But since prediction is often just an expression of desire, I’ll tell you what I want to happen. Even though the party richly deserved some sort of punishment, I didn’t want the G.O.P. to be destroyed by its affiliation with Trump, because I’m one of those Americans who don’t want to be ruled by liberalism in its current incarnation, let alone whatever form is slowly being born. But now that the party has survived four years of Trumpism without handing the Democrats a congressional supermajority, and now that Amy Coney Barrett is on the Supreme Court and Joe Manchin, Susan Collins and Mitt Romney will hold real power in the Senate, whatever happens in Georgia — well, now I do want Perdue and Kelly Loeffler to lose these races, mostly because I don’t want the Republican Party to be permanently ruled by Donald J. Trump.
Obviously, a runoff-day defeat won’t by itself prevent Trump from winning the party’s nomination four years hence or bestriding its internal culture in the meantime. (Indeed, for some of his supporters it would probably confirm their belief that the presidential election was stolen — because look, the Democrats did it twice!) But the sense that there is a real political cost to slavishly endorsing not just Trump but also his fantasy politics, his narrative of stolen victory, seems a necessary precondition for the separation that elected Republicans need to seek — working carefully, like a bomb-dismantling team — between their position and the soon-to-be-former president’s, if they don’t want him to just claim the leadership of their party by default.
That kind of Trump-forever future is what Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz and others are making possible, with their ambitious pandering. Hawley and Cruz both want to be Trump’s heir apparent (as though he doesn’t already have several in his family), but the deeper they go into the Trumpian dreampolitik, the more they build up the voter-fraud mythos, the more likely it becomes that they’ll just be stuck serving him for four more years — or longer.
So there needs to be some counterpressure, some sense that dreampolitik has costs. And defeat for two Republicans who have cynically gone along with the president’s stolen-election narrative, to the point of attacking their own state’s Republican-run electoral system, feels like a plausible place for the diminishment of Trump to start.
I don’t think that diminishment is necessary to save the American republic from dictatorship, as many of Trump’s critics have long imagined, and with increasing intensity the longer his election challenge has gone on. Whatever potentially crisis-inducing precedents Republican senators are establishing this month, the forces and institutions — technological, judicial, military — that could actually make America into some kind of autocracy are not aligned with right-wing populism, and less so with every passing day.
But Trump’s diminishment is definitely necessary if the American right is ever going to be a force for something other than deeper decadence, deeper gridlock, fantasy politics and partisan battles that have nothing to do with the challenges the country really faces.
Or to distill the point: You don’t have to see Trump as a Caesar to recognize his behavior this month as Nero-esque, playing a QAnon-grade fiddle while the pandemic burns. We imported at least one of the new variants of the coronavirus from overseas in the past few weeks — like the pandemic itself, the kind of thing a populist-nationalist president is supposed to try to slam the door against — but instead of shutting down flights from Britain or South Africa, he’s been too busy pushing the stupidest election challenge in recorded history, while slipping ever-closer to blaming the lizard people for his defeat.