'Republican Mob' Was Once an Oxymoron, Now It's a Reality | Opinion

The world is fascinated by Donald Trump, but I am not. Trump is Trump: a hyper-well-known, mostly transparent and utterly mundane personality. I am fascinated by his supporters, those astonishing Republicans who chose a sketchy and flamboyant real-estate developer to be president of the United States in 2016, stuck close by him through thick and thin and now endorse his claim of an international plot to steal the 2020 election.

As the Trump presidency ends, it is clear that a majority of Republicans have abandoned their party's historic policies and temperament.

Policies: As then-House speaker Paul Ryan put it, Trump won in 2016 because he "heard a voice out in this country that no one else heard." Trump rejected significant elements of the previously dominant movement conservatism in favor of a folk nationalism in the tradition of Andrew Jackson. Nicholas M. Gallagher explains in National Review: "Jacksonians characteristically emphasize anti-elitism and egalitarianism while drawing a sharp distinction between members of the folk group and those outside it."

Domestically, Jacksonians are tough on crime, espouse traditional social views and want government aid for themselves. Internationally, they are nationalist ("MAGA") and support a strong military but reject nation-building or paying for a U.S.-led global order. Trump's dismissal of traditional conservative positions was clearest in his economic protectionism and his hostility toward European allies.

Temperament: Before Trump, Republicans of different types (country-club, social conservative, libertarian, Jacksonian) near-universally agreed on a code of behavior that emphasized civility, maturity, morality, rationality and tradition. Democrats were ever the hotheads, Republicans the adults. Contrast the Democrats' 1968 riot on the streets of Chicago with the Republican chaos within the Detroit convention hall in 1980. Occupy Wall Street protesters engaged in obscenities and defecated on a police car while their Tea Party counterparts remained polite and law-abiding.

But decades of Leftist dominance over education, the media, the arts and the "deep state" left a great number of Republicans bad-tempered. Out with the old code of civility—outrage, impatience, anxiety, defiance, anger and pugnacity now rule instead. Despising the Left so vehemently, many Republicans wave away Trump's personal faults as "fake news" and cherish his luridly vulgar, egomaniacal personality as a sign of authenticity and effectiveness.

capitol hill riot
Crowds gather outside the U.S. Capitol for the "Stop the Steal" rally on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Robert Nickelsberg/Getty

Ronald Reagan popularized the Republicans' 11th Commandment, "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican," but Trump's supporters cheered his taunts of rival primary candidates ("Little Marco Rubio," "Lyin' Ted Cruz") and even his mocking John McCain for bravely enduring five years in a North Vietnamese prison ("He's not a war hero.... I like people who weren't captured"). They revel in Trump's attacks on the government and the media, celebrating them as indispensable to resisting the Left's depredations. The most extreme showed him fidelity by punching opponents at rallies and storming the Capitol.

"Republican mob" was once an oxymoron. Now it's a reality.

Rather than esteem the electoral process, with its sacred if informal concession speeches, the mob in 2020 developed baroque conspiracy theories about election fraud. A legal case presented to the Supreme Court of the United States claimed the statistical improbability of Joe Biden's victory to be minuscule—1 over a number with 60 digits. Rejecting the learned conclusions of judges and the considered opinion of conservative analysts, the mob dismisses Republicans who deny its fantasies as RINOs and weaklings.

I know this first hand, as I have been called those names and worse for the crime of suggesting that Trump face reality and concede the election. How glad I am not to be running for office, for woe to Republican politicians who speak this truth, as the galvanized mob will end their careers.

The mob's emergence raises deep questions. Does it mark a momentary aberration or a seismic change? Might it split the Republican party? What should one make of seemingly fantastical talk about a conservative secession?

No one knows, but the world's oldest democratic republic faces an internal danger—especially when the far Left is surging—potentially greater than at any time since the Civil War, one that can degrade domestic life and radically reduce the country's global influence.

Personally, I can imagine belonging to a Jacksonian party, but not to a Republican mob. Until something that resembles my Republican Party comes back, this conservative will remain an independent.

Daniel Pipes (DanielPipes.org, @DanielPipes) joined the Republican party in 1972, served in four Republican administrations, and quit the Republican party in 2016. © 2021 by Daniel Pipes. All rights reserved.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.