Editorial: Will Trump split the GOP?
Ever since Donald Trump rose to prominence in the GOP presidential primary of 2016, Republicans have been concerned about his influence on the party. The takeover by Trump of the party from establishment Republicans sparked genuine fear that they would lose their principled stands of conservatism to an unprincipled, morally bankrupt reality-TV show con-man. It was, they warned during that primary campaign, the equivalent of political suicide.
But their stooge passed a huge tax cut that favored the wealthiest few, he cut regulations that harmed the environment but in the short-term increased corporate profits for some by a smidgeon, he ranted and railed at Quixote-like windmills and sold his personification of leadership like a circus hawker sells snake oil to willing believers, or “suckers” as Trump calls them.
Four years later, after a significant loss to President-elect Joe Biden, Trump is still at it — only now, the truth is harder to twist and corrupt. Court after court, judge after judge, Republican state leader after Republican state leader have refuted what Trump has told his followers to believe: that he couldn’t have loss, that the elections must have been rigged, that the courts will surely find corruption and election fraud.
They have not. Not even the conservative judges Trump has appointed. Not even the conservative Supreme Court that Sen. Mitch McConnell has illegitimately stacked in the past four years. Not even with cheating, can Trump cast the lies he wants his followers to believe into fact.
His continued effort to do so, however, is causing those few Republicans with any moral compass, those with any reverence for America’s democratic principles, those with any sense of honesty and integrity, to break from him — and possibly set the stage that fractures the Republican Party.
Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, effectively drew a line in the sand this week for Republicans who want a party that bases its reality on facts and honor, rather than one swallowed by Trump’s politics of grievance and retribution.
“It’s completely unacceptable,” Toomey told the Philadelphia Inquirer, referring to Trump’s efforts to get numerous GOP-controlled state legislatures to appoint pro-Trump electors to the electoral college, as a way to defy the legitimate votes several swing states and give him the election. “The president should give up trying to get legislatures to overturn the results of the elections in their respective states,” Toomey declared.
Other ‘Never Trump’ Republicans, of course, have preceded Toomey in breaking with Trump and his deliberate attempts to mislead Republicans through his lies and conspiracy theories, all for the purpose of inciting anger and rage against the opposition and for his personal gain. Former Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, split early, as has Sen. Mitt Romney on several occasions. There’s an entire group of Republican leaders against Trump who formed a political action committee called the Lincoln Project, and who were particularly effective in giving moderate Republicans reason to vote against Trump and for sanity in government.
Such a split within the Republican Party since Trump became president was always a possibility, but what has changed in recent weeks is the increasing likelihood that Trump could take the party into a permanent state of fringe politics bent on, as Greg Sargent recently wrote in the Washington Post, “retributive rage against our system and its voters for rendering its verdict against Trump.”
That rage and retribution could define the future of the Republican Party, rather than policies or principle, was put in no uncertain terms in a scathing article written by Jonathan V. Last in The New Republic two weeks after the election.
“Donald Trump is the past, present, and future of the Republican Party. And that is because the GOP is no longer a traditional political party designed to win elections so that it can enact a policy agenda. It is a personality cult built around grievance,” states Last in his essay. “One of Trump’s insights was that these voters had become fully postmodern in that they no longer wanted outcomes. They wanted feelings…. Trump’s cruelty and contempt are exactly what Republican voters hunger for.”
How does that align with establishment Republicans or other Republicans who might seek to regain the Party’s conservative foundations and take the mantle from Trump? Not well. Trump, Last says, never had close ties to the Republican Party. “He mounted a hostile takeover of the GOP because he alone understood what Republican voters wanted. They wanted the spirit that had animated his birtherism gambit: a politics devoted not to policies and ideologies, but to grievances and combativeness.”
But if Trump has captured the Republican Party (and current evidence backs that premise), where does that leave those Republicans who don’t want to see their party hijacked into irrelevance? Where is the political home to Republicans like Romney, Toomey, George W. Bush, Kasich, the “Never Trumpers” and many others, including Vermont’s Gov. Phil Scott and many Vermont Republicans?
Is it possible the party will split into two factions and they will battle it out over the next four to eight years, or will a third “Moderate American Party” come out of this Republican disaster, attracting a large group of Independents and some Democrats as well?
Angelo S. Lynn
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