Kerry Eleveld / Daily Kos (01/08/2021)
Following Donald Trump’s attempt to violently overthrow the U.S. government, Republicans have quickly retreated into two camps: Those who have had the sudden epiphany that they must break with Trump to save the party and those who are clinging to him like a life vest to buoy the party’s future.
Make no mistake, they have all been complicit in building Trump and his rabid base into the monster that has swallowed the party whole. Decades of GOP lawmakers carefully nurturing the ignorance of their followers left GOP voters uniquely susceptible to the manipulation of a buffoonish yet dangerous conspiratorial carnival barker like Trump. He is the pinnacle of their creation—able to say and do absolutely anything with impunity to the mindless acceptance and adoration of the Republican base.
The Republican lawmakers who want to stay the course even after Trump’s shameful betrayal of the country this week are an irredeemable stain on the conscience of America. That’s particularly true for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who eagerly supported a lawsuit backing Trump’s fraudulent challenge to the election results, voted to object to certification of those results even after Trump’s insurrectionists terrorized the Capitol complex, and then issued a statement Friday saying impeachment would “only divide our country”—never mind the fact that Trump poses an existential threat to the republic. McCarthy and his ilk helped plant the seeds of fascism Trump has supercharged, and they very obviously would gladly disenfranchise the American people to cement their enduring power if that opportunity were to materialize.
But for those who now claim they want to break with Trump and indeed must do so in order to save the party, they can all start by telling the truth to their constituents—that Trump bamboozled his supporters, betrayed his oath of office, and must be removed from office immediately. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah at least got the truth part of that equation right when he spoke from the Senate floor on Wednesday following the melee. “The best way we can show respect for the voters who were upset [by the election results] is by telling them the truth,” Romney said.
The Republicans who now seem eager to leave Trump in the rearview mirror vary between people like Romney, who has at least repeatedly criticized Trump and even voted against clearing him of impeachment charges, to squishy opportunists like Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who has consistently stoked Trump fervor over the years. Rubio, who unequivocally celebrated the caravan of Trumpers that forced a Biden campaign bus off a Texas highway in November, has now lamented the siege at the Capitol as a “national embarrassment” and told GOP voters that “some misled you” about the Vice President’s ability to reject certification.
Somewhere in between there’s someone like Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, a member of the GOP leadership that has done everything in its power to coddle Trump while capitalizing on his populist appeal.
“What happened in Georgia, what happened today are all indicative that we have to chart a course,” Thune told the New York Times. “I think our identity for the past several years was built around an individual, we got to get back to where it’s built on a set of principles and ideas and policies.” Whatever Thune’s motivations, his diagnosis of the problem is at least somewhat clear eyed.
But if any of those Republicans are serious about redeeming and reclaiming their party at any level, they must start by making an unmistakable break with their past. That seems unlikely as only one GOP senator (Senator tally here) has expressed an openness to considering the removal of Trump: Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska. Even Romney advised Americans to just “hold our breath for the next 20 days” until Biden is sworn in rather than invoke the 25th Amendment. Sorry, but that’s not going to cut it. It won’t save the Republican Party and it certainly won’t save the country from the party, which is now little more than a haven for radical extremists awaiting an opportunity to mount a violent coup.
In fact, just look at where the GOP rank and file in the states are. State party chairs, thrilled with the post-election results of their down-ballot candidates, have said they don’t want to change a thing about the Trumpist direction of their party despite Trump’s failure at the top of the ticket.
“As far as I’m concerned, everything’s great,” Stanley Grot, a district-level Republican Party chair in Michigan, said last month even after Trump lost the state by some 150,000 votes.
On Thursday, Trump was reportedly “greeted with applause when he dialed into a breakfast at the winter meeting of the Republican National Committee.” On Friday, RNC chair Ronna McDaniel betrayed not even a hint of remorse or reflection about Trump’s insurrection when she enthusiastically told the gathering, “Democrats, get ready. Buckle your seatbelts, because we are coming.”
If any congressional Republicans truly believe it’s time for a different course, they are going to have to take decisive action. These weak whiffs of passive resistance nearly all of them are currently offering are a pathetic mismatch for the present political moment. One would think they might have learned a little something after spending four years registering their discontent by whispering to each other in the cloistered recesses of the Congress.
And if they’re not concerned enough about the preservation of the country to take a stand, they may want to think about the fact that if the pitchforks come the next time, they won’t be coming for Democrats alone. Just ask Vice President Mike Pence.