The Golden Calf is one of the most famous stories in the Old Testament. The Israelites, newly freed from Egyptian slavery, have a crisis of faith while God is speaking with Moses on Mount Sinai. They melt down the golden jewelry to construct a physical god — a statue in the shape of a calf — to worship in place of their abstract, invisible deity. It’s a story about the allure of idolatry, how easy it is to abandon one’s commitments to principle in favor of shiny, easy falsehoods.
This biblical tale trended on Twitter in the US Friday morning because of the following video, filmed on the first day of the 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Someone involved in the conference constructed a golden statue — not of a calf, but of Trump — and wheeled it out to cheers from conference attendees. “That is so cool,” one of the onlookers says.
#CPAC #AmericaUncancelled pic.twitter.com/mVqBuF2blY— William Turton (@WilliamTurton) February 26, 2021
There are so many reasons why this is a perfect metaphor for the state of the GOP after the Trump presidency.
The party sacrificed its commitment to political principles, including previously cherished ideals like free trade, on the altar of Trumpism. White evangelicals abandoned their alleged commitments to godliness in public servants and embraced a man accused of serial sexual assault who had an affair with a porn star and paid her hush money to cover it up. Conservatism, once seen as a high-minded intellectual tradition, became undeniably base and degraded in the Trump years.
But above all else, the statue points to the way in which the GOP remains the party of Trump even after his presidency — gaudy golden aesthetic and all. The party’s base is so committed to the former president that they construct idols of him, literally, to stand up at their premier political conference.
The party leadership understands that, of course. It’s why the vast bulk of the GOP Senate caucus embraced flimsy constitutional rationales for acquitting Trump in the most recent impeachment trial, despite clear evidence that he incited the January 6 riot at the US Capitol that threatened their lives. They are too afraid of their own voters to turn on Trump, and so have no choice but to embrace him — despite knowing how much of a threat he poses to their party and American democracy.
Trump’s hold is so powerful, in fact, that even his children are now considered leading possibilities for the 2024 GOP nomination — despite the complete lack of relevant qualifications.
A recent poll found that Donald Trump Jr. was one of the most popular choices for the 2024 nomination, doing better than Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley combined. On Fox News Thursday night, former GOP House member and Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows openly proclaimed that it’s still Trump’s party — either Donald, Donald Jr.’s, or Ivanka’s. “We will see the start of planning for the next administration and I can tell you — the people that are at the top of that list, all of them have Trump as their last name,” he says.
Meadows: We will see the start of planning for the next administration and I can tell you, the people that are at the top of that list, all of them have Trump as their last name pic.twitter.com/69DMdyFSOO— Acyn (@Acyn) February 26, 2021
In the Bible, the Golden Calf story ends with a furious Moses destroying the idol — dumping its ashes into water and forcing the Israelites to drink it as punishment. In theory, the voters in 2020 could have been the party’s Moses, the loss of the White House and the Senate their bitter ashwater.
And yet, here they are, still building idols of a false god.
Sign up for the Weeds newsletter. Every Friday, you’ll get an explainer of a big policy story from the week, a look at important research that recently came out, and answers to reader questions — to guide you through the first 100 days of President Joe Biden’s administration.