Whether or not Donald Trump runs for office again, most conservative voters have swallowed the ideology of Trumpism hook, line and sinker. Nevertheless, a significant percentage of conservatives reject the Big Lie and can be persuaded to abandon Trumpist candidates.
Specifically, 22 percent of Republicans think their party is “moving in the wrong direction” and 25 percent acknowledge that Biden’s victory was “legitimate,” according to a May 2021 Quinnipiac Poll. Similarly, a May 2021 Reuters Poll found that 28 percent of Republicans disagree with the idea that the election was “stolen” from Trump, while 30 percent disagree with the claim that “the January 6 riot at the Capitol was led by violent left-wing protestors trying to make Trump look bad.”
If these 22-to-30 percent of Republicans—or even a slice of them—hold their grip on reality, it could totally realign politics in 2022. Trumpist candidates will surely win Republican primaries because most GOP voters have fallen victim to disinformation, but in many cases those same candidates could be massacred in the general election.
In order to persuade those reality-based conservatives, we need to help them see what Trumpism and Trumpist candidates really stand for. They need to understand that this fairly new ideology has nothing to do with conservatism and, in fact, it’s the opposite of traditional American political values.
Let’s realize first, as recent state legislative sessions prove, that Trumpism doesn’t require Trump. It’s a freestanding nihilist philosophy that has captured the GOP. Just this year, red state legislatures enacted voter suppression, attacked LGBTQ and especially trans people, prohibited teaching about racial injustice, banned requiring both masks and the COVID vaccine, criminalized peaceful protests, protected the drivers of cars that run over protesters, and much more. They did this not because Trump told them to, but because their voters have become radical followers of the three pillars of Trumpism. To wit:
1) HATE DRIVEN BY WHITE GRIEVANCE. The motivating force behind Trumpism is the demonization of any group outside the “in-group,” what’s been called “white identity politics.” The guiding myth is that conservative whites are the victims of racial, ethnic, gender and religious minorities, and the “liberals” who support them. This embrace of grievance and victimhood means that conservative candidates and organizations don’t have to fight for policies that help their group in any meaningful way. Instead, all they have to do is promise to hurt people of color, the LGBTQ community, and others aligned with “liberals.” That’s what “owning the libs” means—hurting people. That’s the only thing Donald Trump actually delivered to his base: the infliction of cruelty and humiliation on supposed enemies. And Trump’s followers were delighted with what they got.
2) LIES UNLIKE ANYTHING IN MEMORY. The main tactic of Trumpism is the shameless invention of lies and the denial of truth. It’s far more than spin and even more dramatic than what we’d call propaganda. It’s Trump (and followers) saying “I never said that,” when videotape proves he did. This fabrication of outrageous lies—that Trump “won” the 2020 election, that Trumpists didn’t cause the January 6 insurrection, that Russia played no role in pro-Trump electioneering, that Trump didn’t do anything wrong in trying to create a Ukrainian scandal, that it was okay for Trump to pressure election officials to change vote tallies, that COVID was not really dangerous, that the QAnon conspiracy theory isn’t nuts, and so much more—is unlike anything in American politics within living memory. It really is only comparable to “the Big Lie” tactics of fascist regimes. And it continues to this day!
3) DESTRUCTION OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY. Trumpism is designed to tear down the American system of government. As we’ve clearly seen, Trumpists are against democracy. They have sought to delegitimize and reverse elections. They’ve convinced most Republicans of massive voter fraud without an iota of evidence, and in fact, a mountain of evidence to the contrary. Their state legislative supporters across the nation have made it harder for Americans to vote. They’ve commissioned completely unprecedented and absurd recounts and “audits.” And it’s not just elections. Trumpists have demonized the free press, an essential part of the American system since our nation’s founding. They’ve demonized government institutions with the baseless idea of a “deep state.” They’ve attacked both peaceful protesters and the very idea of peaceful protest. And they’ve resorted to violence and threats of violence, even against Republican officials, in pursuit of disgraceful unAmerican goals.
The bottom line is this. Over the next 18 months we have the unique opportunity to reach out to about one-quarter of conservatives and make them understand how their political choices have changed. In the overwhelming number of federal, state and local campaigns to come, there will no longer be a choice between what used to be understood as a Democrat and a Republican. It will be a choice between the politics of reality and the politics of hate-fueled fantasy. It will be a choice between a candidate who supports the American system of government and a candidate who is willing to discard our nation’s longstanding values for political expediency.