Note that the calls for a “purge” of the FBI and DOJ are becoming more explicit, actually using the word “purge” and moving from the right-wing publications to sitting members of Congress. A small part of this is simple partisanship, what threatens the leader of your political party is bad and needs to be attacked. But what we’re seeing goes far, far beyond that and can only be explained by the Republican right’s broader embrace of authoritarianism, which both predates Trump, accounts for his rise and has in turn been accelerated by his presidency.
This point is critical to remember. Trump’s flouting of democratic norms during the campaign was a core element, perhaps the core element, of his appeal. Support for Trump certainly wasn’t in spite of this. Nor was it incidental. We focus on Trump’s antics. They remain erratic and unbridled. But equally important, probably more important, is the absence of any overriding respect for the rule of law or democratic norms among his supporters. Functionally that means the entire Republican party, even if individual Republican officeholders may express a muted displeasure.
Rand Paul now seems to be on board with the anti-“deep state” critique of the Russia probe and the FBI. So does Lindsey Graham. It’s not that I see either man as a paragon of democratic virtues. But neither was a major or conspicuous Trump supporter. And neither seems particularly in need of his support for their own political future. Paul isn’t up for reelection again until 2022. They’re falling in line as Trump-True members of the GOP is a sign of the degree to which allegiance to Trump personally is now the standard of membership in the GOP. For months pundits claimed that the success of tax reform, rather than cementing Trump’s political power in the GOP would actually be his undoing since Republicans would no longer have any need for him.
This was always a flawed reasoning. Republicans never ‘needed’ Donald Trump. A big tax cut was probably easier – certainly no less difficult – with a Jeb Bush or a Marco Rubio or any other 2016 Republican on offer. Republicans rallied to Trump because their voters demanded it. The current moment confirms this. Republicans got their tax cut. Far from slackening, their loyalty to Trump, not just in conventional political terms but against the criminal justice system itself is intensifying.