The Republican Party Continues Down The Authoritarian Dictatorship Road Under Trump

Heather Cox Richardson

As predicted, last week was an important one for the Republican Party.

The Republicans’ rebuttal to the State of the Union on Thursday stayed in the news throughout the weekend. On Friday, independent journalist Jonathan Katz figured out that a key story in it was false. Senator Katie Britt (R-AL) described a twelve-year-old child sex trafficked by Mexican cartel members, implying that the young girl was trafficked because of President Joe Biden’s border policies.

Katz tracked down the facts. Britt was describing the life of Karla Jacinto, who was indeed trafficked as a child, but not in the present and not in the U.S. and not by cartels. She was trafficked from 2004 to 2008—during the George W. Bush administration—in Mexico, at the hands of a pimp who entrapped vulnerable girls. Jacinto has become an advocate for child victims and has told her story before Congress, and she met Britt at an event for government officials and anti-trafficking advocates.

Britt’s dramatic delivery of the rebuttal had already invited parody and concern about the religious themes she demonstrated. The news that a central image in it was a lie just made things worse. “Everyone’s f*cking losing it,” a Republican strategist told The New Republic’s Ellie Quinlan Houghtaling. “It’s one of our biggest disasters ever.”

On Friday, the Republican National Committee (RNC) voted to replace former RNC chair Ronna McDaniel, who resigned effective Friday, with Trump loyalist Michael Whatley and Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump. They will co-chair the organization and have made it clear their primary goal is to put Trump back in the White House. 

Friday night, on Newsmax, Donald Trump Jr. recorded a video announcing that the old Republican Party “no longer exists outside of the D.C. beltway…. The move that happened today…that’s the final blow. People have to understand that America First, the MAGA movement is the new Republican Party. That is conservatism today.”

Just what that means was crystal clear on Friday night, when Trump hosted Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán at the Trump Organization’s Florida property, Mar-a-Lago. The darling of the radical right, Orbán has spoken at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and hosted former Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson, and his policies inspired the anti-LGBTQ+ legislation Florida governor Ron DeSantis has championed.

The right wing’s fondness for Orbán springs from his having rejected democracy and replaced it in Hungary with what he calls an “illiberal state.” Orbán and other far-right leaders working against democracy maintain that the central principle of democracy, equality before the law, undermines society. It permits immigration, which, in their minds, dilutes the “purity” of a people, and it requires that LGBTQ+ individuals and women have the same rights as heterosexual men. Such a world challenges the heteronormative patriarchal world traditionalists crave.

Orbán’s takeover of the press, elimination of rival political parties, partisan gerrymandering, capture of the courts, and control of Hungary’s government are not just ideological, though, but also economic. Corruption and the capture of valuable factories and properties for cronies have allowed Orbán and his allies to amass fortunes. 

“There’s nobody that’s better, smarter or a better leader than Viktor Orbán. He’s fantastic,” Trump said on Friday. Trump said that Orbán simply says, “‘This is the way it’s going to be,’ and that’s the end of it, right? He’s the boss and…he’s a great leader, fantastic leader. In Europe and around the world, they respect him.”

On Saturday, Republicans in Oklahoma County, Oklahoma, censured Senator James Lankford (R-OK) over his work negotiating the border security measure. In January, state Republicans claimed they had passed a resolution “strongly” condemning Lankford; others said the vote for the resolution was “not legitimate and definitely does not represent the voice of all Oklahoma Republicans.” 

Lankford is a far-right senator whom Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) tapped to represent the Republicans in the negotiations. House Republicans had demanded the border security measure before they would allow a vote on a national security supplemental bill that funds Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s invasion.

Because the Democrats are desperate to fund Ukraine, they were willing to give up things they had never laid on the table before, including a path to citizenship for those brought to the United States as children, making the bill that emerged from the negotiations strongly favor the Republican position on immigration. The Border Patrol Officers’ union, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal all endorsed it.

But the House Republicans’ demand for a border measure appears to have been an attempt to kill the national security supplemental bill altogether. As soon as it became clear that there would be a deal, Trump came out against it. He demanded that Congress kill the measure, and his loyalists agreed.

Lankford, who had helped to produce the strongest border measure in years at the request of the nominal head of the party, has now been censured because he crossed Trump.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, Biden signed into law one of the consolidated appropriations bills that must be finished to fund the government. The other must be finished by March 22. 

Biden has continued to ride the momentum built by Thursday’s State of the Union speech. His campaign has released a number of advertisements, and today he was in Georgia, where the largest political action committees representing communities of color—the AAPI Victory Fund, the Latino Victory Fund, and The Collective PAC—endorsed him and pledged $30 million to mobilize communities of color to vote in 2024.

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