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Donald Trump is not on the ticket this November, but Trumpism very much is. Candidates who have been created by Trump’s caustic anti-democracy movement are already making their way through the Republican primaries. Trumpism is turning sleepy statehouse races into terrifying referendums on free and fair elections. While it’s impossible to know just how those races will shake out, Trumpism is clearly subsuming the Republican Party. It’s like a strung-out version of the Tea Party, with more George Wallace and shades of Florida Man. Trumpism is equal parts nationalism, light fascism, nepotism, and mean tweets rolled up into a profoundly nihilistic governing style with a dash of the Dunning-Kruger effect. It’s important not to understate how central racism is to Trumpism. (The famous lines with which he announced his presidential candidacy are worth repeating: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best … They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”) Trumpism is a movement amplifying the Republican Party’s basest instincts.
But Trumpism also undermines some of the Republican Party’s most cherished values, like free-market capitalism. Trump loves fighting with businesses that displease him. Call it capitalism for my cronies but not for thee. Ron DeSantis has embraced this ideology of anti-capitalist capitalism. The Florida governor went from fighting a cruise line about vaccine passports to fighting with Disney about “Don’t Say Gay.” Republicans, of course, only seem to be antibusiness when the businesses in question push back on Republican governance—or make convenient straw men in the culture war. Trumpist Senator Ron Johnson has railed at big tech companies for “censorship on COVID-19” and being “a tool for Big Brother.” The idea that the base will get excited seeing politicians fight with corporations is like an homage to Trump’s brand of demented populism.
Adding to the irony, venture capitalist and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel is funding two Trumpy anti-big-tech Senate candidates, J. D. Vance and Blake Masters, both of whom have worked in venture capital. As Catherine Rampell wrote in The Washington Post, “Republicans in Congress have likewise tried to use antitrust enforcement and other government levers to punish companies whose public stances on voting rights or internal policies on content moderation they dislike.”
Lying is, of course, a cornerstone of Trumpism. Trump’s Georgia Senate pick, Herschel Walker, told the following story during one of his 2017 motivational speeches: “And all of a sudden I started going to the library, getting books, sitting in front of a mirror reading to myself. So that Herschel that all the kids said was retarded become valedictorian of his class. Graduated University of Georgia in the top 1 percent of his class.” It turns out that Walker didn’t graduate from Georgia at the top of his class. In fact, according to CNN’s KFile, he didn’t graduate from college at all. Telling a lie again and again is one of the Trumpiest things a candidate can do. Trump still claims he won Michigan’s “Man of the Year,” which is unwinnable, because it doesn’t exist.
Misogyny is another trope of Trumpism, ergo, previous violence against women isn’t disqualifying. Missouri Senate candidate Eric Greitens, who resigned from the Missouri governorship amid allegations of sexual misconduct, among other things, has had Kimberly Guilfoyle work on his campaign. Trumpy Pennsylvania Senate candidate Sean Parnell recently dropped out his race, but not immediately after allegations of domestic violence surfaced—only when his estranged wife was granted sole legal custody of their children.
Another trope of Trumpism? A profound lack of loyalty. Two of Trump’s earliest supporters, both from Alabama, have gotten the cold shoulder: Former U.S. Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, the first sitting senator to endorse Trump, was spiked from Trumpworld for recusing himself from the 2017 Russia investigation. Representative Mo Brooks, who told the January 6 “Save America” rally that “today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass,” was rewarded with an endorsement that was later withdrawn, Trump announcing in his usual thoughtful and serious cadence, “Very sad but, since he decided to go in another direction, so have I, and I am hereby withdrawing my endorsement of Mo Brooks for the Senate.” That other direction? As Brooks later said at an Alabama town hall, “As a lawyer, I’ve repeatedly advised President Trump that January 6 was the final election-contest verdict, and neither the United States Constitution nor the United States code permit what President Trump asks. Period.”
One of the worst tropes of Trumpism? Recycling, and not the kind you do with paper and plastic. Trump is constantly reaching back into a swamp-y group of has-beens to pluck out new allies. On Sunday night, he endorsed Sarah Palin, the woman who ruined Elio’s for many of us, in her run for Congress, saying in a statement, “Sarah shocked many when she endorsed me very early in 2016, and we won big. Now it’s my turn!” Palin, of course, was Trump before Trump, so this endorsement is a marriage made in reality-television heaven. You might remember that Palin resigned her Alaska governorship before the end of her term, saying, “I know that I know that I know that this is the right thing for Alaska.” Palin would be right at home with Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Madison Cawthorn.
Democrats may be exhausted and frustrated by their party’s lack of deliverables, and some might try to comfort themselves with the knowledge that Trump isn’t on the ticket for these midterms. But Republicans are focused on installing Trump loyalists from Michigan to Arizona, and Trumpism is a full-throttle attack on democracy and the state levers that make it run. Trump may not be on the ticket, but a plethora of Trumps are.