Erick Erickson, a leading voice of the American conservative movement, lashed out last week at the protesters who have pushed states across the country to relax pandemic-induced restrictions. “When,” he wrote, “did the conservative movement get filled with a bunch of whiny little bitches? Muh freedom! They are making me wear a mask. OMG I can’t go get drunk at my favorite restaurant. Give me liberty or give me coronavirus. Good grief. You people are grifty whiners.”
It was full-on assault on Trump supporters, the kind barely seen from within the ranks of the GOP since those voters stormed the barricades and seized control of the Republican Party four years ago. Early on in the primary season, two-thirds of Republicans told pollsters they could never vote for Donald Trump. But they came around, perhaps telling themselves at the time, ‘what could go wrong, what’s the worst that could happen?’ In the intervening years, there have been periodic moments of buyers remorse — such as in the wake of Charlottesville, and the President’s stammering unwillingness to condemn Nazis marching in an American city — but by and large, Republicans who ultimately voted Trump into office have stuck by the President.
Erickson, on the other hand, was a Never Trumper from the outset and he stuck to his guns. The former editor-in-chief of the RedState blog and a prominent talk show host, he publicly branded Trump a racist and a fascist, and declared that he would “not vote for Donald Trump. Ever.”
It did not last. Apparently, everyone has their price, and the devout evangelical concluded last year that tax cuts, Neil Gorsuch, and moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem were a fair trade for giving the racist fascist a second term. “We cannot have the Trump Administration policies without President Trump” Erickson concluded — a view that Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz might disagree with — as he endorsed Trump’s reelection bid.
In his Twitter tirade — posted on May 8th and subsequently deleted — Erickson went on to lambast those parading around state capitols bearing semiautomatic weapons and packing into restaurants and bars in defiance of public health edicts in language that seems particularly salty for one of the nation’s leading evangelical intellectuals. “There’s a global pandemic and the same president whose leg you like to hump has wanted you to shelter in place. Is your Cheeto Jesus wrong now? Rebel against him. Except you can’t. Because you’ve traded your values for a cult of personality and suddenly realizing the price you have to pay for a cult of personality where you’ve traded ideas for grift and Twitter bitching.”
Erickson may badly want to believe that it was the President’s supporters who were acting out, but actually it was Erickson himself. Far from wanting his supporters to shelter in place, Trump has consistently conveyed his disdain for state shelter-in-place orders, wearing masks and the like. Everyone — except, it appears, for Erick Erickson — understands full well that those pushing governors to end those orders, defying public health edicts, and flocking to restaurants and bars, are doing so with the President’s full-throated support.
Erickson’s rant was a triumph of self-delusion. The simple truth is that Donald Trump has not changed one iota from the man Erickson decried as a racist and a fascist four years ago. Nor have his followers. Those grifty whiners rallying against stay-at-home orders across the country are the foot soldiers of the Trump revolution. They are the ones who carried his banner from the Birther days. They channelled each other’s rage and resentments as Trump bent the GOP to his will in 2016. Indeed, complaining about the unfairness of the world — the subject of literally hundreds of Trump’s tweets over the past few years — is perhaps the core emotional bond that binds President and his followers. Everything is someone else’s fault.
If Erickson likes the gifts that President Trump has bestowed upon him, it is to those whiny little bitches that he should show some gratitude. Perhaps the source of Erickson’s bitterness is the realization that he has become one of them. If anyone traded their values for a cult of personality, it is he.
Racism and fascism aside, Erickson’s central complaint from the beginning was that Donald Trump was never really a conservative, that it was just a persona that he adopted for political purposes. And, of course, he was right. The raucous applause for the President at his annual appearances before the Conservative Political Action Conference never reflected Trump’s standing as a movement conservative, but rather the radical transformation in the meaning of the word “conservative” in our political lexicon. Once defined by a belief in small government, private enterprise, free markets, traditional values, and personal responsibility, it has come to be defined by Donald Trump’s nativist isolationism, and whatever else he might utter or tweet in the moment.
With nearly 100,000 dead, only the most devoted of Trump’s followers can fail to have misgivings about his capacity to lead. Those Republicans who fell in line — and who have relished the tax cuts and other goodies that came their way — have now gotten the answer to the question, ‘what could go wrong, what’s the worst that could happen?’ He did not stumble into a war with North Korea or Iran, as many of them feared. They looked aside in the wake of Charlottesville, and regret each new moment when a Black man is killed jogging down the street, fearing how he might respond. They wish the man would stop tweeting. All that, as Erickson suggested, was ok; it was the price to be paid to get what they got. But not this. There is still no coordinated federal response to the pandemic in sight, there is still no leadership and there is no hope of moral uplift in our time of greatest urgency.
“I am proud to be a conservative…” Erickson concludes, “and deeply, deeply embarrassed by the whiny little shits bitching about the end of freedom as we know it… Can I get back a conservative movement that actually cares about ideas and is willing to litigate for freedom instead of crying on Twitter?” The answer, Erick, is no. That conservatism is dead. Going forward, it will be all Trump all the time, until this era passes. Those who believe otherwise are deluding themselves. Those whiny little shits? They are the conservative movement.
If Erick Erickson is beginning to have second thoughts about supporting the President, he should hold onto his hats, because it is only going to get worse. A lot worse. Faced with polling data that shows his campaign losing ground in key states, we have yet to see the worst of Donald Trump. In the face of a rising body count and data suggesting that older voters are abandoning him, Trump is already escalating his rhetoric in an effort to whip his base into a frenzy.
Forget outreach to the center, or perhaps setting political considerations to the side until after Labor Day to lead the nation through troubled waters, this is going to be a base election. And it starts now. This weekend, the Trump boys gave us a glimpse of what lies in store as the President seeks to have the election be about anything other than his own performance. Donald Jr. — the President’s lead surrogate to his hardened supporters on the right — launched an attack on Twitter and Instagram accusing Joe Biden of being a pedophile. Eric — seen by some as the kinder, gentler Trump — followed with an appeal to those on the conspiracy fringe, reiterating the claim that the entire pandemic was a Democrat ploy to kill his father’s reelection bid. Pedophilia and conspiracy theories? We have seen this movie before.
Like many other Republicans, Erickson has a decision to make; a decision about the future of the nation, and about his own integrity. As Anthony Scaramucci, Trump’s former communications director, described it the other day, each of those Republicans has to come to grips with the compromises they have made to rationalize their support of this President. “You either come out on the other side with your dignity and your personal story intact, or you are reformed as Trump compost and you are fertilizer under his shoe. You have to make a decision, and it happens to everyone.”
Follow David Paul on Twitter @dpaul. He is working on a book, with a working title of “FedExit! To Save Our Democracy, It’s Time to Let Alabama Be Alabama and Set California Free.”
Artwork by Joe Dworetzky. Check out Joe’s political cartooning at www.jayduret.com. Follow him on Twitter @jayduret or Instagram at @joefaces.