By Lee Harrison, member, Democratic State Committee, former chair, Berkshire Brigades
Recently, Bill Kristol – the Republican thought leader – tweeted this: “Doesn’t the pathetic GOP accommodation of Trump mean that the GOP after Trump’s defeat will be the Vichy government after D-Day?” For once, I agree with him.
In 1940, after the Nazi victory over France, Marshal Pétain set up a fascist regime in the town of Vichy that actively collaborated with Germany, enabling some of the worst atrocities in that country. It was known as the Vichy Government.
Incredibly. Today. In America. We are seeing a reflection of that treachery among Vichy Republicans, who enable Donald Trump’s lies, threats, boorishness, racism, and treasonous behavior through their continuing support for his candidacy. Without their support, his anti-American campaign would crumble, placing Trumpism – with all its echoes of 1930s Germany – in the dustbin of history.
At the top of the list of Vichy Republicans are Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, Majority Leader of the U.S Senate, and Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Indeed, on Aug. 9, Ryan shrugged off Trump’s latest outrage – a suggestion that gun owners take action to prevent a President Hillary Clinton from appointing judges – as a “joke gone bad.” Former CBS anchor Dan Rather had another take: “By any objective analysis, this is a new low and unprecedented in the history of American presidential politics,” Rather wrote. “This is no longer about policy, civility, decency or even temperament. This is a direct threat of violence against a political rival.”
He’s right, of course. You might expect this reaction from Democrats or experienced journalists, but Trump’s year-long attack on our 200-year-old democratic process is finally turning some Republican stomachs, too. For instance, Joe Scarborough of “Morning Joe,” an early Trump enabler, has jumped ship, as has Maine Republican Senator Gail Collins, and 50 former national-security officials in Republican administrations.
But the list of Vichy Republicans is still very long. It includes former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, along with the ever-expanding New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the increasingly bizarre former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former “maverick” Arizona Senator John McCain, a host of Tea Party Republicans, and astonishingly, Jeb!’s son, George P. Bush.
It also includes GOPers who try to have it both ways. They criticize Trump from one side of their mouths, yet voice support for him from the other. New Hampshire Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte – who is in the fight of her political life against Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan – is a classic example. Even after Trump’s statement suggesting violence against President Hillary Clinton, Ayotte reaffirmed her support, saying, “I’m going to be voting for our nominee.”
To explain how the Party of Lincoln lost its moral compass, one first must accept the fact that the GOP has devolved into nothing more than a long con.
“The modern GOP was in essence built around a strategy of harnessing racial resentment to sell right-wing economic policies,” says New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. Since 1968, when Richard Nixon developed his “Southern Strategy” to take advantage of Southern racists’ anger at the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, Republicans have been conning white, working-class Americans into voting for the GOP by pretending to care about their economic plight. In 1980, Reagan followed Nixon’s strategy into the White House, promising that his “Voodoo,” trickle-down economic policies would benefit American workers. Instead they began the massive shift of American wealth to the top 1% that has stymied wages for 30 years. The two Bushes just continued the con.
Obama’s had some success in fighting back – notably overseeing the best job growth since Bill Clinton’s time. But “Obama Derangement Syndrome” – the inability of Republicans to deal rationally with the first African-American President – has pushed GOPers over the edge. They even shut down the entire federal government for 16 days in 2013 in a futile attempt to strip funding from Obamacare. Without a doubt entropy is increasing in the Republican Party, so you shouldn’t be surprised that Donald Trump is their candidate, or that Vichy Republicans still support him.
“The main thing holding the party together is [Speaker] Ryan’s willingness to tolerate the nominee’s racism and authoritarianism out of blind faith that Trump will sign the House GOP agenda into law,” The New Republic said recently. Krugman calls this behavior “despicable.” I call it the logical conclusion of 30 years of Republican drift into the abyss – and Vichy is all that remains.