In normal times I’d welcome Republicans to Wisconsin for their national convention in 2024. But this isn’t my father’s Republican Party. It isn’t even my older brother-in-law’s GOP.
The Republican National Committee has now officially chosen Milwaukee for its next confab, which had been a foregone conclusion since its rival, Nashville, balked at approving a formal agreement between that city and the RNC. By contrast, Milwaukee’s Democratic Mayor Cavalier Johnson was all in.
I don’t blame Johnson. He’s doing what mayors do — shamelessly promote their towns. In remarks at the formal announcement Johnson urged Republicans to bring “all your money” to his city and to leave it there. On that level, this is fine. The convention will introduce Milwaukee to not just convention goers but to media types from all over the world and to national television audiences. Milwaukee could get the plug it was cheated out of in 2020 when Democrats had to all but cancel the physical convention due to the pandemic.
But you have to think about the cost and all that can go wrong. Security measures will have to be extraordinary. The convention is likely to attract elements of extremist groups, like the Oath Keepers, and lots and lots of protestors on the left. Emotions will run high.
Let’s hope that physical confrontations can be avoided outside the venue, but what happens inside the convention hall is sure to be ugly. If the last two years are any indication, this remains a party built around not a set of ideas, but loyalty to one awful man. Trump, and most of his party, have launched a sustained effort to do nothing less than undermine American democracy.
Republicans have pushed bogus “investigations” into nonexistent voter fraud, made countless baseless claims about the integrity or legality of voting procedures, created an environment that threatens the physical safety of voting officials, and plotted to transfer control over elections from nonpartisan agencies to partisan officeholders. They’re not just sore losers over 2020; the party is actively working to assure a Republican victory in 2024 regardless of the popular vote and regardless even of that vote as reflected in the Electoral College. Here’s what I mean by that. Democrats now routinely win the national popular vote, but that’s mostly because they run up huge margins in states like California and New York. They can still lose where it counts, in the Electoral College, because Republicans can win enough states to give them a majority of votes there. But even when that happens, those state victories are based on the popular vote in each state. A case to be decided by the ultra-conservative Supreme Court next year could give legislatures the power to assign electoral votes regardless of their state’s popular vote. And, at least where presidential elections are concerned, there goes democracy.
And this is all on top of the “hate fests” that Republican conventions had become even before Trump. This is not Ronald Reagan’s sunny GOP. This is a very dark place in American politics and culture. It’s a place steeped in bizarre conspiracy theories, a blood and soil nationalist and populist movement that seeks to return America to some imagined era when it was “great.”
So, is it unfair of me to compare their next convention to the Nuremberg rallies of the 1930s? To be sure I don’t accuse the Republicans of plotting genocide, but this is essentially a quasi-fascist party now. It is built around blind loyalty to one man and a mythical past, it would trample any rule of law or sense of fair play that gets in his way, and it appeals to the very worst instincts in human nature, specifically to white nationalism. The convention will welcome a former president, and perhaps its nominee once again, who encouraged the violent overthrow of the United States government in the Jan. 6 insurrection. So, while I don’t accuse Republicans of being genocidal maniacs, I don’t apologize for my comparison on other levels. This is not what we once knew as the GOP; it’s something else entirely.
When you think about it, in a matter of months in 2016, Trump created a third party and replaced one of the two major parties. The name didn’t change, but everything else did. I may have disagreed with the party of Reagan, but I don’t recognize the party of Trump.
I hope all goes well in Milwaukee two summers from now. I hope there will be peaceful protests, but no violence. I hope that Trump fades and that, whoever the nominee is, he or she recommits the party to the rule of law. I hope that the party’s inevitable appeals to grievance and the mythical wonderful past are at least muted. And I hope everybody spends a lot of money.
Unfortunately, only my last hope is guaranteed to happen.
A version of this piece originally appeared in Isthmus.