The Grand Old Party:
Royally Screwed or Soon to Inherit the Throne?

Since President Trump’s—disputed, but now definitive—defeat in the presidential election, Republicans have been more than a little shell-shocked. Not only did they surrender the presidency and the Senate to the Democrats, all in the space of a few hours on January 6, but they were also blamed for a supposed “insurrection,” threatening serious, even permanent, damage to their brand. On the morning of January 7, it sure looked like the GOP world had come crashing down.

What’s more, a majority of Republicans emerged from the carnage of election 2020 convinced that the contest had been “rigged.” Although these claims of election fraud and malfeasance have been pooh-poohed by Democrats, progressives, journalists, and social media watchdogs, the truth is that the press and Big Tech did take unprecedented action to shield the Democratic ticket from scrutiny, while politicians and election authorities worked feverishly to alter the terms of the election itself to Joe Biden’s undeniable advantage.

What’s worse, these strategies worked. Thus, going forward, Republicans and conservatives naturally assume that the Left, having gamed the system successfully in 2020, will be able to repeat these nefarious tactics and “rig” the next election even more emphatically.

In other words, as futile as our efforts seem to have been in 2020, Republican losses may be virtually guaranteed in 2022, 2024, and beyond. The system’s bias in favor of Democrats may be so ingrained as to be insurmountable. Republicans might as well apply for asylum in Brazil, or Russia, or Hungary now, while the getting’s good.

“Fortifying” the Election

As if to confirm this bleak narrative, Time’s Molly Ball recently published a story that revealed the contours of a “conspiracy to save the 2020 election” (from Trump), involving coordinated efforts by left-wing activists, labor groups, social media companies, journalists, political veterans, and even major corporations and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. These unlikely allies had two things in common: a disdain for Trump and a desire to frame the 2020 election and to manage news and information so as to assure his defeat.

As Ball puts it: 

[T]he participants want the secret history of the 2020 election told, even though it sounds like a paranoid fever dream—a well-funded cabal of powerful people, ranging across industries and ideologies, working together behind the scenes to influence perceptions, change rules and laws, steer media coverage and control the flow of information.

Ball claims this unholy alliance wanted only to “fortify” the election, not to rig it. Be that as it may, the group never seems to have considered the possibility that, in a free and fair election, they might lose. In fact, they had plans for massive street demonstrations in the event that it looked as though they were losing—an eventuality they planned to fight tooth and nail.

How, Republicans might reasonably ask, are we supposed to stand against such a formidable assemblage of establishment forces? How was Donald Trump ever supposed to prevail against such a cabal? And, now that the powers-that-be have so successfully mastered the levers and springs of “democracy,” why should they not use their dominion to throttle the GOP once and for all? Surely it would be naïve to imagine that we could win another consequential election ever again.

And yet . . .

A Close-Run Thing

Compelling though this narrative might be, it misses one crucial piece of information: based on Ball’s own telling, and by the conspirators’ own admission, their victory in 2020 was a very near thing. She recounts a number of points in the 2020 race and its aftermath where the narrative and circumstances threatened to spin out of the control of even these ingenious masters of fate.

What’s more, we have only to contemplate the raw results of the 2020 election to perceive just how close the Left and the establishment came to their worst nightmare: defeat on all fronts.

Donald Trump came within 42,844 votes of flipping three critical states that would have given him an electoral college victory—and that’s despite the avalanche of questionable, mail-in votes Biden received.

Meanwhile, Republicans came within just 31,751 votes of taking a majority in the House of Representatives—despite predictions that Democrats in that chamber would easily pad their advantage. The slightest alteration in the winds of political fortune, therefore, could have reelected Trump and turfed Nancy Pelosi out of the Speakership.

Assuming we grant David Perdue a handful of extra votes in November 2020 as well, and thus a win over Jon Ossoff, Republicans would have recaptured the presidency, gained the House, and retained the Senate, just as in 2016, except that in this case the establishment would have seen the calamity coming, would have organized every possible resource and subterfuge to prevent it . . . and would have failed anyway. That’s how close Trump and Republicans came to victory, and how close our most powerful enemies came to ignominious defeat.

Surreal Juxtapositions

What we have in these two stories, then, is two competing and seemingly opposite narratives, yes, but also two halves of the same whole: the yin and the yang of modern American politics.

On one hand, never before have dominant political, economic, and social forces colluded so fully, so nakedly, and yet so masterfully to stage-manage a federal election. Given the sophistication and the sheer clout of these worthies, it is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine that any man, any party, or any movement could long defy their will.

On the other hand, we live in an age when Donald Trump and the Republican Party, despite these ferocious headwinds, and despite the adverse conditions of a global pandemic and a severe recession, could and did improve their standing in the House of Representatives, gain seats in state legislatures, and come within a hair’s breadth of winning complete control over all levels of government. A more stunning demonstration of the powerlessness—indeed, the insignificance—of the establishment would be hard to conceive.

If this surreal juxtaposition has Republicans and conservatives, not to mention Democrats and progressives, out of sorts, it’s because it should! These are, so it seems, the best of times, the worst of times, and without a doubt the weirdest of times by a country mile.

To every Republican, conservative, and Trumper who would scratch his head, therefore, and ask himself whether he should despair or rejoice, I say: both simultaneously! The moment demands nothing less.

About Nicholas L. Waddy

Nicholas L. Waddy, an associate professor of history at SUNY Alfred, blogs at www.waddyisright.com.

Photo: iStock/Getty Images

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