As is usually the case after one of Donald Trump’s acts of depravity, the insurrection at the Capitol he whipped up on January 6 was followed by hand-wringing among the GOP establishment and forecasts of the political reckoning surely awaiting the party. The former president’s poll numbers took a downturn. Some Republican voters began turning their backs, as did corporate donors. And among its leaders in Washington, there was talk of electoral doom if it didn’t change its ways. “There is no way we can go down that rabbit hole again,” Representative Nancy Mace, who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign, told the New York Times in January. “We have to rebuild our party.”
But America has a short political memory: Trump’s numbers quickly rebounded and the doom and gloom gave way to buoyancy, with Republicans deciding that they could keep doing what they’re doing and save themselves some soul searching if they simply scheme up some ways to keep people from voting. Establishment types like to warn that loyalty to Trump equals political downfall. “The GOP will remain in the wilderness” until it moves past him, the Wall Street Journal wrote in an editorial last month. But the uncomfortable fact is that Trumpism is bad for America, not necessarily for the GOP. It may put some stress on leaders like Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy, who have sometimes struggled to appease both the MAGA and comparatively moderate wings of the party. But that uneasiness may be worth it to them if it means holding onto a rabid GOP base.
Case in point: Grassroots donations to Republicans skyrocketed in the wake of the Capitol insurrection, with the Republican Senate and House campaign operations raking in nearly $16 million in small-dollar donations in January—outpacing Democrats by more than $2 million, according to a Reuters analysis published Tuesday. Senator Josh Hawley and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, two of the biggest proponents of Trump’s election-theft conspiracy, each brought in a windfall after helping to instigate the attack. Hawley, who with Ted Cruz led the Senate challenge to Joe Biden’s victory, received $969,000 in donations in January—eight times as much as he raised the same month in 2020—and Greene raised nearly $350,000 in just two days in February, right before she was stripped of her committee assignments for her malicious conduct and prodigious conspiracy theorizing. “Thank you to every single America First Patriot who donated to protect my Congressional seat from the Democrat mob,” Greene tweeted after hauling in $175,000 on February 4, adding, “They are attacking me because I’m one of you.”
Republicans, of course, are not one of “you,” even though they are going to great lengths to brand themselves as such. But they have recognized the extent to which conspiracy, grievance, and culture war animus animates their supporters and have learned, after four years watching Trump, that the reckoning for rousing the most ignoble parts of their base never really comes. There is comfort in believing that doubling down on Trumpism will lead the GOP to ruin. But there is great incentive for Republicans to embrace the former president and keep crossing lines on his behalf—particularly for a party looking to turbocharge its grassroots fundraising operation after getting clobbered by Democrats in donations in the 2020 cycle.
In an ideal world, attacking the foundations of democracy would be reprimanded. In the topsy-turvy world of Republican politics, though, it may be rewarded. “You are seeing a hardening of support for Trump,” Republican fundraiser Dan Eberhart, who’d initially expected the ex-president’s support to collapse in the wake of the January 6 riot, told Reuters. “The grassroots are as charged up as ever.”
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