Resolute Square

The Enablers

Published:January 18, 2024
Out of cowardice or ambition, or both, so many (Republicans) who know better are shredding their principles to endorse a man guilty of so much wrongdoing

*Read all of David's writing and watch his fantastic videos at Pepperspectives!

By David Pepper

Boy have people been walking the plank in recent days.

Apparently, Trump made it clear that he was taking notes on who endorsed him by the Iowa Caucus. So one by one, from Marco Rubio and other Senators to former Governor and Presidential candidate Doug Burgum to Ohio’s LG Jon Husted, they stepped down to the end of that plank and jumped right off—endorsing Trump for President.

In a similar way, we’re also seeing leading Republicans who’d endorsed Haley or DeSantis now quick to say that of course they’d vote for Trump over Biden. Take Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, who’s spent years cultivating a brand that he’s more reasonable than the Trump wing of the party. Heck, a year ago, at a dinner, Sununu even called Trump “f-ing crazy”—later saying that “[t]his is not the Donald Trump of 2016. Don’t fool yourself…he doesn’t have the energy.” But now, Sununu apparently thinks “f-ing crazy” would still be better than Joe Biden. Kim Reynolds, Iowa Governor and a big DeSantis backer, said the same thing yesterday.

On the one hand, the whole sight is pathetic. Out of cowardice or ambition, or both, so many who know better are shredding their principles to endorse a man guilty of so much wrongdoing, including attacking democracy and our Constitution itself in front of the entire nation.

But it’s actually more than just pathetic.

As I explain in the video above, if you look at history—and the pattern of how authoritarians rise to power—kowtowing and enabling by more trusted elites in their own party are essential first steps. And therefore they are among the first tasks on the autocrat-wannabe’s “to do” list.
Let me quote my friend Ruth Ben-Giat, one of our country’s foremost experts on authoritarianism, from her must-read book “Strongmen”:

“Elites are the authoritarian’s most important promoters and collaborators. Afraid of losing their class, general or race privileges, influential individuals bring the insurgent into the political system, thinking he can be controlled as he solves their problems….Once the ruler is in power, elites strike an ‘authoritarian bargain’ that promises them power and security in return to loyalty to the ruler and toleration of his suspension of rights. Some are true believers, and others fear the consequences of subtracting their support, but those who sign on tend to stick with the leader through gross mismanagement, impeachment, or intentional humiliation.” (page 14)

Or in my recent review of Garden of Beasts, I summarized how,
“early on, Hitler and his inner circle of loyalists (in their 40s or younger) are dismissed by others as clownish. Buffoons. Adolescents. Not serious. Germans and foreign diplomats alike just assume they won’t last long, and that elder statesman who still wield considerable public sway and power—or a lower tier of more serious-minded officials waiting in the wings—who know better will at some point just push them aside so the “adults” can be back in charge….And because they too don’t take the threat of Hitler seriously, those German “adults” also go along with it. They decide it’s better to go along in the short term, confident that Hitler and his ilk won’t last long. Or confident that they can control Hitler at the time they need to. We now know that all that time accommodating and legitimizing was critical as Hitler consolidated his power.”

So when Rubio and Sununu and Husted endorse Trump and his extremism, they are doing more than lifting him. They are sanitizing him. Normalizing him. Wrapping him in their more moderate brands. They think it helps them—but it truly is essential for HIM.

And that, history proves, is dangerous as hell.

It also underscores why—when other similarly situated Republicans do stand up to him—we need to value those voices.

Be they Liz Cheney or—yesterday—Asa Hutchinson.

We saw the importance of those voices play out first hand last year.

Ohio’s Issue 1 (the one in August) went down in flames in part because enough Republican leaders (former officials, but well known) who knew better were willing to say so. Publicly. And their voices (standing up to their party, their Governor and the entire legislature) gave cover and license to everyday Republicans to join them (and reject their party) in voting No in August. And that created an unbeatable bipartisan voting coalition that sent that sneak attack on Ohio’s democracy down in flames.

So let’s learn the lesson even if so many are failing to: those with standing who enable Trump are risking our nation’s democracy for their own self-serving goals, which makes them dangerous. Reckless. Call them out for it. Demand they do better. Remember it the next time they seek office.

Those with standing who stand up to Trump are playing a pivotal role in protecting democracy—even if we may disagree with them on a broad swath of other issues.

Thank them. Their voices matter with voters we will need to protect democracy in this cycle, and in the long run.