Editorial / July 3, 2024

The Grand Old Party of Liars

Republicans aren’t even trying anymore, as they cover for their dear leader, Donald Trump.

John Nichols for The Nation
Donald Trump arrives at a rally in Chesapeake, Virginia, on June 28.(Photo by Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images)

The most daunting responsibility for followers of an authoritarian ruler is making excuses for when the boss screws up. Unfortunately for the Republicans who have chosen Donald Trump as their 2024 presidential nominee, they are having a hard time keeping up with the chaos that the 78-year-old convicted felon and aspiring dictator is spawning. It’s not that top Republicans have qualms about lying on their candidate’s behalf. They’re more than willing to maintain the cult of personality Trump demands. The problem is that they can’t keep their trumped-up stories straight.

When it was reported in June that Trump told House Republicans that “Milwaukee, where we are having our convention, is a horrible city,” US Representative Bryan Steil, a Wisconsin Republican, declared, “I was in the room. President Trump did not say this.” Yet his Wisconsin colleague Derrick Van Orden, at roughly the same moment, posted on X that Trump “was specifically referring to the crime the CRIME RATE in Milwaukee.” Another Wisconsin Republican, US Representative Scott Fitzgerald, told a local reporter, “What he was talking about was the elections in Milwaukee.” For its part, the Trump campaign claimed the report that Trump had called the convention city “horrible” was a “total lie.” But then Trump said it was “very clear” that he was talking about “terrible” crime, only to claim moments later that he was referring to “the election.” Still stung by the backlash his remark had inspired, Trump made a face-saving trip to Wisconsin and announced, “I love Milwaukee.” Then media outlets revealed that Trump had arranged to stay in Chicago, rather than Milwaukee, during the convention. Trump’s Republican apologists raced back to the spin room, scrambling to embarrass themselves once more in the service of their dear leader.

The real story of what’s become of the GOP won’t be detected in its 2024 platform, which Trump has allowed to be written by delegates this year, after denying them a chance to do so in 2020. Nor will it be found in the transcripts of Trump’s incoherent addresses to the assembled faithful. If you want a full measure of the degeneration of the party of Abraham Lincoln, it is necessary to see how lockstep loyalty to Trump has replaced Republican values, conservative ideology, and whatever modicum of self-respect remained after the moral concessions of the Bush-Cheney years.

The GOP is no longer a political party in any sense that Americans could or should understand. It’s a Big Lie, wherein so-called “leaders” spend more time defending Trump’s lawless behavior—going so far as to show up at his New York trial to bemoan the fact that the justice system was working—than standing up for their constituents or backing programs that deal with the very real challenges of the 21st century. Republicans aren’t even trying anymore. They’re just phoning in their apologias for Trump.

The handful of dissidents who dare suggest that the emperor has no clothes are now so marginalized that for the most part they are, like Utah Senator Mitt Romney, choosing to quit rather than fight. And the few free-thinking Republicans who might fill that void are looking like the Don Quixotes of 2024. In Michigan, for instance, libertarian-leaning former US representative Justin Amash, who once voted to impeach Trump, is challenging the establishment with a Senate bid that rejects cult-of-personality politics and says, “What we need is not a rubber stamp for either party, but an independent-minded senator prepared to challenge anyone and everyone on the people’s behalf.”

Amash is right. But being right doesn’t count for much in 2024, so Amash finds himself running uphill against Trump-backed former House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Rogers. Rogers once condemned Trump as a “destructive” figure who “sounded more gangster than presidential.” Now he’s just another slobbering Trump apologist, claiming he’s “excited” to do the ex-president’s bidding. Like many of his Republican colleagues, Rogers has abandoned his constituents, and his conscience, in order to join Trump’s party of liars. The good news is that they are such bad liars that the truth might just prevail in November.

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John Nichols

John Nichols is a national affairs correspondent for The Nation. He has written, cowritten, or edited over a dozen books on topics ranging from histories of American socialism and the Democratic Party to analyses of US and global media systems. His latest, cowritten with Senator Bernie Sanders, is the New York Times bestseller It's OK to Be Angry About Capitalism.

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