How today's Republican Party reminds me of Minute Maid concentrate
If you're over the age of 30, you probably recognize the iconic black and orange can that sat in so many of our freezers and supermarkets growing up: the
Minute Maid concentrated orange juice can.
Developed in the 1940s to safely ship Vitamin C to our troops in WWII, it was so named because it was, well, made in a minute by adding water and stirring. They're no longer as ubiquitous, but my memories of taking a wooden spoon and water to the thick, syrupy, orange, congealed ice cylinders are as vivid as my brown and other-brown Fischer-Price cassette player and the Pogo Ball I desperately wanted and quickly tired of.
I've thought about orange juice concentrate a lot lately, believe it or not. In conversations with friends and colleagues about the state of Republican politics in America, it strikes me as a fitting metaphor. Where the party was once defined by Lee Atwater's "big tent" — a mix of moderates, the religious right, debt hawks, war hawks, libertarians, etc. — today's GOP looks and acts more like a can of orange juice concentrate.
No longer are the party's leaders interested in adding water to grow it, make it more drinkable, make it last longer and taste better. Rather, the idea is to keep concentrating it to its most potent form, even if that means it's smaller, more sour and harder to stomach.
Of the 293 Republicans serving in Congress when Trump was inaugurated, nearly half of those are gone, or are retiring or resigning. From Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) to Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.), Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) to Rep. Justin Amash (Ill.), lawmakers with reliably conservative voting records were either primaried by Trumpier candidates, left as a result of Trump's pollution of the party or were effectively pushed out.
And some, like Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (Ohio), one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump the second time, cited unrelenting death threats against his family as one reason for his early retirement.
While they were being squeezed out for their lack of fealty to whatever Trumpism demanded in the moment, kooks and quacks like Rep. Lauren Boebert (Colo.), Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), and Rep. Madison Cawthorn (N.C.) were ushered in with varying degrees of open arms.
The systematic hemorrhaging and purging of Republican lawmakers has left the GOP an undiluted coagulation of Trump's worst and most corrosive impulses. The conspiracy theories, the bigotry and white nationalism, the xenophobia and violent populism, the decidedly dumb culture wars over Big Bird and manhood are all that's left now.
The party, unconcerned with facts or reality, no longer bothered with once-trivial distractions like adding new voters, and unencumbered from nuisances like principles, is now free to focus solely on concentrating the base to its purest, most rabid form.
That project is evidenced everywhere the party has influence.
Right-wing media is increasingly purifying. At Fox News, two remaining old-guard conservatives, Jonah Goldberg and Stephen Hayes, resigned over Tucker Carlson's Patriot Purge "documentary," which ludicrously suggests the Jan. 6 insurrection was a false flag. Longtime anchor Bret Baier was asked if he was bothered by the film and admitted, very reluctantly, "You know, I mean, there were concerns about it definitely."
And in an attempt to vie for Trump's supporters, the alternatives to Fox News like Newsmax and OANN are offering a more extreme diet, not a more moderate one.
The Conservative Political Action Conference, once a bastion of conservative thought and policy-making, has become nothing more than a Trumpalooza that's defined more by who it's proudly kicked out. Last year CPAC organizers announced Sen. Mitt Romney was "formally NOT invited." Next year, it's no Sesame Street characters allowed. That's a real thing.
And despite the obvious, which is that Trump lost Republicans the Senate, House and White House in just four years, Republicans seem committed to putting him back on the 2024 ticket.
Trump's job approval has gone from 49% favorable in May of 2020 to 34% in January of 2021.
According to a new Marquette Law School poll, only 28% of voters want Trump to run again, and 71% say they do not.
But concentrating the base has had its intended effect. Trump still has an 86% favorable rating among Republicans; a full 67% want him to run again. Trump leads his next closest rival in a hypothetical 2024 straw poll by 37 points. And President Biden's poll numbers leave much to be desired.
So how does it end? While the Republican base shrinks in size, it cares only about growing more potent inside. This may be a winning strategy in the next election, but I'm betting that in time, like the cans of orange juice concentrate themselves, the GOP strategy will be harder to swallow, and the GOP will be harder to find.
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