For years I’ve been talking about the phrase, the title of an article by Slate’s Will Saletan: The GOP is a failed state and Trump is its warlord. Like a good poem I’ve come back to it again and again and found new levels to its meaning. The key point Will was getting at was that the fractures in the GOP, its ungovernability, institutional breakdown and extremism had made it possible for an outsider to wrest control of the whole thing by ruling only a chunk of it.
This dynamic was presaged in the Republican House from 2011 where the Republican caucus was dominated by three or four dozen hard-right lawmakers who eventually lead Speaker John Boehner to resign in despair and relief. Paul Ryan succeeded Boehner because this ‘Freedom Caucus’-plus faction lacked anything near the numbers to win a House leadership race. But they didn’t have to and perhaps didn’t even want to. They could run the party from outside the leadership. Trump’s innovation was to ape this faction and take over the party from the populist right. He was characterologically in tune and quickly made himself ideologically in tune. There was some hard going at first and breakage underneath the tires. But everyone else eventually fell in line for the same reason the party’s far-right wing got its way in the House.