A half-decade ago, the originally Boston-based site and its rabid fan community wouldn’t have scanned as “political” at all. But now, its proudly Neanderthal, reactionary ethos aligns perfectly with the side of our political binary that Trump reconfigured: the one whose common denominator is a tooth-and-nail, middle-finger unwillingness to accept liberal social norms.
If you looked at Portnoy circa 2010 — a budding bro-entrepreneur, popping champagne with models in cheesy photo shoots — you’d have to squint pretty hard to see a potential Republican standard-bearer. If you look now, it’s hard not to. It’s commonplace by now to observe that the Trump presidency “changed everything” for Republicans, from conventional wisdom on policy to how their internal politics are conducted. But first and foremost, it changed the face the party presented to the world. Where onetime nominees like Mitt Romney and John McCain tried and failed to subordinate cultural grievance to a more professionalized, inclusive style of politics, Trump succeeded by placing it right on the front of the tin. And when he casually dismantled that old fusion of free-market economic fervor and country-club traditionalism, Barstool was ready.
The rise of the “Barstool Republican,” to coin a phenotype, doesn’t necessarily explain Trump. It is, however, a useful way to understand what’s happened to American politics without constantly invoking the former president’s name. Portnoy’s devotees aren’t MAGA fanatics or Q fans who live to torment liberals, and they’re certainly not part of the GOP’s evangelical base. (One could imagine the last thing they’d want is a Supreme Court that strikes down Roe.) But the Barstool Republican now largely defines the Republican coalition because of his willingness to dispense with his party’s conventional policy wisdom on anything — the social safety net, drug laws, abortion access — as long as it means one thing: he doesn’t have to vote for some snooty Democrat, and, by proxy, the caste of lousy deans that props up the left’s politically-correct cultural regime.