The betrayal of the Republican Party began long ago, as party leaders compromised away the last of the basic premises on which it was founded.
But the final abandonment comes this week, with the gathering of partisans to end the party as anything more than a cult of personality.
Heading into the Republican National Convention that began on Monday, President Trump’s praetorian guard decreed that it would not present a fresh platform to voters in the 2020 election. Instead, it greeted the convention with a one-page statement that concluded:
RESOLVED, That the 2020 Republican National Convention will adjourn without adopting a new platform until the 2024 Republican National Convention;
RESOLVED, That the 2020 Republican National Convention calls on the media to engage in accurate and unbiased reporting, especially as it relates to the strong support of the RNC for President Trump and his Administration; and
RESOLVED, That any motion to amend the 2016 Platform or to adopt a new platform, including any motion to suspend the procedures that will allow doing so, will be ruled out of order.
Platforms are the defining documents of political parties, and Republicans have historically taken their statements very seriously. The platform drafting sessions of the 1960s and ’70s were pitched battles between mainstream Republicans, who took their cues from former president Dwight Eisenhower and governors such as Michigan’s George W. Romney, and the surging right-wing forces of Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater and California Governor Ronald Reagan. The conservatives won, yet even Goldwater and Reagan—and any of the various George Bushes—respected the importance of platform debates. So, too, did thousands of Republicans who engaged in them on a range of domestic and foreign policy issues.
No more. Now the party that once presented its platform as “our call to service, our pledge of leadership, our proposal of measures in the public interest” says there is no need to explain where it stands on the issues because “the RNC, had the Platform Committee been able to convene in 2020, would have undoubtedly unanimously agreed to reassert the Party’s strong support for President Donald Trump and his Administration.”
So, you know, never mind. Right?
Wrong. Americans like to imagine that their political parties stand for something more than servile complaisance to a washed-up reality-TV star. So Republicans are sensitive to the suggestion that the failure to adopt a new platform suggests that the party is so under Trump’s thumb that it can’t entertain a discussion that is not scripted by the president and his minions. The platform-replacement resolution that it released over the weekend was laced with griping about media reports on the platform process that wasn’t. “The media,” it complained, “has outrageously misrepresented the implications of the RNC not adopting a new platform in 2020 and continues to engage in misleading advocacy for the failed policies of the Obama-Biden Administration, rather than providing the public with unbiased reporting of facts.”
But an unbiased reporting of the facts confirms that, even as the president continues to portray Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden as “Sleepy Joe,” Biden and the Democrats pulled together a 92-page platform that featured 2,629 words on “Protecting Americans and Recovering from the COVID-19 Pandemic”—a subject of some interest to 2020 voters. The Democratic document—while too cautious on a number of issues, including Medicare for All, legalization of marijuana, and ending qualified immunity for police officers—is a lively statement that is very much of the moment and that reflects the movement of the Democratic Party toward more progressive responses on the climate crisis, job creation, and immigration reform.
While the Democratic platform announced last week that “Americans believe that diversity is our greatest strength,” the Republicans are announcing this week that Donald John Trump is their only strength. No dissenters from the one true faith allowed.
Unlike last week’s Democratic convention, which featured Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders—the runner-up in an actual contest for the nomination of an actual party—and several other maverick voices, the Republican speaking schedule for this week’s convention consists of Trump family members, like screaming Donald Trump Jr.; Trump family hangers-on, like screaming Kimberly Guilfoyle; Trump congressional allies, like screaming Matt Gaetz; and Trump-friendly “everyday Americans,” like Patricia and Mark McCloskey, the St. Louis homeowners who pointed guns at Black Lives Matter protesters in June. And, of course, on the first night, and the second night, and the third night, and the fourth night, the elder Trump himself. On Monday, Trump flew into North Carolina during the day and then beamed into the virtual convention with a prime-time hanging-around-the-White-House video chat with folks who told the president just how very much in awe they are of… the president. Trump got the first word and the last word, and plenty of words in between. Most of them were ominous, including a claim that “the only way they can take this election away from us is if it’s a rigged election,” and an admonition to his camp followers: “Don’t let them take it away from you.”
While the Democrats featured every one of their party’s living former presidents—Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama—the only living former Republican president, George W. Bush, has no place on the Republican convention speaker list. Why? Because Bushes can’t be counted on to sing Trump’s praises—in person, or virtually. The same goes for 2012 Republican presidential nominee and US Senator from Utah Mitt Romney, who has not been forgiven for voting to remove Trump from office during last winter’s impeachment process.
The roll call of delegations at Monday’s scaled-down Republican convention in Charlotte, N.C., where 336 delegates (out of 2,550) gathered in a partisan “semi-bubble,” gave new meaning to the term “idolatry.” Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick announced his delegation’s unanimous consent to the president’s renomination by declaring Trump to be “the only hope that every American in this country has for true liberty and true freedom and true opportunity.” In case anyone missed the point, Patrick concluded by shouting, “God bless you, Mr. President.”
The verbal hagiography got so fevered that the chair forgot to call on the “Equality State”—“Sorry, Wyoming.” When the hero-worshipping was complete, it was announced that Trump had won 2,550 votes, and then everyone applauded.
Convention organizers gave no explanation for how former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld, who won 450,000 votes from states across the country for his primary challenge to Trump, was not afforded the delegate vote he won in Iowa. For those following at home: Party rules require that candidates win a plurality of the delegates in at least five states in order to be nominated. Weld won 9 percent of the vote in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Nebraska; 10 percent in Vermont; and 13 percent in Maryland. That didn’t cut it; Weld wasn’t nominated, and his name was written out of the history of the 2020 Republican National Convention convention.
Unfortunately for Trump, it’s easier for him to manage a pliant Republican Party than it will be for him to manage the electorate heading toward a November election in which the polls suggest he is trailing Democratic challenger Joe Biden.
And unfortunately for the Republican Party, it doesn’t have a platform to stand on.