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Reviews |  The American Problem by Doug Mastriano

While the Ohio Senate primary two weeks ago helped clarify ideological divisions within the Republican Party, yesterday’s primaries often felt more like a showcase for the distinctive personalities that populate a Trumpified GOP.

The Pennsylvania Senate race has given us a particularly stark mix: As of this writing, the celebrity doctor and the hedge fund guy pretending to be a true MAGA believer could be headed for a recount, after the budding media personality with an inspiring story. and the ill-fated Twitter feed returned to the pack. In the gubernatorial race, Republican voters chose to nominate Doug Mastriano, aka the QAnon Dad. In North Carolina, they ended – for now – the political career of Rep. Madison Cawthorn, the obviously ailing Grifter.

On substance, as opposed to personality, however, the issues of the night were relatively simple: Can Republicans prevent their party from becoming the party of constitutional crisis, with leaders tacitly committed to transforming the next tight presidential election into a legal-judicial-political shipwreck? ?

This is a particular version of a familiar political problem. Whenever a destabilizing populist rebellion is unleashed within a democratic regime, there are usually two ways to bring stability without some sort of crisis or breakdown in the system.

Sometimes revolt can be quarantined within a minority coalition and defeated by a majority. This was the fate, for example, of the populist Prairie Rebellion of William Jennings Bryan in the 1890s, which took control of the Democratic Party but ended in multiple presidential defeats at the hands of more established Republicans. You can see a similar pattern, for now, in French politics, where the populism of Marine Le Pen continues to be isolated and defeated by the widely hated but grudgingly tolerated centrism of Emmanuel Macron.

In the alternative path to stability, the party reshaped by populism finds leaders capable of absorbing its energies, channeling its grievances, and claiming its mantle – but also of defeating or suppressing its most extreme manifestations. This was arguably the path of New Deal liberalism in its relationship to Depression-era populism and radicalism: In the 1930s, Franklin Roosevelt was able to retain the support of voters who were equally drawn to more demagogic characters, from Huey Long to Charles Coughlin. Two generations later, this was the path of Reagan conservatism in its relationship to both George Wallace’s populism and the Goldwaterite New Right.

The problem for America today is that neither stabilization strategy works particularly well. Part of the Never Trump movement has longed for a Macron-style strategy, preaching establishment unity behind the Democratic Party. But the Democrats have not been cooperative: They clearly failed to contain and defeat Trumpism in 2016, and there is no indication that the Biden-era variant on the party is equipped to retain the majority that she won in 2020.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party currently has an interim model for channeling but also containing populism. Essentially, this involves leaning into the culture war controversy and rhetorical pugilism to a degree that provokes constant liberal outrage and using that outrage to reassure populist voters that you are on their side and that they will not don’t need to throw yourself for a conspiracy theorist or January 6 March.

It is the model, in different styles and contexts, of Glenn Youngkin and Ron DeSantis. In Tuesday’s primaries, it worked for conservative incumbent Idaho Governor Brad Little, who easily defeated his own lieutenant governor’s much more right-wing campaign. Next week, the same approach looks likely to help Brian Kemp defeat David Perdue for the Georgia gubernatorial nomination. And that offers the party the only chance, most likely via a DeSantis candidacy, of defeating Donald Trump in 2024.

Unfortunately, this model works best when you have a trusted personality, a known quantity, delivering the message “I will be your warrior, I will defeat the left”. The Cawthorn race, in which the toxic congressman was overthrown by a member of the North Carolina State Senate, shows that this character doesn’t need to be an incumbent to succeed, especially if others State leaders provide unified support. But if you don’t have a unit or a statewide figure of prominence or award as champion — no Kemp, no Little — then you can get results like Mastriano’s win yesterday. night in Pennsylvania: a Republican gubernatorial candidate who cannot be trusted to carry out his constitutional duties if the presidential election were to be close in 2024.

So now the obligation falls to the Democrats. Mastriano certainly deserves to lose the general election, and he probably will. But throughout the Trumpian experiment, the Democratic Party has consistently failed its own tests of responsibility: it has consistently spoken of the threat to democracy while shifting to the left to a degree that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to to hold the center, and he has repeatedly cheered on unfit Republican candidates on the theory that they will be easier to beat.

It happened blatantly with Trump himself, and more unforgivable, it happened again with Mastriano: Pennsylvania Democrats sent letters boosting his candidacy and launched a big publicity buy, more than doubles Mastriano’s television spending, calling him “one of Donald Trump’s staunchest supporters” – a perfectly scripted “attack” line to enhance his mainstay.

Now they have it, like they had Trump in 2016. We’ll see if they can make the story end differently this time.

nytimes Gt

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