Republican lawmakers’ deference to President Donald Trump has long been considered evidence that they live in fear of his wrath — a nasty tweet, a humiliating nickname, a campaign against them during election season.
But conservative insiders say it is no longer the president that Republicans fear. It’s his cult-like throng of supporters.
Matthew Sheffield, a former conservative activist who helped found the anti-media website Newsbusters, told The Independent that Trump’s recent push for his followers to abandon Fox News and the refusal of many Republicans to acknowledge that Joe Biden won the election are proof positive that the GOP base is detached from reality and addicted to misinformation.
Sheffield said Trump has such power over the Republican base “because he knows how to stoke the fires of rage that have been lit by talk radio better than anyone else.”
“People like Alex Jones had always had millions of listeners and followers, but Trump brought them into the big tent, and [his supporters] started listening to them,” he said, adding that Trump tapped into a Republican conspiratorial underbelly that had been present since the mid-20th century, but had always been kept at arm’s length by previous GOP presidents.
This embrace of the fringe, he said, has created a truly dangerous situation for American democracy no matter what happens to Trump himself. That’s because it has turned the Republican base into addicts who will seek out a disinformation fix anywhere they can find it if they can’t have their own beliefs confirmed by mainstream sources.
“The inmates have gradually taken over the asylum, and now they’re running the place and the guy who opened the last cell door lock — Trump — can’t do anything about them,” he said. “It’s hard for them to put this back in the bottle — it’s like they have fully opened Pandora’s box.”
Former Tea Party Congressman Joe Walsh made a similar observation, saying that Trump supporters’ move to leave Fox News behind and Republicans’ refusal to acknowledge Trump’s electoral loss show that GOP politicians are most fearful about losing Trump’s base.
“It’s been that way from the beginning — I had Republican House members tell me three years ago: ‘I don’t give a flying f**k about Trump, I just don’t want to cross his voters’ — they have never been afraid of Trump or his tweets,” he said. In his opinion, Trump’s base will continue to believe whatever lie he settles on to explain his loss, and that lie will become Republican dogma because any GOP hopeful will not be able to risk crossing him by acknowledging reality.
Sheffield said donors and media moguls who fund the disinformation machine that Trump exploited also need to bring those on the right back to reality. Those like Charles Koch and Rupert Murdoch must “pull the plug on the old fanaticism machine,” he said.
“The conservative billionaire elites, they built a golem for themselves,” he said, referring to the anthropomorphic monster of Jewish mythology. “And now the golem is turning on them because Trump removed the last shackles that had held it down, and it’s coming to destroy everything,” he said. “Not just them, but the whole country.”
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