When Donald Trump ran for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 2016, many top Republicans shunned him. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) confidently explained how Trump was “not going to change the platform of the Republican Party, the views of the Republican Party… we’re much more likely to change him.” He even admitted, “it’s pretty obvious he doesn’t know a lot about the issues.” McConnell alluded to Trump’s racism in vague terms, saying, “I object to a whole series of things that he’s said—vehemently object to them. I think all of that needs to stop… these attacks on various ethnic groups in the country.”
But as soon as Trump won the Electoral College and was declared the winner of the 2016 race, McConnell set to work to ensure he could make full use of the newly elected president regardless of Trump’s continued spouting off of dangerous lies and hateful claims. The Senate majority leader was happy to see the seating of ultra-conservative Supreme Court justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and most recently Amy Coney Barrett. He went on an unprecedented spree to remake the federal judiciary into one that is dominated by white conservative men, young enough to reshape legal decisions for a generation. He pushed through a massive tax reform bill that disproportionately benefits the wealthy, allowing almost no room for debate over it. He ensured the Senate turned into a “legislative graveyard,” refusing to even consider hundreds of bills passed by the House of Representatives, thereby ensuring that most policy changes during the past four years were shaped by the president’s executive action.
Three years into Trump’s term, McConnell still had not had enough, relishing the power that his position in the Senate gave him to enact his conservative agenda. When the House impeached Trump in late 2019 over a clear case of corruption and abuse of power, McConnell led the 2020 Senate acquittal of Donald Trump. It matters little whether McConnell admits Trump is unfit for office a mere handful of days before the president’s term ends. He used Trump for four years, subjecting the nation to a mad, would-be-dictator, unhinged and unrepentant in his relentless abuses. Senator McConnell owes the nation an explanation. Was it worth it?
Although he is the highest-ranking elected official to enable Trump, McConnell is hardly alone among his Republican colleagues to have engaged in a deal with the devil. The transformation of Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) from Trump critic to sycophant is even more dramatic.
In 2016 Cruz criticized Trump more than any of his fellow lawmakers, calling Trump “a narcissist at a level I don’t think this country’s ever seen” and accurately saying Trump is “a pathological liar.” He adeptly explained, “he doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies… in a pattern that is straight out of a psychology textbook, he accuses everyone of lying.” It was a stunning piece of foresight into the next four years of Trumpism. Cruz went further, saying, “Whatever lie he’s telling, at that minute he believes it… the man is utterly amoral… Donald is a bully… bullies don’t come from strength; they come from weakness.”
Similar words were uttered often during the past four years—by Democrats, liberals, progressives, and the tiny handful of Trump’s Republican critics. But once Trump held office, like McConnell, Senator Cruz saw fit to make use of the “amoral” president to suit his agenda, transforming himself into one of Trump’s most ardent Senate loyalists. Seemingly forgetting his scathing and accurate critiques of Trump, Cruz became a MAGA-cheerleader, saying, “President Trump is doing what he was elected to do: disrupt the status quo… That scares the heck out of those who have controlled Washington for decades, but for millions of Americans, their confusion is great fun to watch.” In return for his allegiance, Trump campaigned for Cruz in Texas during a tenuous Senate reelection battle, and Cruz returned the favor by defending him vehemently during Trump’s first Senate impeachment trial.
Most recently, Cruz led the push to object to the 2020 election results. He repeatedly echoed Trump’s demand to “stop the steal,” a slogan that became a rallying cry at the Capitol riot in Washington, D.C., on January 6 that left at least five people dead. Now Cruz faces accusations alongside Trump of fomenting an attempted coup and encouraging the violent rioters. His aides are abandoning him, and the chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security has recommended that he be placed on the FBI’s “no-fly” list. Like McConnell, Cruz owes the nation an explanation for his backing of a destructive demagogue who has left the nation and its democratic institutions battered and reeling. Has it all been worth it for the Texas senator?
Over the past two decades, Republicans have developed a well-deserved reputation for fighting by any means necessary in order to advance their agenda. They have abandoned norms, traditions and ethical standards. They have successfully retained power by rigging the rules governing elections and laid the groundwork of baseless assertions of “voter fraud” that Trump then built upon to claim he won the 2020 race. They have led a cultural shift convincing many Americans that popular progressive policies are the dangerous ideas of the “radical left,” and spawned media outlets that deliver lies and propaganda to an unsuspecting base of voters.
After the Capitol riot, an unnamed senior Trump official appeared shell-shocked, saying to a reporter, “This is confirmation of so much that everyone has said for years now—things that a lot of us thought were hyperbolic. We’d say, ‘Trump’s not a fascist,’ or ‘He’s not a wannabe dictator.’ Now, it’s like, ‘Well, what do you even say in response to that now?’”
But this late-breaking realization that many Republicans are expressing publicly or feeling privately is not enough to absolve the dirty deal that they made with Trump to further their agenda. The GOP and Trump deserve one another and have maintained a symbiotic relationship that has devastated the nation. Whether leading GOP figures like McConnell try to distance themselves from Trump at this late-breaking hour, or like Cruz, remain loyal to him until the very end, is irrelevant. The party has lost credibility and is lying in a bed of its own making. They have edged us far too close to the abyss of Hitlerism, and like political parties in other nations that have flirted with or enabled fascism, Republicans need to answer for what they have done.
This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.