Republicans are thrilled to lose

A great deal has been written (including by me) about the curious fact that despite impeachment, lockdowns, and double-digit unemployment figures, Donald Trump's position is remarkably similar to the one in which he found himself just before the last presidential election.

One important sense in which this is true is the attitude of other Republican politicians. After the release of the infamous Access Hollywood footage at the beginning of October in 2016, Trump was all but abandoned by Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, and other Republican leaders. Many prominent figures in the party went so far as to rescind their endorsements, including the late John McCain and Mike Lee. (Others, such as Mitt Romney, who recently announced that he did not vote for his party's sitting president this year, had never endorsed him in the first place.)

We all remember what happened next. Trump won, very much to the astonishment of members of his own party, who had been digging in their heels for four more years of obstruction. Instead the GOP found itself in control of the presidency and both houses of Congress for the first time since 2006. (They used this exceedingly rare configuration to cut taxes, just as they had during the Bush administration, and very little else.)

As far as I can tell the mood is more or less the same this year. Faced with the possibility of losing both the White House and possibly even the Senate in a year in which Democrats are also expected to consolidate control of the House as well, Republicans have resigned themselves to a half decade or so of opposition. Many of them are relieved at the thought of not even having to pretend to govern as members of a minority party — better yet, in the case of those who expect to lose their seats, at the not very remote possibility of a well-remunerated position with a lobbying or consulting firm.

This seems to me the only possible explanation for the GOP's refusal to pass a second relief bill before the election. Some refreshingly honest liberal observers have called Nancy Pelosi a fool for even entertaining the possibility of such a deal. But she is a wily old fox. She understands that even at the best of times the GOP is reluctant to allow such uninviting prospects as winning elections to interfere with their libertarian economic principles. When things look hopeless and it appears that they have nothing to gain except the gratitude of millions of Americans, they will shrug, like that guy in the Ayn Rand book.

You have to admire their dedication here. Giving people four-figure checks on the eve of an election? This is a wheeze so obviously beneficial to the candidate who is able to take credit for it that I find myself wondering why every incumbent president in modern American history has not attempted something like it. The fact that Republicans would rather sit back under the pretense that they are holding out for — let me check my notes — COVID liability protection for businesses, tells you everything you need to know. They want to lose.

What does all of this mean for the party's future? If Biden wins, the way forward is clear. The template was established during the Obama administration: moan about "socialism" in the hope that you can get the House back in two years (a remote but not totally unimaginable contingency), and, if all else fails, hope that the Supreme Court will bail you out.

It is less obvious what will happen if Trump pulls off another upset victory. In 2016 he was not in a position to waste time engaging in recriminations with members of his own party. In hindsight this was probably a mistake. The GOP used him to accomplish the one thing that represents the summit of the party's ambition, and did so in the closing days of the first year of his presidency. If he manages to prevail a second time, against odds that are even less likely, he should hold the Republican leadership to account for their fecklessness.

Somewhere Paul Ryan is laughing.

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