Opinion: GOP succumbs to Stockholm syndrome

Jeff Timmer

Warren Zevon wrote the lyric “Patty Hearst heard the burst of Roland’s Thompson gun and bought it,” in a 1978 song, referencing the kidnapping and radicalization of the heiress by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). If Zevon were alive today he might update that lyric to read “the GOP read the worst of Donald’s Twitter thumb and no one fought it."

President Donald Trump

The two political parties have historically represented the mainstream center-left and center-right. Political adversaries have typically fought their battles over policy differences — without fearing opponents to be tyrants or mentally unstable.

Until now.

Since the moment in 2015 he descended the escalator to announce his candidacy, Trump has engaged in an unceasing assault on traditional American (let alone Republican) policies, conservative thought and the basic norms of the way an adult, not just the president, acts. His instability has upended global markets and security alliances that have provided the relative predictability required for the health of our economy and national security since World War II.

Yet there has been nary a peep of critique from 99% of Republicans. They act like they don’t see it; or that what they see is actually something other than what is in plain sight. They try to justify it by cherry picking the actions or outcomes they agree with, while attempting to erase Trump’s unsettling behaviors by deflection — drawing false equivalencies about political opponents.

Like Patty Hearst, Republicans demonstrate Stockholm syndrome by increasingly identifying with their captor despite the growing perils of their situation. Party adherents have metaphorically picked up guns, changed their names to Tania and headed off to rob a bank.

That is the most startling aspect of Trumpism — how otherwise decent Republicans with long-standing reputations for political normalcy and measured behavior have become cravenly submissive to Trump despite the daily deluge of incompetence, ignorance and buffoonery; along with the moral, ethical and policy hazards that accompany it.

While there are some low travelers on the right who show cultish devotion to Trump, most Republicans privately express alarm. But their desire to defeat Democrats, or their fear of being singled out by Trump’s mob and politically bludgeoned as an example to the rest, has either numbed them to madness or caused them to stick their heads in the sand hoping it will pass them by, or both. Spinelessness at worst; delusional scoliosis at best.

The historic trouncing suffered in the 2018 election should have been a wakeup call for the GOP to confront Trump’s personal toxicity before it subsumes the Party. Yet Republicans, save Michigan’s Justin Amash, have inexplicably remained servile while Trump has arguably become more erratic and dangerous.

U.S. Rep. Justin Amash is the only Republican to denounce Trump, Timmer notes.

Though nothing to date has broken Trump’s confounding grip on his adopted and captive political party, there remains the theoretical possibility that he could go so cuckoo for cocoa puffs that the spell breaks. Though given the torrent of lunacy they’ve silently endured, nothing seems likely to awaken the suppressed courage and moral compasses of Republicans, or even trigger their instinct for self-preservation.

Warren Zevon also wrote a song called Hostage with a line that goes “I can see me bound and gagged, dragged behind the clown-mobile”. Whether their sycophancy has been willing, or not, it’s easy to envision the ensnared GOP suffering that fate. Goodbye, Tania.

Jeff Timmer is a political consultant and strategist and former executive director of the Michigan Republican Party. Twitter @jefftimmer.