With markets in turmoil, Britain back in recession and the foundations of Europe trembling, Britain’s Business Secretary declared that “the greatest threat to the world financial system comes from a couple of right-wing nutters in the American congress.” House Republicans were threatening to force the country into default, destroying the foundation of the global economy. The suffering would have been immense. And Paul Ryan was fine with it.

This took place in the summer of 2011, when Donald Trump merely lurked on the edges of politics. He had no hand in the callousness that led Republicans to threaten default, the hate that drove them to boo a gay soldier.Paul Ryan chose to author a budget that extracted two-thirds of its cuts from the poor. Mitt Romney championed the plan, and not because Trump endorsed him. Trump was tweeting about his IQ while Republicans tortured our system with shutdowns and tantrums.

Thus, the journey of the Republican Party was not only one of ideological radicalization, but of moral degeneration. And they picked that path without Trump. As the Obama years went on, the GOP embraced a hardhearted moral nihilism. Restraint was the first virtue to go, then empathy. The GOP sought the low ground of tribalism and the will to power.

It was into this environment that Donald Trump finally rode the escalator. The Party he was soon to conquer had already descended far toward a moral collapse. That he destroyed their party’s character is a self-serving and not true. The Party’s loss of decency was a choice Republicans from Mitch McConnell to Mitt Romney had already made.

It’s true that Trump has a reverse-Midas ability to debase what he contacts. But he only transforms the character of individuals. The trajectory of the Republican Party had already carried them to a place of supreme vulnerability. He didn’t remake the party in his own image. He reflected the ugly reality of what they had become.


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