“Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” Remember that cliche? You’ve heard it a million times, often misquoted or misattributed.
Welcome to the “Establishment” wing of the Republican Party. You know, the “good Republicans.”
Donald Trump, newly announced presidential candidate, target of multiple investigations (criminal and civil,) scourge of decency and democracy, is under attack from donors, the media, the ‘conservative intelligentsia,’ and would-be opponents.
As we’ve noted previously, none of them are ready to move on because of Trump’s actions: his Covid failure, holding Ukraine hostage, disregard for norms, or attempting to overthrowing the government. No, they’re mad because they blame him for scuttling the “Red Wave” two weeks ago. He cost them their own power.
In it for self-interest, first and only. Who does that sound like?
When Trump descended the gilded escalator in the summer of 2015, the world considered him a joke. During his opening speech, when he first introduced his “MAGA” ideology, we said he couldn’t get elected dogcatcher.
Fifteen other reliable, smart, experienced conservative candidates stood on the stage with Trump and flailed. It was agonizing to watch a vulgar, hideous, reality TV carnie shred the best of the GOP’s ideas and leaders. He ridiculed them and we, the normals, were appalled and flummoxed. The donor class hated him. The establishment loathed him. The base of GOP voters had been conditioned by years of the Fox, Facebook, and Bannon media agitprop machine? They loved it.
Month after month, primary after primary, Trump picked up delegates and the rest of the field stuck around, ensuring his nomination. None of them – not Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, or John Kasich would drop out of the race. None were willing to put their ambition aside to save the party, and the country, from Trump.
Trump won the nomination, but he couldn’t possibly beat Hillary Clinton. Right?
Then Trump won the presidency, and these paragons of decency, democracy, and conservatism fell in line. They believed they could ride the tiger. Believing they could control him with just enough adoration or tolerance for his behavior inevitably lead to their moral compromise, and his continued excesses.
They couldn’t, and they still can’t, escape their fear of his mob.
But politics drives men and women with a cruel spur, and their desires and ambitions are once again taking precedence over the good of the country.
Who does that sound like?
During 2018 and 2019 we attended meetings of earnest, thoughtful Republicans. The question on the table? How can you beat Donald in 2020 without wrecking the GOP? We looked around at these gentle folk and declared that the two – Trump and the Party, were one. You couldn’t have one without the other. That wasn’t an answer they were willing to accept.
Here we are.
At last weekend’s Republican Jewish Coalition confab, the likes Chris Christie (almost died from the Covid Trump gave him,) Nikki Haley (Trump’s UN Ambassador,) and Chris Sununu of New Hampshire (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,) declared that it was time for the Republican Party to turn the page. That the GOP must look to the future.
There was a lot of lofty talk about returning to core principles, getting back to winning campaigns, and charting a path deeper into the 21st Century. What didn’t they say? They didn’t say the words “Donald Trump” and they had zero, not one, new idea for how to re-establish a credible, pro-democracy, center-right American political party.
Not one said the thing that would truly distinguish them: “I will never under any circumstances vote for or support Donald Trump.” The fear of his brutal attacks upon them, of the violent mob commands, and the rage his media machine still fuels makes them deaf to the call of courage.
Trump is the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination. To believe otherwise is Magical Thinking. They suffer from key misapprehensions:
All of those who would knock him off, Mike Pompeo, Ron DeSantis, and Glenn Youngkin, still don’t understand what they’re up against. They are conventional politicians who will run conventional campaigns.
When they stand on a stage with Trump and try and play his game, he’ll already be two steps ahead – he invented it, after all. Trite zingers crafted by their middle-range consultants will fall flat. The rest are pretending; they’re trying to join the circus without having to walk behind the elephant.
Even if they gain some traction in a primary race, the reaction of the non-Trump field will be to knock down anyone who might beat him outright. Their ambition will cost them their chance, and the country – again. We will not see what we saw from the Democrats in 2020, when faced with a Bernie Sanders nomination, coalesced behind the most electable candidate – President Joe Biden.
Some smart guy once wrote, Everything Trump Touches Dies. When Trump infects you, it’s not a like a rattlesnake’s neurotoxins. It’s more like that of a Komodo Dragon. When it bites, it injects venom that slowly weakens and ultimately does you in, allowing the lizard to come find its dinner. Each of these has been bitten by the Lizard-in-Chief. The toxins are coursing through their veins, whether they accept it or not.
So, as we sit down to Thanksgiving Dinner this week, the rump wing of the Republican Party will sit down with their families, friends and advisers and plot out their path to the White House. We’ve been part of these conversations. They’re heady. They’re exciting. Often, they’re little more than a high-stakes parlor game.
Meanwhile, the dragon sits in his bridal suite, eating his well-done steak, and laughs.