This week I’m doing something new. Rather than having a guest every time, I’m going to begin sometimes doing an audio monologue about issues of the day. You can give me feedback on whether you like the new format.
Last night saw Trump’s expected blowout victory in the Iowa caucuses. Since the polls were almost exactly on point, we don’t have to really update anything in our model of the world. Rather, I’m going to take this opportunity to share some thoughts on the Trump movement, namely the relationship between the really crazy people, who I’ve come to think are truly in control, and more educated and normal Republicans going along for the ride.
People talk about the Trump cult as the core of the party, and the rest as either anti-Trump or Trump-friendly and persuadable. That division is mostly correct, but one thing that is overlooked is how and why the Trump-friendly middle group always ends up supporting him in the end, and never decisively breaks against him.
In this podcast, I explore what I call Bullying Grandma Syndrome, which refers to the ways in which the QAnon supporters and Trump NFT-buyers are setting the tone of the Republican Party. This is a moral and aesthetic nightmare, and has the potential to be an electoral one too, though I’m not too sure about that part. Bullying Grandma Syndrome explains why Trump is almost certainly going to be the 2024 nominee, and the theory implies that, if the former president loses the general this time, he’ll still be the favorite to be the GOP candidate in 2028 and maybe even beyond that.
I’ve had a long record of predicting Trump’s continuing hold on the party. In spring of 2021, I said he was going to be the nominee in the aftermath of January 6 when people were counting him out. I’d actually been arguing Trump would be the 2024 nominee before he even lost in 2020, but I don’t have a public record of that. For a few weeks after the 2022 midterms I thought that DeSantis had a shot, but saw how he was afraid to criticize Trump, realized that his grip on the base was solid, and quickly went back to arguing that the Florida governor didn’t have what it takes. In June of last year, I said the DeSantis campaign was close to over and he needed to throw a Hail Mary by challenging Trump to a physical fight. He didn’t, and instead continued to feed the narrative that American politics was a Manichaean struggle between Trump and the forces of darkness.
I’m not sure that there’s anything anti-Trump Republicans can actually do. The Bullying Grandma wishes we could go back to the 1950s, wants Trump to execute imaginary pedophiles, and takes her hero both literally and seriously. The modern right-wing intellectual’s understanding of her is worse than that of any liberal, but without realizing it he has surrendered his agency to her whims. He doesn’t believe Dominion voting machines were hacked, but social media censorship basically means the election was stolen, right? And maybe it’s hard to believe all the stuff under #DiedSuddenly, but they’ve lied to us so much, who’s to say what is true and what isn’t? The Bullying Grandma is driving the car and normal Republicans are only coming along for the ride. Hopefully, Trump can at least cut taxes, bust some unions, and defend Israel along the way.
Me versus Rob Henderson and Zach Goldberg on blacks and white liberals
Washington Post exit poll
The Economist on Trumpism as a religion
There are two AI-generated transcripts of the monologue, and readers can pick which one they prefer. The first you can get by scrolling below, where I added headings, and the other is a tab built into the Substack platform, which tracks the audio. Neither has been checked for accuracy.