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Republicans' 'Deep Plow' Moment Is Here—and They Don't Seem Ready

Alex Wong/Getty Images

During the Great Leap Forward in China, Chairman Mao praised the practice of "deep plowing" in two counties in China that had managed to increase crop yields.

Deep plowing means what it sounds like: plowing the earth far more deeply and planting seeds into much deeper soil. Heralding this success in these two places, Mao called upon the rest of the country to follow their example. The CCP, eager to show fidelity to Mao, issued directives to all Chinese counties able to deep plow to do so within two years. A frenzy ensued, with party cadres, experts, and farmers falling over themselves to show they could support and implement deep plowing more aggressively and with greater success than the next.

The problem was, there was no real truth to the deep plowing method. Other counties failed to replicate the supposed success, but instead of giving up they plowed even deeper. It became a contest of sorts to see whose loyalty to Mao's ideas was strongest.

In many cases, the seeds were planted far too deeply to yield any crops. But no one, not even the farmers who knew from generations of collected experience that this defied common sense, dared speak up. To do so risked denunciation, imprisonment or death. The result was massive crop failure followed by one of the worst famines in the entire history of humankind. By some estimates, as many as 55 million people died from a combination of radical departures from traditional farming, including the absurd devotion to deep plowing.

The GOP faces a deep plow moment of its own today. As the Washington Post reported, an internal poll by the National Republican Congressional Committee revealed some very troubling news for the party: In key swing districts that will decide control of the House in 2022, Donald Trump's unfavorable ratings were a full 15 points higher than his favorable ones. And nearly twice as many people had a strongly unfavorable view of Trump than a strongly favorable one.

Given this poll, you would expect a party to begin to question whether having Trump-aligned candidates win primaries in key swing districts would be a winning strategy for the general election. Rather than raise the subject of the poll, however, staffers for the NRCC buried it, declining to discuss it even when directly questioned by a member of Congress about Trump's support among voters.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), the newly fired GOP Conference Chair, grew alarmed in March when this same poll was left out of the discussion during a retreat for ranking Republican committee chairs. She correctly concluded that the party was now willing and prepared to hide unfavorable news from its own members in order to avoid even any suggestion that Trump could hurt the party in 2022 and its chances of retaking the House.

For her warnings about Trump, and her refusal to back down from her vote to impeach him, Cheney lost her position as Conference Chair, with Trump acolyte Elise Stefanik (R-NY) now elevated to the role. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who has thrown his hat in with Trump despite earlier publicly blaming him for failing to act against the riot at the Capitol on January 6, had openly endorsed Stefanik, dooming Cheney's chances of holding onto her job.

The GOP has been running from the truth for years now. As former Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele said last Sunday:

"The reality of it is, Donald Trump five years ago was someone that everyone was like, 'why is he here?' And now they're kicking everyone else out of the room because he is here."

Senator Lindsay Graham once prophesized in a tweet five years ago that

"If we nominated Trump, we will get destroyed…...and we will deserve it."

But Graham today, like his fellow Senator Ted Cruz, has done a complete about face, telling Fox News recently that the GOP "can't grow" without Trump.

In sum, the Republican party has gone from refusing to see Trump for who he really is, to refusing to accept valid election results, to now refusing to see very bad poll numbers that ought to cause them to course correct quickly. But denial is now buried deep within the GOP's DNA, in everything from the pandemic to gun violence, from institutional racism to climate change, and now from election results to bad poll numbers.

To support their increasing disconnect from reality, they have turned, tragically and unsurprisingly, to conspiracy theories, science denial and siloed "news" sources that reinforce their existing beliefs. These are now fueling a bizarre "audit" of the Maricopa County 2020 election, sponsored by the state GOP in Arizona, in which the hired workers are chasing QAnon conspiracies by using UV lights to search for special Trump watermarked ballots and looking for bamboo fibers on alleged Chinese paper ballots.

Mao's deep plowing catastrophe seems strangely apt as the GOP literally digs itself deeper and deeper into denial and disaster. The GOP party leadership understands that a litmus test of fealty to Trump will mean dozens or even scores of the most extreme candidates winning Republican primaries, but unless they stand up to Trump as Cheney has, they will have no choice but to accept this dangerous trajectory.

But unlike China in the late 1950s, Americans in 2022 have a real chance to reject madness and prevent the nation from spiraling into chaos. A resounding second defeat of Trumpism in 2022 could sound the final death knell for the GOP. Dozens of Trump extremists on the ballot could fuel turnout among Democrats and even Independents who very much want the era of Trump over and done.

So will sane voters realize what's happening and turn out in great enough numbers, even in an off-cycle election? Or will we see a Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy overseeing the counting of electoral college votes in the 2024 election, in which Trump is once again a candidate?

That is up to all of the rest of us to determine.