Republicans had a choice to make over the last few months, a period during which their presidential candidate refused to concede after losing and whose behavior inspired an attack on the Capitol that will now put an asterisk on America’s tradition of the peaceful transition of power.
They could have shown a modicum of backbone, realizing that there are worse things to fear than the president’s defunct Twitter account. They could have voted to impeach Trump, convict him, and disqualify him from future office. They could have drawn a clear line that they won’t submit to politics by mob agitation.
Or they could continue to cower in fear, terrified that his base would punish them at the ballot box for doing the right thing. The GOP took the path of cowardice.
As Shakespeare told us, a coward dies a thousand deaths, while the brave man dies but one. The GOP has chosen to die a thousand deaths. Rather than standing up to the Trumpist mob and risking political destruction once, they will die bit by bit, over and over, acquiescing to one indignity after another and destroying the party slowly.
This coward’s dilemma is summed up in the one new thing we learned during the impeachment, though not in the hearings themselves: a more detailed report about Donald Trump’s refusal to help congressmen under immediate threat from the Capitol rioters.
In an expletive-laced phone call with House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy while the Capitol was under attack, then-President Donald Trump said the rioters cared more about the election results than McCarthy did. “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,” Trump said, according to lawmakers who were briefed on the call afterward by McCarthy. …
A furious McCarthy told the then-President the rioters were breaking into his office through the windows, and asked Trump, “Who the f— do you think you are talking to?” according to a Republican lawmaker familiar with the call. …
The Republican members of Congress said the exchange showed Trump had no intention of calling off the rioters even as lawmakers were pleading with him to intervene.
Keep these details in mind when you consider the meaning of the House and Senate votes on Trump’s impeachment.
The Republicans in the House who voted not to impeach, and the senators who voted not to convict, voted to accept that kind of mob attack as a normal part of their political lives. They voted for tyranny—not over the country as a whole, but over themselves, personally. They voted to live in fear of Trump and Trump’s mobs.
The impeachment vote was their chance to remove Trump’s malignant influence, standing up to a potential backlash from the voters this one time, but barring Trump from future office and ending his political career.
They couldn’t do it. By caving to the fear of temporary anger from their voters, many of whom continue to support Donald Trump, they will now live in fear for the rest of their political careers.
Hence the immediate next step: The Trump mobs are working to take over the Republican Party at the state organization level.
There have been a series of votes by state organizations to censure any Republican who supported impeachment, with a Pennsylvania official declaring that when they sent Pat Toomey to the Senate, “We did not send him there to vote his conscience. We did not send him there to do the right thing, or whatever.” They sent him there to reflect their personal loyalty to Donald Trump.
The first big electoral test is going to be in Virginia, thanks to our policy of holding state-level elections in odd-numbered years, so that candidate selection for this November’s vote is already well under way. It’s going about as well as you’d expect:
A Virginia state senator and gubernatorial candidate who has described herself as “Trump in heels” is emerging as a problem for the state’s Republican party as they seek to take the governor’s mansion.
Amanda Chase boasts enthusiastic grassroots support in pockets of the state. But she has also drawn bipartisan rebuke for incendiary statements calling for martial law to overturn the 2020 presidential election and seemingly expressing support for the mob that stormed the US Capitol. … “That is my base support,” Chase said. “I’m most in line with President Trump.”
Obviously, Chase has no chance of winning in November, when she has to seek the votes of respectable moderates in Northern Virginia. But if you doubt she can win in the primaries, or that people like her can win control of state Republican parties across the nation, consider the polls.
A recent Morning Consult poll shows the extent to which the Republican rank-and-file, in the absence of leadership to rally them against Trump and the Capitol riot in the days after January 6, have managed to absorb, accept, and embrace the attack.
More than twice as many Republicans, 58 percent, now blame congressional Democrats for the riot than blame Donald Trump (27 percent). And with 54 percent support, Trump is the prohibitive favorite for the party’s 2024 presidential nomination.
The Capitol riot mob is the Republican Party now—in some cases, literally.
This is the prospect that could destroy the Republican Party. Having failed to stand up to Trump when it counted, the party is now driven primarily by fear of him—and of the fanatics and nut jobs who are setting themselves up as Trump’s local enforcers. This, in turn, will drive away any reasonable people, which will put the fanatics even more firmly in power. There are some areas of the country where this will not hurt them at the polls. But letting the party fall under the thrall of an increasingly unhinged minority is a great way to lose elections everywhere else.
Cowardice has its costs. In this case, the cost will be a political death spiral in which there will be fewer but worse Republicans.