Thursday, December 28, 2023

Straussian collapse, feral disinformation, and the increasingly ineffectual GOP Establishment

See here and here (both from 2017) for our previous Straussian thread, in particular, this.

At some point though (I suspect inevitably), a couple of things happen. First, the believers become leaders. This is become blindingly obvious with Trump, but the children of Fox News have been in control of the party since at least 2010 and the roots go back further. Remember how Dick Cheney insisted while traveling that all hotel televisions be tuned to Fox News?

The second, and possibly more dangerous problem is that a propaganda-fed base has no capacity to self correct, rather it continues follow unsustainable paths that only gain momentum, often exacerbated by ratcheting mechanisms. Soon you reach a point where, even if the leaders accurately perceive the situation and realized the best solution, they can no longer reconcile that reasonable course of action with what the vast majority of their supporters have been told to believe for decades.

For anyone trying to make sense of American politics in these strange days, the good people at This American Life have put together an absolutely essential show about the intra-party turmoil in the Michigan State GOP. Even if you have no interest in the subject, TAL Remains the gold standard for this kind of long form radio journalism and this episode is no exception, but if the current state of the Republican Party and its implications for the nation is something that you've been struggling to understand, this hour will fill in a lot of gaps. 

Glass spells out the basic set-up with remarkably direct, spade = spade language.

Ira Glass

And-- maybe you saw this coming-- Karamo wins. She becomes the head of the Michigan Republican Party, the outsiderist, the grassroots-ist-- not for nothing, the Christianist. And in picking Karamo, Michigan Republicans were saying, basically, what we want as a party is somebody to lead, who, A, believes the election was stolen, and B, has no connection to any establishment political machinery of the past, which is all corrupt.

That kind of purity test is something that you see a lot among Republicans right now. In the House of Representatives in Washington, so many political fights are basically between Republicans who don't want to compromise at all, and everybody else. You see this in other Republican state parties in swing states-- Arizona, Colorado, Georgia. But no state party has taken the flying leap off the cliff that the Michigan Republicans have.

Spoiler alert: It turns out that alliances of election deniers motivated by anger, paranoia, and conspiracy theories aren't all that stable. Throw racism, islamophobia, and purity filters into the mix and things only get worse.

Michigan is one of the largest purple states in the Electoral College. It is very much not a place that the Republicans want to go into 2024 with a dysfunctional and broke organization. 

Listening to what followed, I kept getting flashes of older revolutions that turned ugly. I'm not the history guy here at the blog, but there were moments that felt so familiar, the smallness of the players contrasted with the grand historical moments they saw themselves as key parts of, the rapid formation of factions, each convinced that they were the ones who carried the true message of the revolution, the viciousness and distrust when things fell apart.

Zoe Chace

This is the problem with the coup Warren's trying to pull off. It's the problem that was baked into Karamo's version of the party from the start. This group of people all agree on some basic issues-- election fraud, less immigration, no gun control, abortion is murder, don't tell me when to wear a mask, don't tell my children what to read, and the rent is too damn high.

But what's brought them all together running this party is their lack of trust in any kind of political leadership. They are a very suspicious, conspiracy-minded group. And that's how they look at everything, including each other. Of course they can't agree on who the real enemy is of the cause they all actually believe in.

Warren Carpenter

You lied! You're a liar! You're a liar!

 [You really have to hear this to get the full effect.]

 The segment also illustrates how the once near total control that donors and the Republican establishment held over the party has waned since the rise of Trump.

Zoe Chace

Mark Forton is one of those who wanted a complete break with how it used to be. And how it used to be was that the head of the party was a super-rich Michigan guy, real estate mogul Ron Weiser. In the last few years, the party yearly budget has been something like $20 million, a chunk of which came directly from Weiser, and mostly one other rich family in Michigan-- the Devoses.

Mark Forton

We knew that if the grassroots took over the state party, that the big shooters would go. Not all of them, but we knew the DeVos family would go and Mr. Weiser would go. They're all globalist. They're all part of the same great, big mess that Michigan's in-- you know, bringing in the Chinese, battery factories. So I mean, we know they're globalists.


Trump, particularly Trump's story of a stolen election, plays a huge in the identities of of these people, most of whom seem to have become active since 2016, many as recently as 2020.

Zoe Chace

Warren comes off antagonistic right from the beginning, and a little manic. What he's just done-- leaking documents to the press about Kristina-- it's a big deal, though.

Zoe Chace

How are you? You got a lot going on?

Warren Carpenter

Well-- [LAUGHS] It's like you didn't read the news or something.

Zoe Chace

"It's like you didn't read the news or something," he says. That morning, the morning we spoke, September 29, Detroit News reporter Craig Mauger, an eminently fair and lightning-fast journalist, published a write-up of all the documents Warren had sent him.

The article begins, "The Michigan Republican Party had about $35,000 in its bank account in August, according to internal records that flashed new warning signs about the dire state of the GOP's finances." This is followed shortly by a quote from a former state GOP official-- "These numbers demonstrate that the party isn't just broke, but broken."

Warren is also extensively quoted in the article, which is a big betrayal of Kristina, talking to a journalist who, in her view, is just in league with the establishment trying to take her out. Warren says he dabbled in Republican politics before this movement took off, worked on a statewide campaign over 10 years ago, but not much since then, until Trump.

He loves Trump, calls him Big Daddy, and had that school board come-to-Jesus so many Republicans did around the COVID protocols-- masking in schools kind of thing. He went to January 6 after he thought he saw the election get stolen. Says he didn't go inside the Capitol, but he had such an intense experience there, that not long after, he had a mental breakdown, as he puts it.


Functional institutions will have mechanisms in place, some explicitly spelled out others implicit but still effectively in place, that will keep most of the incompetent, disloyal, and crazy out of leadership positions. When these mechanisms break down, the institution becomes a danger to itself and often to others.

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