Those who would minimize the threat that Trump poses take solace in his personal weaknesses: his laziness, his ignorance of the mechanics of government. But the president is not acting alone. The Republican politicians who normally might have been expected to restrain Trump are instead enabling and empowering him.
Perhaps the most consequential change Trump has wrought is in the Republican Party’s attitude toward democracy. I worked in the administration of George W. Bush, who was the first president since the 1880s to win the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote. Bush recognized this outcome as an enormous political problem. After the Supreme Court ruled in his favor, on December 13, 2000, the president-elect promised to govern in a bipartisan and conciliatory fashion: “I was not elected to serve one party, but to serve one nation,” he said in a speech at the Texas state capitol, where he was finishing his term as governor. “The president of the United States is the president of every single American, of every race and every background. Whether you voted for me or not, I will do my best to serve your interests, and I will work to earn your respect.”
You may believe that Bush failed in that promise—but he made that promise because he recognized a problem. Two decades later, Trump has normalized the minority rule that seemed so abnormal in December 2000.
Republicans in the Trump years have gotten used to competing under rules biased in their favor. They have come to fear that unless the rules favor them, they will lose. And so they have learned to think of biased rules as necessary, proper, and just—and to view any effort to correct those rules as a direct attack on their survival.