Political commentators and analysts need to stop saying Donald Trump still has a grip on the Republican Party. Yes, there are still some senators and other Republican elected officials who lay their allegiance squarely with him, but the problem is much bigger than that. During his presidency it was not unusual for people to call the Republican Party Trump’s party as Republican officials fell in line behind him, refusing to check his abuses of the office of the Presidency. As tempting as it is to attribute all the blame of the radicalization of the Republican Party to one bad actor, we need to come to terms with the fact that there is a much larger problem with the party and its base. It is no longer about Republicans siding with or defending Trump. Trump is no longer in power. It is not him whom Republicans fear; they fear the same voter base that launched Trump into power. They fear another angry, violent mob of his voters, like the one that attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
To attribute all blame for the Republican Party’s behavior regarding Trump is to deny accountability and ignore a much more grave reality: there is a growing radical, extremist faction within the Republican voter base. This base harbors racism, sexism, xenophobia, science denial, and an appetite for baseless, dangerous conspiracy theories. It is not politicians like Trump who create this faction. They simply give it a voice. As long as we refuse to hold the alt-right, the extremist wing of the Republican Party that became more vocal under Trump’s presidency, accountable for their power over Republican politics, this dangerous faction will grow and fester. Trump is out of office. It’s time we start addressing what’s truly stoking widespread fear and hatred, particularly in rural regions of our country.
Trump did not create the alt-right, he created the path for its status in mainstream politics. This base allowed him to hold the presidency, but its power is not conditional on him. Rather, this extremist Republican base had a grip on Trump and now has a grip on the majority of Republican Congress members. Instead of focusing all of our attention on Trump and looking back on the atrocious four years that were his presidency, we need to take a deeper look at what was behind the floodgates that he opened. We are now retroactively trying to fix all aftermath of Trump’s presidency because we spent the last five years fixated on the figurehead instead of what the figurehead represented. After Trump’s four years of echoing and perpetuating their sentiments, these people have voices in mainstream Republican politics. The 197 House Republicans who voted against his impeachment and the 43 Senate Republicans who voted against conviction did so not because of an allegiance to Trump, but out of either allegiance to or fear of the now vocal extremist faction of the Republican Party.
Trump is not the one dictating the actions of state and federal Republican officials. Trump was a doorman who escorted extremism into mainstream Republican politics. He gave them a seat at the table, but they existed before his rise to power. He didn’t create them and he doesn’t control them. We need to stop acting like putting a bandage over Trump will eradicate the disease of American radical right wing extremism. Instead, we need to do some self-evaluation on what we did to radicalize a large portion of the country into waging war on our democracy. This extremist group elected several of its own to both the House of Representatives and the Senate. We can rationally expect the behavior of those Congress members to reflect the beliefs and values of this extremist faction of the Republican party. But other traditionally conservative Congressional Republicans who now either don’t condemn this extremism or enable it do so out of fear, not only for their career, but for their person. Yes, Trump was the worst president in the history of our country, and there is much blame to place on him, but he does not control the Republican Party. The party does not act out of fear of him, it acts out of fear of the very same base that put him in office, and the very same base whose values he amplified. We need to stop worrying about the orange doorman, and start worrying more about whom he let through the door.