The Corker-Flake GOP Mutiny Is Also a Trump-Bannon Purge

More eerie American-Israeli parallels as right wing ruling party radicalizes, eliminates moderates, succumbs to leader and kowtows to fundamentalists

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Republican Senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker.
Republican Senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker.Credit: STAFF/REUTERS
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Washington is experiencing a political intifada, the likes of which has never been seen. Republican senators, senior and distinguished, are savaging their new president in harsh words that would make a radical liberal blush. John McCain, Bob Corker, Jeff Flake and a few others, best and the brightest of a once-proud party, are warning the world about Donald Trump’s dangerous recklessness, his defective personality, his shameful behavior and the danger that he poses for the world’s security and American democracy. On the face of it, it might seem as if Trump is losing control of his party’s lawmakers.

But it’s just a mirage, a fata morgana. If there is an uprising in the GOP, Corker, McCain, Flake and their old-school Republican colleagues aren’t its perpetrators, but its victims. Their outspoken attacks on Trump aren’t an opening shot but a closing bell, a swan song by those who know their fate has been sealed. The nationalistic, populist and often racist masses that picked Trump as the Republican candidate, against the wishes of the party leadership, and then conquered the White House for him, contrary to projections and polls, are besieging Trump’s critics, intimidating them and demanding their heads. They want a real revolution, not cosmetic changes.

The difficulties encountered by Trump in trying to ram his agenda through Congress has only fueled the burning wish of his voters to torch the GOP’s genteel country club and to erect in its place bunkers and battle stations that will be manned and womanned by ruthless commandos who take no prisoners and for whom Trump’s failure is not an option. Those reluctant to dance to Trump’s tune will be cast aside and replaced others.

In spoken Israeli one would say that Corker and Flake, along with the ailing John McCain and the young Nebraskan Ben Sasse - who is lucky enough to come up for reelection only in 2020 - along with the dwindling number of other conscientious Republicans are like the many upstanding politicians sidelined and squeezed out by the Likud, such as Dan Meridor, Roni Milo, Benny Begin and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. Their loyalty to the state and its institutions, their adherence to basic rights, democratic procedures and coolheaded policies, their refusal to succumb to Benjamin Netanyahu’s personality cult and their unwillingness or inability to fend off his unending tricks and shticks are like a mirror image of the Republicans who are currently facing political annihilation.

Once removed, the deposed Likud aristocracy was replaced by politicians far more arrogant, ignorant and belligerent, such as Culture Minister Miri Regev, Coalition Leader David Bittan and others. Some of them were even made from the same cloth as Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for Senate in the upcoming special elections in Alabama, who won his primaries despite the millions poured in against him by the GOP establishment and despite being a fanatical fundamentalist who believes that 9/11 was divine punishment, that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the U.S. and that some areas in the country are already under Sharia law. Moore even won despite the fact that Trump had endorsed his rival. Forgive him, said Trump’s energized voters, for he knows not what he’s doing. We know better what’s in his best interest.

This popular insurrection started long before former presidential adviser Steve Bannon decided to anoint itself as its leader. The pent up energy that is now bursting forth has been building up for 30 years, ever since the mid-70’s, when right wing populism helped put Ronald Reagan in the White House at the same time that Jerry Falwell established the Moral Majority and built the foundations of a powerful Evangelical political force. The collaboration between social conservatism and religious fundamentalism deepened during the puritanical witch hunts against Bill Clinton in the 1990s. Then the national-religious coalition underwent extreme anti-Islamic radicalization in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which also instilled a new fervor among Christian believers about approaching End Days and redemption.

The two right-wing allies had to lay low during the latter half of George Bush’s presidency, as the country turned against him and his wars. Then the world of most white ethnic nationalists turned upside down when Obama was elected President, an event viewed by believers as divine punishment and a victory for heretics and by white nationalists as an ongoing attack on their sanity and senses. Obama’s years in the White House created a racist, poisonous, distilled kind of hatred that released right wing demons that had been long dormant and concealed from view. As the party’s old guard deliberated whether to appease the demons or oppose them, the Tea Party took over and then came Donald Trump and now it’s his former adviser Steve Bannon. 

Bannon recruited himself to channel the pent up rage of the masses into an effective and focused campaign against the GOP establishment that he detests. Bannon wants to assume the role of party kingmaker who calls most of the shots in the primaries leading up to the November 2018 elections. Bannon has and will continue to maintain a complex love-hate relationship with Trump. He serves as his sidekick and accomplice until Trump periodically suspects that Bannon is stealing his thunder. Bannon, for his part, thinks that Trump presents a historic opportunity to degrade and destroy the Grand Old Party and to replace it with a crack team of right wing radicals who won’t flinch at making foundational changes. Even if the revolution started without him, Bannon and his eccentric billionaire benefactors want to ride it now and complete it.

Trump and Bannon would have no chance of succeeding were it not for the rear booster provided by Evangelicals for their populist putsch. The Evangelicals view Trump as God’s instrument to save America from its godless liberals and the damage they’ve wrought over the past 50 years. Although there are expressions of discomfort on their fringes, most Christian fundamentalists devoted themselves to getting Trump elected, despite his insults and stains, and they support him today even more, despite his conduct and faults. Like the Israeli ultra-Orthodox parties, they know on which side their bread is buttered on and from whom they stand the best chance of extracting the most concessions.

Away from the nosy eyes of the media, Trump has already started to fulfill some of the Christian right’s most fervent wishes. He is using executive decisions and regulations to dismantle or neutralize procedures and institutions established by liberals that were meant to safeguard the right to abortion, equality of LGBT members, voting rights and more. Trump is also trying to blur the line between church and state, as most Evangelicals want, but to carry out truly revolutionary change that will make America more Christian and less constitutional - the concurrent trends in Israel and the U.S. are often astonishing - the revolutionaries will need a jacked up Congressional conference that will follow Trump wherever he happens to lead. Just as they were undeterred by his faults and transgressions, Evangelicals are unlikely to scrutinize the piety and saintliness of the new cadre of radicalized senators and representatives, as long as they remain loyal Christian soldiers fighting God’s cause.

Bannon must first get past the November 7 special elections in Alabama, because an unlikely defeat of Moore would cast a chill on the revolution’s momentum. An unlikely GOP victory in next Tuesday’s gubernatorial elections in Virginia, on the other hand, would enhance Trump’s stature and set the stage for an all-out radical assault in the 33 senatorial and 435 House of Representative seats that will be up for grabs. Many Republicans are worried that the infighting could deteriorate to internal civil war and even collapse, but revolutionaries, as is their wont, are more optimistic.

The more the radicals succeed in weeding out the has-beens who haven’t grasped that their future is behind them, as long as establishment types such as Corker and Flake continue to crash and burn, even if they go out with a blaze of glory, so the prospects of a GOP faction that will give Trump endless standing ovations, as most senators did this week, look better and better.  A Republican loss in 2018 could deal a deathblow to hopes of remaking the party in Trump’s image and to increase the chances that a Democratic Congress would impeach him.

But a victory that would be achieved against all odds, despite Trump’s lack of popularity, and notwithstanding the extremism and weirdness of Republican candidates and the all-out, scorched-earth wars that could consume the GOP - such a triumph could pave the way for the revolution’s success and for irreversible changes in American history.

Much depends, of course, on the Democrats, who, like leftists in other places in the world, including Israel, could succumb to internal bickering, ideological fights and a stable of particularly unattractive candidates. They would miss a rare opportunity to take back Congress and to restore some sanity to America.

The alternative scenario is that America will succumb to a capricious and amoral leader who views himself as a persecuted historical hero. He will be surrounded by legislators that are either nationalist fanatics or accomplished cowards. Together they will purge the very last of the Corkers and Flakes and all the other do-gooders and concentrate on dismantling the values and institutions that have made America what it is today. As if that wasn’t a disturbingly familiar scene for most Israelis.

If they need some expert advice, Trumpkins always be able to turn to Netanyahu, who has already finished the internal purge and is now engaged in undermining the rule of law and changing Israel forever. Netanyahu is also likely to be the only world leader who will applaud the new all-white, nationalistic and reactionary regime in America. In return, perhaps his pals in Congress could finally get around to changing the U.S. Constitution so that he can be their President, like he’s always wanted to.

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