Show me a bully, I’ll show you a crybaby. Few recent events have demonstrated the accuracy of that observation like the caterwauling on the right in response to President Biden’s speech warning voters against “semi-Fascist MAGA Republicans.”
An awful lot of them appear to have gotten their little feelings hurt. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley was prominent among the aggrieved. “He basically called us bad people,” she complained. New York Times columnist Bret Stephens objected that “Biden has decided the best way to seek partisan advantage is to treat tens of millions of Americans as the enemy within.”
Poor babies. It’s tempting to say “Bleep your feelings,” and leave it at that. Republicans whining about Joe Biden’s bad manners? Please.
Besides, the president made it perfectly clear who he was talking about. Not them.
“MAGA Republicans do not respect the Constitution,” he said. “They do not believe in the rule of law. They do not recognize the will of the people.
“They refuse to accept the results of a free election. And they’re working right now, as I speak, in state after state to give power to decide elections in America to partisans and cronies.”
Truth is, the F-word carries little bite any more. Newt Gingrich has been calling Democrats “fascists” for years, starting with Bill Clinton. Tucker Carlson can hardly get through a show without using the word. MSNBC’s Mehdi Hasan posted a Twitter video of Fox News personalities—Carlson, Girgrich, William Barr, White House factotum Stephen Miller, etc.—using it regularly to describe Democrats.
If Biden really wanted it to stick it to the MAGA crowd, maybe he should have turned his speech into a Jeff Foxworthy-like comedy routine.
“If you’ve ever worn MAGA hat to church… You might be a Nazi.”
“If you’ve ever stabbed a cop with a flagpole…”
“If you’ve kidnapped a Democratic governor…”
I could go on.
But Biden wasn’t talking to Trump cultists, he was trying to persuade everybody else what’s at stake. He specifically urged “Democrats, independents, [and] mainstream Republicans” to band together to save American democracy. People like Nikki Haley and Bret Stephens. In other words, conservative Republicans who may inwardly shudder when the Big Man promises to grant blanket pardons to the January 6 insurrectionists, calls Biden himself an “enemy of the state” and denounces Justice Department attorneys and FBI agents as "vicious monsters."
But who keep their indignation relatively restrained.
Patriots, that is, who understand that the United States government isn’t a pro-wrestling spectacle pitting make-believe good against theatrical evil. People who are capable of understanding that the Republican Party started going off the rails at least as far back as the Clinton Administration, when Gingrich compiled his famous list of Manichean insults to be hurled at Democrats--“sick,” “bizarre,” “pathetic,” “traitors,” etc.—and Rush Limbaugh broadcast them to the nation.
What is QAnon, after all, but Jerry Falwell’s “Clinton Chronicles” overlaid with an aura of necromancy and superstition? If a prominent holy man cam depict the president and first lady drug smugglers and murderers, then why not a worldwide conspiracy of pedophiles?
Me, I didn’t start getting hate mail and death threats from crazy people when Trump took office, but when Clinton did. The more lurid the allegation, the greater some peoples’ need to believe it. The professional wrestling crowd, that is. And a very large crowd it is.
And then came Fox News, a 24/7 propaganda operation superficially resembling a news broadcast: anchormen, streaming headlines, blondes on couches, etc. A Donald Trump, basically a pro-wrestling shill on steroids, was bound to arrive. Alas, he turned out to be infinitely more reckless than the politer sorts of Republican imagined.
What’s more, when Trump finishes self-destructing—or equally likely, dies in the saddle—another would-be strongman will surely come along.
By this time, the MAGA audience demands one.
Unless, that is, Joe Biden can persuade a clear majority of voters to reject Trumpism at the polls, and by so doing help the Republican Party save itself. That’s what his “semi-Fascist” speech was all about. If Biden can turn the 2022 mid-term elections into a referendum on Trump (instead of on himself, it’s fair to say) then the Republican Party may be able to begin healing.
Early indications are that it could be working. A Reuters/Ipsos poll taken a few days after Biden’s Pennsylvania speech showed a majority of Americans agreeing that Trump’s MAGA movement represents a unique threat to American democracy. 58 percent of respondents, including 25 percent of Republicans, see Trumpism as a danger to the constitution. Fully 60 percent of Republicans say they don’t think the MAGA movement represents a majority of their party.
How political parties heal is by losing elections. If President Biden can pull this off, the Bret Stephens and Nikki Haleys of the GOP will owe him more than they’ll ever be willing to admit.