that it’ll be cheap, flimsy shots.
BOOT: They know the verdict, which is that they want to impeach Biden. They just don’t know why. They have to figure out a rationale.
WALLACE: I think they’ll impeach [Biden] by the time they’re done. I think they have designs on impeaching half the Cabinet. I think they would like to impeach Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. I think they’ll go after the education secretary over the woke agenda. I think they’ll go after Pete Buttigieg maybe over the train. I think they have designs on impeaching half the Cabinet and the president, but so far they’re out of the gate with this sort of quintessential Republican incompetence.
BOOT: I would say on the impeachment issue, Biden has to hope that they do try to impeach him. That would be the best thing that could happen to him—make them look like lunatics. It’s going to help him tremendously in public opinion.
WALLACE: That’s such a good point. We haven’t talked too much about how this version of the Republican Party may really be this thing that Biden couldn’t manufacture in a political laboratory. I mean, you watch the State of the Union, if that’s a sign of the general presidential election to come, I think even Republicans acknowledge that that was a great night for Biden. And the Republican Party is that and then some. It really does turn all of his potential weaknesses, like his age and stature, into things that make him look pretty stable against a bunch of nuts.
TOMASKY: Let’s move toward talking about the future. I was once having a conversation with a Congress watcher and a political analyst. This was a few years ago, and I was saying something like, “Yeah, a lot of extremists have been elected to Congress, but this fever has to break. Right?” He looked at me and he said, “Have you looked at the kind of Republicans who are in state legislatures around this country?” He said, “As soon as this generation leaves, the next generation is going to be worse, is going to be more extreme.”
That sobered me. I started looking at some of these people, and he was right. So, is this just going to go on forever? Are they just going to get more and more and more extreme? And what does that mean for our country? What country are we going to be in 2040, 2050?
BOOT: Well, I do think if you look at the trajectory of the Republican Party since 1964, every single generation has been much more right-wing than the generation before. So you have this phenomenon where some of the original revolutionaries, the Barry Goldwaters and others, by the 1980s and 1990s, they were being seen as these left-wing squishes in the Republican Party. Then you had the Newt Gingrich generation, and then Newt himself was overtaken by the Trumpkins. Every generation is getting more extreme. Even Trump in some ways has been overtaken by his own base; he was actually in favor of the Covid vaccine because he paid to develop it, and now he can’t even go out on his rallies and say something positive about the Covid vaccine, because the Republican base is riled up against medicine and science, and they hate the Covid vaccine.
So yeah, I think it’s fair to say that, God help us, people like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz are not going to be at the outermost edge of the Republican Party a generation from now. And there’s not a lot of room, frankly, to their right. I mean, then you’re truly getting into fascism there, you’re truly getting into Orbanism. Where you wind up is a very, very scary place. The only check on that is, to the extent that it exists, the good sense of the American public. There have been certainly moments in the last few years where I have really had grave doubts about the good sense of the American public. But he was not reelected. There was a cost for his craziness. And you saw in the midterm election, the election deniers were not elected.
So I think that there is still a check and balance in the electorate. Unfortunately, then you get into the issues of the way our democracy is structured, where a small percentage of the population is disproportionately represented in the Senate and in the Electoral College. So certainly the right-wing base has their megaphone amplified. But as long as we have the rule of law, as long as we have functioning courts, as long as we have actual functioning elections, there’s a limit to how far they can go in implementing their agenda.
STEELE: The ultimate check rests in three words in our founding documents, and that‘s “We the People.” This new reality that we have publicly embraced boils down to how the American people see the future of the country. Do they still love America? Do they still have faith in it? Do they still support its ideals and accept its history and its past? The things that have rocked and roiled us over generations, we always found a way to recognize in each other the value that foundationally supports this concept that draws people to this day to want to be here. So you have a hardened right, to Max’s point, that has been evolutionary over generations, going back arguably to the New Deal era. It’s disguised itself in various forms over the years, but now it’s exposed, and there is no mistaking what it is.
We cannot, as citizens, cut ourselves out of this. We are directly responsible for what happens next, because we are electing these individuals, and we’re giving them the platforms. And we have to break that cycle. They’re not going to do it. We have to do it.
GLOVER: The future for those who want to see principled leadership, or want to see our country become less complicated and more along the lines of economic fruition, is going to be using a frame or a filter for candidates and people thinking about running, which is, are they honorable, decent people? I think that in itself would be how we bring about the end of Trumpism.
TOMASKY: Nicolle, last word.
WALLACE: I think the opportunity before Democrats and before this president is to create a generation of “It’s the democracy, stupid” voters, and to do away with all the bullshit, all the extraneous stuff that can be alienating. There are some really promising signs. Leader Hakeem Jeffries is an incredible leader for this moment of his caucus. I think Biden saw something in the opportunity he had at the State of the Union, and I think there are enough tea leaves to be read about the midterms that you can—and I think, again, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger modeled this behavior for any Republicans looking for something different on the menu. You can put aside the other fights. Frankly, they’re not the electoral winners they used to be. The Supreme Court has become a political dead weight for Republicans, even in places like Kansas. But you can put aside the fights of the last two generations and say, “It’s the democracy, stupid.” That might be our best hope.
*This story has been updated.