Since the end of the 2022 election cycle, political analysts have increasingly been writing Donald Trump’s political obituary, describing the former president as a washed-up force. Trump, the argument goes, is weakened by the electoral loss of many of the candidates he recruited and endorsed—most notably Herschel Walker in his failed senatorial bid in Georgia. According to a Washington Post analysis, “Trump’s seclusion within the ornate walls of his club and a series of controversies—from the dinner with antisemites Ye and Nick Fuentes to a social media post suggesting the ‘termination’ of the Constitution—have left him increasingly isolated within his party as he tries to mount a political comeback. Walker’s loss in a Tuesday runoff election became the latest blow, prompting more Republicans to join the chorus faulting him for dragging down the party’s performance in this year’s midterms.”
It’s easy enough to paint a portrait of Trump as a perennial loser whose sell-by date was passed years ago. Some of Trump’s own clownish behavior supports this view, as in his promise of a “MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT” that he would make this past Thursday. When the day arrived, the breathless promise turned out to be a tease for a typically sleazy sales pitch. “My official Donald Trump Digital Trading Card collection is here!” Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform. “These limited edition cards feature amazing ART of my Life & Career!” Trump was selling digital trading cards (or NFTs) that featured a cheesy drawings of himself, for example as a superhero complete with a flowing cape. He promised gullible buyers that it would be “very much like a baseball card, but hopefully much more exciting.” This is another dubious Trump promise, since even the cheapest baseball cards at least give you a real physical object, a photograph of a player, some statistics, and even a wad of bubble gum. These all have some value, while Trump’s NFT is truly worthless.
But any relief at Trump’s seeming marginalization must be tempered by an awareness that he has left behind at least one major legacy: the current GOP Congress, especially in the House of Representatives. Even if it won by only a handful of seats, the GOP controls the House of Representatives. Further, there is absolutely no evidence that the GOP has learned any lessons from its disappointing performance in the 2022 midterms. Rather, the party continues to lurch to the hard right, with Trumpist figures like Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene acting as kingmakers whose support Republican congressional leaders now see as essential.
Trump himself might be going through a slump, but the GOP has a MAGA Congress now—one that is not afraid to let its extremist flag fly. Ample evidence of the authoritarian nature of the new MAGA Congress was provided by a gala hosted by the New York Young Republicans Club (NYYRC) last Saturday. According to a report by Hannah Gais and Michael Edison Hayden published by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the event was a gathering of “radical right figures including white nationalists and ultranationalist European leaders.” The guest list also included three newly elected members of Congress: George Santos of New York, Mike Collins of Georgia, and and Cory Mills of Florida. These are the rising stars of the GOP, and their presence at the event shows which way the wind is blowing.
Marjorie Taylor Greene was one of the stars of the evening. In her rabble-rousing speech, Greene brought up the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. “Then January 6 happened,” Greene said. “And next thing you know, I organized the whole thing, along with Steve Bannon.” She added, “I will tell you something, if Steve Bannon and I organized that, we would have won. Not to mention, it would’ve been armed.” This promise of violence energized the crowd, which broke out in cheers and applause.
According to the SPLC report, “Republican speakers repeatedly voiced an anti-democracy, authoritarian ideology, and extremists in the audience cheered wildly. White nationalists such as Peter and Lydia Brimelow of VDARE and leaders from extreme far right European parties like Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland, AfD), whom German officials placed under surveillance for the party’s ties to extremism, and the Austrian Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, FPÖ), ate and drank in the same room as newly elected Republican congresspeople.” The FPÖ was founded in 1956 by Anton Reinthaller, a former Nazi.
The presence of European post-fascists was hardly a surprise. The head of the NYYRC is Gavin Wax, who has emerged as a major proponent of the idea that the GOP should emulate the authoritarianism of Victor Orbán. Earlier this year—at the Conservative Political Action Conference held in Budapest—Wax spelled out his politics. “We demand nothing short of an American Orbánism,” Wax said. “We accept nothing less than total victory against the forces that want to subjugate Americans beneath an international cabal of crooks, criminals, and other lowly reprobates.” Wax went on to argue that “Hungary has been subject to attack after attack by the globalist-controlled leftist international media for daring to maintain its sovereignty, rejecting so-called liberal democracy.”
Figures like Greene and Wax are the shape of things to come. Trump may continue to revert to his core identity as a pure huckster, with politics merely the most convenient way to separate the rubes from their cash. But a MAGA conservatism dominated by the likes of Greene and Wax will be more than a simple con game. It’ll be an ongoing threat to American democracy.