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Peronist Parallel

After Donald Trump’s acquittal in the Senate, it is clearer than ever that he continues to own the Republican Party because his devoted base will follow his lead to punish any elected Republican who defies him. The key weapon is to put up a pro-Trump primary opponent; this is what those 43 spineless Republican senators so desperately fear.

We may try to console ourselves with the fact that he is after all an old man. In four years he is likely to be dead, dormant or demented. And the facts of charismatic leadership like his suggests that anyone who aspires to succeed him won’t be able to elicit the same devotion that Trump has enjoyed. Maybe his movement will just slowly deflate.

That might be, but the case of Peronism in Argentina should give us pause. A couple of years ago, in the middle of Trump’s term, I wrote an extensive analysis of Argentina’s experience with Peronism. I argued that

We may try to console ourselves with the fact that he is after all an old man. In four years he is likely to be dead, dormant or demented. 

what we can learn from the Argentine case is that, having elected Donald Trump and empowered his white working class base, he will remain a force on our political scene for the rest of his life, and likely even after his death. If he is impeached or if he is defeated in 2020, he will go on tweeting and rallying the base, making it hard for his successors, Republican or Democratic, to govern. Once he is, finally, gone, his ghost will continue to haunt the living through a base that will sustain his contempt for everything that isn’t Trump.

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Now that he has been both defeated and impeached (if not convicted), it becomes clear that Trumpism is not going away. The Republican Party in particular is now firmly in his grip. His followers, the True Trumpists, dominate the primary electorate and can defeat any GOP candidates who are not all-in for Trump. Like the Peronists after Perón, they may not win every general election, but they can make governing extremely difficult for non-Trumpists.

There are some critical differences between the cases. First, the Peronist movement and party consisted exclusively of people devoted to Perón, even though they might fight among themselves about what that meant. In contrast, the Republican Party is more than just the True Trumpists. There is a substantial constituency of both voters and leaders who are more classically conservative and more committed to democratic institutions and practices. They have lost control of their party, but they are still there.

The second critical difference is that Perón built a base that was effectively the majority of voters: he could win every fair election. Trump built a base that, while impressively large (about 40 percent of voters), does not approach a majority. A unified and mobilized Democratic Party can beat them, every time. That’s why Republicans put so much effort into blocking potential Democratic voters.

The anti-Trump Republicans have a choice. They can stay within their party and try to wrest control away from the True Trumpists. I suggest it is too late for that to succeed. Or they can take away the threat of being primaried by splitting off and forming a new, democratic conservative party. The health of our democratic system depends on their doing that, so that the Democrats can alternate in power with an opposition that will not destroy democracy itself. The True Trumpists are not loyal to democracy; they are loyal only to Trump.

impeachment unavoidable

The Democrats also have a choice. They can maintain the unity and mobilization of their fractious coalition, as they did when they elected Joe Biden. Or they can take their marbles and go home, as they did when they elected Donald Trump.

John Peeler