In a political environment disfigured beyond recognition by bitterness, fear, and retribution, the unfortunate reality is that a positive vision for the near future appears impossible to actualize for all but the few dreamers left among us. But it is also true that politics abhors a vacuum. Thus, in the absence of a willingness by Donald Trump’s enemies to move beyond the bitter divisions they helped thrust upon the nation in recent years, we are reduced to a withering vision — the politics of leverage. Actually, that’s a polite term. And it pertains not only to Democrats but also in almost equal measure to the GOP.
In fact, what Trump holds over the Republican Party right now is beyond leverage. It is de facto veto power — not the kind he once wielded over the government but over his party. Or call it blackmail if you will. A credible poll in recent days concludes that, if Trump was to form his own third party, it would surpass the GOP in popularity. If that’s not a wake-up call, it’s hard to know what would be.
Before the fog of history descends and is rewritten by the revisionists who will inevitably pen Trump into the same sentence as Hitler and Stalin, purging his many triumphs, recall the Republican primary of 2016. The crème de la crème of the GOP was all in. Every venerated establishment stalwart and rising star — from Jeb Bush to Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio to Scott Walker, John Kasich to Chris Christie — threw his hat into a ring that swelled to 17 candidates.
Trump wiped them all out. And then did the same to Hillary Clinton.
If the GOP believes that, four years later, the Capitol riot and Trump daring to challenge the election compels them to distance the party from the recently departed president, it would be perhaps the most catastrophic decision made by a major political party in, well, many a year.
The only way GOP congressional leaders and the party establishment hierarchy would make such a decision is to actually believe — after Trump’s wipeout of their hand-picked, star-studded field in 2016 — that their voters desire a return to days of Mitt Romney and John McCain. Are they so blinded by their own power to make such a massive blunder?
It would be disastrous to simply shrug off Trump, standing at a distance but still commanding the stage, calling for primary challenges, criticizing those unwilling to carry on his America First fight, threatening to run again in 2024 or support a Trump acolyte. But as the Bible teaches, without vision, the people perish. Is the GOP establishment, which pined for one of their own four years ago and settled begrudgingly for Trump, stuck in tunnel vision? Do they understand how, like it or not, they are presently connected via the umbilical cord to Trump?
Already, five Republican senators – and let’s name names: Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania – have voted in favor of holding the postpartum Senate trial of a non-president (yes, I don’t understand either how a trial designed to remove a president can be held for a president who has already been removed, but maybe that’s just me). Of course, conviction is unlikely, but the words and actions of Republican senators surrounding the trial will prove quite revealing.
Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and his cohorts on Capitol Hill have said little to renounce the absurdity of the Democrats’ lovely parting gift to the 45th president: a second impeachment which amounted to “don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” They sent forth a transparent message to all who chose to listen: We did all we were willing to do to support Trump’s effort to overturn the election outcome, but now we have to move on and think about our own future. Not an atypical sentiment in the political arena, but, if adopted as a means to somehow make Trump supporters go gently into that good night, it would lead to a mass exodus from the party by the tens of millions drawn not to the Republican Party but to the unique historical figure that is Donald J. Trump.
Nobody yet knows how Trump will proceed from here, what form, fashion, and timing will mark his return to the political spotlight. Only one thing appears certain: He will not leave the stage. And when he returns, woe be to any Republican who tried to drag the party back in the direction desired by the NeverTrumpers and establishment lifers: polite dissent and certain defeat.
Read more from Tim Donner.