Presidential Campaign

How the GOP is like an occupied country in World War II

Establishment Republicans who support presumptive nominee Donald Trump have been called “Vichy Republicans.” But this is an imperfect metaphor.

{mosads}As the Germans overran northern France in 1940, the French government relocated from Paris to the town of Vichy in southern France. Since the Wehrmacht was capable of quickly crushing any opposition in the south and Germany held 2 million French soldiers as prisoners of war, the Vichy government was not in a position to resist the occupier’s demands. (But it did not simply acquiesce to the Germans. The Vichy French did round up members of the resistance, Jews, suspected political opponents and other “undesirables.”) As the Allies liberated France in 1944, many Vichy leaders were subject to show trials and quickly executed.

After the war, “Vichy” entered the lexicon meaning “a traitorous collaborator,” although the context of the collaboration was one of coercion after occupation. This is not the situation Republicans face today.

The historical reference that more aptly applies to pro-Trump Republicans is that of the Quislings. On the eve of World War II, Norway faced the existential threat of German aggression. In the face of this threat, former Norwegian Defense Minister Vidkun Quisling met secretly with Hitler, laying the groundwork for an invasion that came only four months later. After the invasion, Quisling led a coup that overthrew Norway’s democratically elected government.

Quisling is an interesting figure for our times. He demonstrated democratic and humanitarian values, even leftist sympathies, early in his career. But as he rose to power, he adopted fascist rhetoric and policies, stirred racist resentments and called for a strongman to lead the nation. His popularity on the right soared, and he drew large crowds to political rallies despite being a poor public speaker. He also drew support from the wealthy and business elites who held similar views or hated the left more than they feared fascism.

Quisling denounced ordinary party politics and his political opponents as criminals and enemies of the nation. He promised that heads would roll when he took power. He enjoyed high name recognition due to his reputation for scandal. Divisions among his political opponents aided his rise to power. His lifestyle and career were sustained by an inheritance.

Like the Vichy, Quisling’s supporters collaborated with the Germans, but with a crucial difference: The Quislings enabled the German takeover of their country. They were not coerced.

Trump has not yet occupied the Republican Party. While he is on the brink of securing the nomination, he has not yet taken over the institutional party. He threatens those who oppose him, but he is not in a position to coerce. With the aid of Quisling Republicans, however, he soon will be.

Whether they support Trumpism or see an opportunity to ride Trump to power, the GOP’s Quislings are enabling his occupation of the party of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan. They are deluding themselves if they believe the forces he has unleashed will recede with his defeat — if he is defeated. Trumpism isn’t a flood tide; it’s a subsidence flood, caused by the hollowing out of the ground beneath our democratic institutions.

Diehl is a former chief of staff of the U.S. Treasury Department, director of the U.S. Mint and staff director of the Senate Finance Committee.

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