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GOP bets its future on scorched-earth megalomania

Eugene Robinson

Eugene Robinson

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Friday, August 10, 2018

Everything you need to know about today's Republican Party is summed up by a photo from President Trump's political rally in Ohio on Saturday. Two men in the crowd look defiantly at the camera, proudly displaying the slogan on their matching T-shirts: "I'd Rather Be A Russian Than A Democrat."

The sound you hear is the GOP presidents of the Cold War era — Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford and Reagan — whirring like turbines in their graves.

This is the state of derangement to which Trump has brought a once-great political party. Anyone tempted to dismiss these cult-of-personality rallies as freakish sideshows should keep in mind one sobering fact: An astounding 89 percent of Republicans approve of Trump's performance as president, according to Gallup. 

The Republican Party used to believe in fiscal discipline and worry about the mounting national debt; Trump has blown a trillion-dollar hole in the budget. The party used to believe in free trade; Trump is imposing tariffs left and right, including on our closest allies. The party used to believe in free markets; Trump clumsily tries to pick winners and losers, hectors the independent Federal Reserve board and uses his Twitter feed to attack individual companies for political reasons.

The GOP used to champion American ideals of freedom and justice throughout the world. Trump gives the back of his hand to the post-war alliance of Western democracies, and has nothing but praise for autocratic rulers who abuse human rights in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Philippines — and, of course, Russia.

Previous Republican presidents have complained about press coverage. Trump calls the news media "the Enemy of the People," a phrase that blood-soaked totalitarian regimes have used to justify assassinations and purges.

On Friday, a C-SPAN caller who identified himself as "Don from State College, Pennsylvania" threatened that "I'm going to shoot" CNN hosts Brian Stelter and Don Lemon. Words have consequences: Trump's unhinged rhetoric is going to get somebody killed.

If you ask House Speaker Paul Ryan or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, they will of course disavow such sentiments. And then, la-di-da, they'll go back to pretending this is a normal presidency rather than a runaway train.

Brace yourselves, because it's all going to get worse.

It doesn't take a degree in psychology to see that Trump is increasingly frantic about special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. On Sunday, shortly after another "Enemy of the People" tweet, Trump added this:

"Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower. This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics — and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!"

How much lying can you pack into one tweet? It was a meeting to get dirt on Hillary Clinton from emissaries of the Russian government. It is not at all clear that it was legal. It is not the sort of thing ever done in politics. We don't know whether it "went anywhere." And it sure seems unlikely that Trump's son, son-in-law and campaign chairman would have such a meeting without ever mentioning it to Trump — who, when the meeting was revealed, personally dictated a false statement designed to obscure its real purpose.

It is safe to surmise that Trump feels the walls closing in. And if Democrats seize control of the House in November, he will face a lineup of committee chairmen, armed with subpoena power, who are determined to do their constitutional duty of holding the administration accountable.

So Trump reportedly plans to spend as much time as possible on the campaign trail, desperately trying to stoke enough fear, resentment and anger among the GOP base to produce a big turnout that saves the House majority. What a surprise: Trump intends to make the election all about Trump.

It worked for those guys in the photo, the ones who'd rather be Russians than Democrats. The Republican Party has betrayed all of its history, all of its hallowed ideals, and bet its future on the corrosive power of Trump's scorched-earth megalomania. GOP candidates richly deserve to lose.

Eugene Robinson's email address is eugenerobinson@washpost.com.

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