I have written many times here, and remarked in semi-public forums, that Donald Trump's election in 2016 marked the collapse of our political system, since neither party could find a candidate who could defeat a dishonest, intellectually challenged and infinitely ambitious demagogue. I had naturally hoped that his sound defeat by Joe Biden in the last election might mark the restoration of a sound political order. I was wrong. The imminent purge of Liz Cheney from the leadership of the House of Representatives (which will almost certainly be followed next year by the loss of her seat in the Republican primary), the flood of new state laws designed to make it possible for Trump or another Republican to win their electoral votes in 2024 even if they once again lose the popular vote, and the blatantly fraudulent recount of Maricopa County that is now taking place in Arizona leave no doubt that we face a grave new political threat. The Republican Party remains the personal fiefdom of Donald J. Trump, and it is enforcing uniformity and loyalty to an unprecedented degree in American politics. It is also reinforcing its absolute rule in a significant number of states. The next two elections, I think, will trigger new constitutional crises. And unless Donald Trump is convicted of a serious crime in the next three years--and perhaps even if he is--the 2024 Republican nomination appears to be his for the asking.
The Democratic base now consists of two groups: well-educated liberal professionals, and urban minorities It no longer includes significant numbers of midwestern industrial workers or farmers who made up part of its base from the 1930s into the 1970s. Thus the Democratic Party is no longer competitive in 21 states of the union. In states including Ohio and Wisconsin, Republicans control much or all of the state government and have used gerrymandering to cement their power. They will do the same this year and next in response to the recent census.
And the Republican leadership, such as it is, is now paying the price for the establishment of primaries in the first two-thirds of the twentieth century. Primaries came along in an era of progressive consensus, when the differences between the parties were relatively narrow. Now, in an era of unprecedented partisanship, they guarantee victory for the most extreme Republicans almost all over the country. Donald Trump remains the idol of those Republicans. Mitch McConnell drove the nail into the coffin of the Republican Party as a responsible organization (though not necessarily as a successful one) last January when he decided not to round up enough Republican Senate votes to convict Donald Trump of high crimes and misdemeanors--even though he knew he was guilty. He evidently thought he didn't have to worry about him anymore. He was wrong.
Having been busily working my way through the whole of American political history for the last 14 months, I can say with some confidence that no party has ever been quite so monolithic as the Republicans right now. In the wake of the Civil War the Radical Republicans controlled Congress but they could not prevent about half a dozen Republicans from voting to acquit Andrew Johnson in 1868 and saving his presidency. The post-civil war Democratic Party came closer. Not a single one of its members in Congress voted for either the 14th or 15th amendments. Many Democrats had supported the war for the union, but none of them, at that point, supported racial equality. Their leadership however was relatively weak because much of it was discredited by its equivocal attitude during the war. From 1868 through 1884 their presidential candidates included three New Yorkers and one union general, in an effort to broaden their appeal. There is not the slightest chance that today's Republican Party will nominate such a candidate in 2024.
Nor is there any precedent that I can think of for the imminent purge of Liz Cheney. Twice in my lifetime, in 1959 and in 1965, House Republicans voted out their leader by narrow margins, with Charlie Halleck defeating Joe Martin the first time, and Gerald Ford dethroning Halleck the second. Both of those changes, however, followed disastrous electoral defeats, and neither turned on ideology. The Republican Party made significant House gains last fall, and is poised to take over the House again in a year and a half, but that isn't making it any more latitudinarian.
In the states they control the Republicans are busy passing legislation to make it possible for Trump, or possibly another Republican, to steal electoral votes in the way that he could not do last fall. This is not merely a question of making it harder for urbanites to vote, or giving Republican poll-watchers more opportunity to intimidate voters at the polls. Those measures could, and should, be effectively countered by Democratic organization. They are also giving Republican legislatures the right to make the ultimate judgment, in their states, of who has won. And right now, the Arizona Senate has authorized a recount of Maricopa County--Phoenix and the surrounding area--by a partisan Trumpist organization. If it finds an 11,000-vote discrepancy--as it may very well do by some fraudulent means--it will become Republican dogma that Trump really won that state, and others in which a similar recount has not been attempted. On his new blog, Trump has already referred to himself as the President of the United States.
For the second time in our history, our great crisis (1861-8 or so, and 2001-to the present) has left us with a deeply divided, evenly balanced political system. In both cases that has favored an extraordinary growth in corporate power. In the first case, it was not possible, ultimately, to restore functioning democracy throughout the country, since black voters in the south lost their votes. Our democracy is ow hanging by a thread, with one major party showing no interest whatever in its fair and impartial functioning. For decades now, Democrats have hoped that Republicans might recover their sanity, as Democrats see it, and accept a common vision of the 21st century. It hasn't happened--and it isn't happening now.