“Whom the Gods Would Destroy, They First Make Mad”

[This piece ran as a newspaper op/ed in late May, 2023]


As If Possessed

I recognize that the developments in our complex world can be profoundly unpredictable. Chance events and the eruption of invisible forces can shove the world onto some unexpected track.

Nonetheless, it seems a good bet that the Democrats have the wind at their backs — as we move toward the 2024 Elections — because the Republicans have put themselves on a strategically disastrous course.

The Republican Party seems unable to act rationally: although it seems driven by a lust for power, it also seems unable to follow strategies well-designed for achieving power.

The 2022 Elections sent the Republicans a clear message: the majority of Americans reject the crazy MAGA direction.

But the Republicans have flagrantly disregarded that message.

We can see that in the way the Republican majority in the House of Representatives is presenting itself. Like someone “possessed,” the House Republicans have chosen to go all out to accentuate precisely what the majority in the 2022 election rejected. Despite the majority voting against the more crazy and fascistic MAGA nominees the Republicans nominated in 2022, the Republicans in the House put their craziest and most fascistic members in charge. (The likes of Jim Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Green.)

The less crazy majority of House Republicans could have prevented that outcome. As Kevin McCarthy was selling his soul to the most MAGA element, in order to become Speaker, they could have at least threatened to make common cause with the Democrats.

But they just stood by while the Face of their Party got defined by foolish conspiracy theories, outright falsehoods, political stunts, and allegiance to a leader who’d driven the Party into a string of elections disappointing to the GOP.

Political madness of a kindred sort was displayed by the recent conduct of the Republicans in the Tennessee legislature. Having all the power, the Republicans had nothing to gain from trampling on their weak opposition in flagrantly un-American ways. But, in the apparent grip of something that overpowered rational calculation, those Republican indulged themselves in actions that pretty predictably resulted in strengthening their opponents and bringing national and international opprobrium down on their own heads.

In that same “they can’t help themselves manner,” the Republicans are responding self-destructively to the changed politics on abortion. Despite the election returns in states as different as Kansas and Wisconsin, showing how large and activated is the majority to oppose the banning of abortions, the Republicans – far from stopping with the unpopular overturning of Roe v. Wade — have been criminalizing abortion ever more stringently at the state level (and arranging for a Texas judge to ban an FDA-approved drug that can be used in abortion).

Once again, in a nation where voters give power and take it away, the Republicans seem driven to go ever-further in a direction that the majority of the electorate opposes.

Again, there comes to mind the word “possessed.”


Tying Themselves to a Sinking Rock

When it comes to the question of who will be the Republican standard-bearer in 2024, the Party appears similarly determined to choose a losing strategy.

Not only are “normal” conservative Republican candidates nowhere to be seen among the likely scenarios, but more specifically it seems increasingly close to certain that the Republican nominee will be Donald Trump—who lost in 2020 and gives every sign of becoming ever weaker with the overall electorate.

In the wake of Trump’s Manhattan indictment, the Republican base – and Republican officials – rallied around him. Meanwhile, Trump’s indictment — by a grand jury of regular citizens –weakened Trump with the American public at large.

Only 25% of Americans now see Trump in a positive light.

And this decline of Trump’s electoral strength is likely to only get worse, as other indictments are piled on — particularly as the cases in Georgia and with the Special Counsel highlight Trump’s having committed the most serious crimes in American history.

The Republicans are hurtling toward an election where their chosen standard bearer will be a candidate a growing majority of Americans seem increasingly inclined to reject.

(With winner-take-all primaries, Trump’s major chunk of the Republican base seems all-but-sure to suffice to defeat the multiplicity of rivals for the nomination.)

The Democrats will doubtless have their own vulnerabilities in the 2024 election. But the public will likely regard them as more easily overlooked than the risks of returning to power a man who has already shown he’ll use presidential powers to assault American democracy.

Political actors normally strive to win support from a majority of voters. That’s how elections are won, and winning elections is how political parties gain power.

It’s not normal for a political Party to double-down on what the evidence says is a losing strategy for getting such majority support. But, in a whole variety of ways, that’s what the Republicans seem to be doing.

The Republican conduct brings to mind the famous line from Euripides: “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.”

The Basic Race

To the extent that the Republican strategy is sane, it boils down to their attempting to institute minority-rule faster than majority-rule can strip them of power?

The evidence (from recent elections around the nation) suggests that the Republicans will lose that race.

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