My son wrote a few days back that he was disappointed that more Republicans in Congress aren’t speaking out and taking action against the president’s incitement of a riot Jan. 6. I share his disappointment, but not his surprise.

Over the last four years, Donald Trump has effectively neutered the Republican Party. He’s built a loyal base of support among the most agitated far-right elements of the country. These people have long yearned for exactly the kind of strong-man leader that they see in Trump, and who has taken them out of the shadows. Along the way, he’s outmaneuvered and driven out most of the party’s pesky moderates and independent thinkers, and left the Republican Party in the hands of the weak, the fearful, the opportunistic and the criminal.

The reason we can’t expect elected Republicans to suddenly find the backbone to stand up to Trump is that fear paralyzes, and the Republican Party is awash in fear right now.

If you’re thinking that this will all change in a few days, when Joe Biden becomes president, you might want to reconsider. Donald Trump is going to be a destructive and dangerous force on the far right for as long as he is able. His pulpit will become smaller, surely, and his audiences will shrink. But he isn’t going away.

Trump now controls the Republican National Committee. He has plenty of far-right propaganda machines eager to be exploited, along with unlimited access to funds. And he’s made himself a hero, if not a martyr, in the places where neo-Nazis, white nationalists and militias are growling.

Trump has shown that he has both the skill and the willingness to keep those groups agitated, allowing them to dream that they can turn back the clock and overthrow the country. He’s also become a master of the tools most regularly employed by autocratic leaders throughout the world and history: verbal threats, political threats and, now, violence.

Trump employs verbal abuse as though it were a first language, regularly unleashing fast-moving storms of ridicule and disdain at any Republican who dares stray. When that hasn’t proved sufficient, he has directly threatened elected officials with removal, promising to support an opponent in the next primary election, where his far-right supporters, and the generally agitated, have a stranglehold on the party.

Those taunts and threats have almost always succeeded, for Trump, and even turned many “never-Trumpers” into something resembling docile pets. But in Trump’s current drive to overturn the election, taunts and political threats haven’t been enough. So he’s pulled the third and final tool out of the bag: physical intimidation and violence.

Of course, Trump doesn’t employ violence directly. He simply calls out the dogs to surround his enemies, barking and baring their teeth aggressively. As was the case Jan. 6, if the opportunity presents itself, they’re free to bite their frightened targets, but that’s entirely up to them. That is what we were seeing in the Capitol building, and what we were hearing when the insurrectionists were yelling to “hang Mike Pence.”

This is the new Republican Party that Trump has brought to life, and that too many Republicans abetted, for as long as it served their interests, which was winning over all else. Now, they’re being held hostage by the monster they unleashed, hiding in a basement bunker of their own making, immobilized. All of which has led to this: Republicans have lost the House of Representatives, the Senate and the presidency in just two years.

Until Republicans regain control of their party from Trump’s iron grip, the party will continue its downward spiral. Whether Republicans choose to stick with Trump or stand up to him, a period of internal strife within the party is all but guaranteed.

What America urgently needs is a vigorous response to the growing threat posed by militias and other anti-democratic groups, and a return to sanity, decency and common sense in our public life. Because of the “Trump problem,” those are all things that Republicans simply cannot deliver right now.

There is a way out for Republicans, but it requires a courage they haven’t recently displayed. Get rid of Trump, now, while you can. Join Democrats in supporting impeachment. If you can’t do that, at least support invoking the 14th Amendment, which will  bar Trump from ever holding federal office again.

Both of those things will begin the process of repairing the heart and soul of a once-proud party that has lost its way, and protecting the constitution and the country when it matters most.


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