That Republicans have been fleeing Washington in droves since Donald Trump was elected is not new news, but a Washington Post analysis tallies the most recent departures and it’s ... a bit shocking.
Since Trump was inaugurated, reports the Post, "[N]early 40 percent of the 241 Republicans who were in office in January 2017 are gone or leaving because of election losses, retirements including former House speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.), and some, such as Mitchell, who are simply quitting in disgust."
It's not just that Trump has ushered in a new era of Republicanism: He's ushered in a whole new Republican Party. And what the Post doesn't say but we can is that almost all of the Republicans who have entered office since Trump took over are, by definition, party members who are more willing to defend and help cover up Trump's behavior than the Republicans who "retired" or "quit in disgust."
We really are seeing a national party decay before our eyes, a party in which anyone with a modicum of seriousness is pushed out, willingly or not, and replaced by people with an even stronger commitment to obsessive Dear Leaderism. The hangers-on, like Ben Sasse, can barely pretend at the supposed resistance they pretended at before.
But this was the intention, and nobody can say they didn't see it coming. Adherence to the party line, even if it resulted in nonsensical arguments and the dumping of even the most longstanding prior ideologies, is the Fox News model of Republicanism. House Republicans seized on conspiracy theorizing as a unifying motivator for the base; House hearing rooms were soon filled with claims and theories lifted from chain letters and dodgy websites. Rules were rewritten as needed, from judicial nominations to Supreme Court appointments and deficits were bad, then good, then bad, then good, then ignored. The same Republican voices that were once railing against presidential abuses of power appeared on the same programs to agree with the same hosts that Actually, presidents have such expansive powers as to render them exempt from oversight entirely.
It was a program intended to breed a new class of liars, charlatans, and idiots, and it may have turned out to be the most successful effort at a national dumbing-down ever to be achieved.