On July 19, 2016, Donald Trump officially became the nominee of the Republican Party.
On Oct. 25, 2017, Donald Trump officially won control of the Republican Party.
Throughout the 2016 election and the first nine months of Trump’s presidency, people differentiated between Republicans and Trump Republicans. That’s no longer possible. Now, if you’re a Republican, you either truly believe in Trump or you’ve just sold your soul to him; there are no other options.
How do I know this? Because Republican Sen. Jeff Flake said so when he announced his retirement from the Senate on Oct. 25. Flake strongly denounced Trump as dangerous and reckless. As he said, “I couldn’t sleep at night having to embrace the president or condoning his behavior or being okay with some of his positions.”
Flake joins other Republicans who have recently taken the same stand, like Sen. Bob Corker, who questioned the president’s stability and competence by calling Trump’s White House an “an adult day care center.” Even former Sen. Tom Coburn declared that the president has a “personality disorder.”
But something else Flake said made Trump’s capture of the Grand Old Party clear. During an interview the following morning on CNN’s New Day, he said, “I couldn’t run the kind of race that I would be proud of and win in a Republican primary at this time. The politics in that way ha[ve] changed.” All that matters to reelection as a Republican is “if you’re with the president.”
Flake made it clear: There is no path to election as a Republican today except as a Trump Republican. Whether Republicans are conspirators or merely complicit, the party slogan is now, “I’m with him.”
This changed reality is already playing out in Virginia’s gubernatorial race. Long before Trump’s emergence in Republican politics, Ed Gillespie warned his party against going down the Trump road. In a 2006 Wall Street Journal op-ed, “Populists, Beware!” Gillespie cautioned Republicans to avoid the “political siren song” of anti-immigrant policies or plans to “build a bigger wall.”
Fast-forward to his 2017 campaign: Gillespie is driving straight down Trump’s road at full speed, running anti-immigrant ads rife with racially motivated tropes, abandoning everything he urged his party to uphold.
A former Romney staffer recently tweeted, “I worked with @EdWGillespie on the Romney campaign; a great guy, now covering himself in filth.” The Washington Post summed up this dynamic in its editorial endorsing democratic candidate Ralph Northam, writing that Gillespie “swapped his cloak as a problem-solver for a demagogue’s mantle.”
Republicans in 2018 will either follow Gillespie and his ilk into Trump’s filth or no longer be Republicans. To paraphrase Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars, their journey to the dark side is complete.
There is nothing “grand” or “old” about the Republican Party anymore. The GOP is dead.
Jesse F. Ferguson is a Democratic strategist who worked as deputy national press secretary and senior advisor on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. Previously he served as deputy executive director and director of independent expenditures for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.