Throughout Donald Trump’s captivity of the GOP, many Republicans have held fast to the hope that after he leaves office, the party can return to the sunny Reaganism of the Before Times.
Of course, Trump’s bitter-enders have made it clear that they’d be happy to tear down not just the party but the country itself to avoid having to live in a post-Trump world.
It might have seemed as if we hit rock bottom earlier this month, when the Texas attorney general sued the swing states that decided the election for Joe Biden, demanding to have tens of millions of legal votes erased and the election effectively handed to Trump. More than 100 Republican House members and 17 Republican state attorneys general lent their names in support.
The Supreme Court rejected that idiotic suit, but no rebuke or reason seems to be able to divert this movement from where it’s headed. Allen West, the head of the Texas Republican party, issued a statement after the ruling, suggesting that perhaps “law-abiding states should bond together and form a union of states that will abide by the Constitution.”
After it was pointed out to him that this smacked of secession talk, West made the bizarre claim that “the real perpetrators of secession are the states, and others, named in the suit by Texas, who enacted illegal and unconstitutional actions resulting in the violation of election laws.”
Now, Trump’s team appears to be moving past the election altogether since it has failed spectacularly to alter that reality. Instead, Michael Flynn, the recently pardoned former national security adviser who met with the president Friday night, has been leading calls for martial law to save the Trump presidency.
Over the weekend, Kelli Ward, the head of Arizona’s Republican party, tweeted to assure Trump that Arizona is “working every avenue to stop this coup,” using the hashtag “CrossTheRubicon.” The best defense of Ward is that she has a thumbless grasp of what that phrase actually means: Julius Caesar’s illegal crossing of the Rubicon river with his troops marked the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of Caesarian tyranny.
As dangerous and ridiculous as such talk is, many Republicans still think this is all a temporary fever, a last gasp of Trump’s cynical performative nonsense aimed at venting anger and raising money off his supporters. They think the GOP can still go back to being the party of Reagan.
One reason for skepticism is the latest move by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
Cruz has long been a reliable bellwether for the mood of the broader GOP base, which is why he switched from one of Trump’s biggest critics to one of his biggest supporters—and why he offered to argue the Texas lawsuit before the Supreme Court.
No politician in recent memory has wrapped himself more in Reagan’s legacy than Cruz. He’s read all the biographies, can quote all the big speeches, and has said countless times that he models himself after the Gipper.
So it was revealing that on Friday, Cruz single-handedly scuttled an effort to protect Hong Kongers facing persecution for supporting democracy. The legislation would have offered temporary protected status to Hong Kongers seeking asylum from Chinese authoritarianism and for Hong Kong residents fearful of returning to it. The measure, so uncontroversial that it passed unanimously by voice vote in the House, is vintage Reagan.
“We shall continue America’s tradition as a land that welcomes peoples from other countries,” Reagan declared in his 1981 speech on immigration “We shall also, with other countries, continue to share in the responsibility of welcoming and resettling those who flee oppression.”
Indeed, Cruz issued a statement in June commemorating the 33rd anniversary of Reagan’s Berlin Wall speech, saying “America should remember” that “our principles can tear down walls.” While the Berlin Wall may be gone, he added, “the evils of tyranny still exist today, and nowhere is that more evident than in Hong Kong, where the Chinese Communist Party has moved to crush Hong Kong’s autonomy and strip away their freedoms.”
This Christmas season, Cruz says we cannot lend support to potential victims of that tyranny because giving them temporary protection could be “used by the Chinese Communists to send even more Chinese spies into the United States.” He also suggested that the time-limited, Hong Kong-specific adjustment is really a Trojan horse for the Democrats’ radical approach to immigration.
None of this withstands close scrutiny. But that’s not the point. If Cruz thinks fighting for Reaganite principles is a political loser, that should tell you something about how far we are from a return to Reaganism.