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‘Trumpism’ actually grew out of Newt Gingrich’s ’94 ascendance, argues Dana Milbank’s new book

And neither will the sickness in the Republican Party disappear with the former president.

Then-candidate Donald Trump and Newt Gingrich shown at a rally in Cincinnati, Ohio, on July 6, 2016.
Then-candidate Donald Trump and Newt Gingrich shown at a rally in Cincinnati, Ohio, on July 6, 2016.
REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank is out with a new book, “The Destructionists: The 25-year crackup of the Republican Party,” in which he argues (as you can tell by the subtitle) that the Trumpist insanity that overtook the GOP had deep roots in the preceding decades.

I haven’t read the book; only a long essay adapted from it that ran in Thursday’s Washington Post Opinion section.

I’m sure there are arguments against the idea that Trumpism, rather than being a sudden disintegration of Republican sanity in 2016 represented by the nomination of Trump, had been in the works since the day in 1994 when Newt Gingrich took over the leadership of House Republicans.

But that’s the argument Milbank makes in his book and summarizes in the op-ed, which you might be able to access here (I’m not sure if nonsubscribers to the Washington Post can get it).

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According to this view, Trump didn’t invent Trumpism but saw its power in the direction Republicans had been moving since Gingrich. As he puts it:

“It is crucial to understand that Donald Trump didn’t create this noxious environment. He isn’t some hideous, orange Venus emerging from the half-shell. Rather, he is a brilliant opportunist; he saw the direction the Republican Party was taking and the appetites it was stoking. The onetime pro-choice advocate of universal health care reinvented himself to give Republicans what they wanted. Because Trump is merely a reflection of the sickness in the GOP, the problem won’t go away when he does….”

Since what we called the “Gingrich Revolution” in the ’90s, Milbank argues…

“….Republicans and their allied donors, media outlets, interest groups and fellow travelers have been yanking on the threads of democracy and civil society for the past quarter-century; that’s a long time, and the unraveling is considerable. You can measure it in the triumph of lies and disinformation, in the mainstreaming of racism and white supremacy, in the erosion of institutions and norms of government, and in the dehumanizing of opponents and stoking of violence.

“In the process, Republicans became Destructionists: They destroyed truth, they destroyed decency, they destroyed patriotism, they destroyed national unity, they destroyed racial progress, they destroyed their own party, and they are well on their way to destroying the world’s oldest democracy…

“…What we are living through today is just a continuation of the GOP’s direction for the past 30 years: the appeals to white nationalism, the sabotage of the functions of government, the routine embrace of disinformation, stoking the fiction of election fraud and the “big lie,” and the steady degradation of democracy….

“Now, it seems, that degradation is accelerating. We see this in the determined efforts by Republican leaders to ignore, or discredit, the truths being revealed by the House Jan. 6 select committee: Trump demanding magnetometers be removed on Jan. 6 so his armed supporters could attend his rally and then march on the Capitol; Trump ignoring pleas from aides and family members to intervene on Jan. 6 to stop the bloodshed; Trump seriously entertaining the seizing of voting machines and attempting to install new leaders at the Justice Department who would support his false fraud claims; and Trump’s allegedly still-active attempts to tamper with witnesses before the committee.”

Gingrich, Milbank would like to remind you, now sits on the board of Trump’s America First Policy Institute, and serves as a consultant to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and his team, and it was not Trump but Gingrich who recently warned members of the House committee now investigating the Jan. 6 riots that “they’re “going to face a real risk of jail” after Republicans take over Congress.

Crabby old liberals like me have little difficulty seeing Gingrich as a forerunner of Trump. But Milbank puts plenty of meat onto the bones of the argument that Trump picked up where Gingrich left off, and Gingrich is still in the picture, or at least the background, of the Trumpist threat to Democracy in America.

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The Milbank op-ed piece summarizing the book is headlined:

The GOP is sick. It didn’t start with Trump — and won’t end with him.”