The Republican Party long ago missed its chance to distance itself from Trump. Now it’s far too late

With her jaw-dropping testimony before the House select committee on Jan. 6, former assistant to the White House chief of staff Cassidy Hutchinson has given Republicans an opportunity: Get out the 17.5-foot poles and push Donald Trump as far away as they can while there is still a chance. Hutchinson’s testimony, showing that the man who is petty, spiteful, mean, and cruel on stage, turns out to be even more petty, spiteful, mean, and cruel in private, is to Republicans what Jan. 6 was to Trump’s seditious conspiracy: a last chance.

On the day after Jan. 6, Republican “leaders” like Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell were adamant in renouncing both the assault on the Capitol and the man who drove the mob into the halls of Congress. McCarthy was quoted as saying, “I’ve had it with this guy” after telling a group of Republican representatives that he would push for Trump to resign. McConnell also told fellow Republicans that Trump was responsible for the Jan. 6 attack and vowed to “drive him from politics.”

But within days, McCarthy hurried down to Mar-a-Lago, begging the forgiveness of Trump and denying he’d ever said anything about trying to remove him from office. A position made only slightly more awkward by recordings of McCarthy doing exactly that. 

Now Republicans have another chance to walk away from Trump. Don’t expect them to take it. Because it’s too late.

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Once upon a time, in the Pre-Trumpian age that now seems so far away, but was really just 2016, Republicans up and down the dial were readily aware that Donald Trump was in no sense qualified for high office, and that even putting him on the ballot as the Republican nominee was absolutely ridiculous.

There was Marco Rubio saying, “We’re about to have someone take over the Republican Party who is a con artist” (and Rubio should know). Rubio also called Trump the most “vulgar person to ever aspire to the presidency” and someone “who has fed into language that basically justifies physically assaulting people who disagree with you.” 

Ted Cruz called Trump, “utterly amoral,” “a pathological liar,” and “a narcissist at a level that I don't think this country has ever seen.” Repeating … Ted Cruz said this.

And of course, Lindsey Graham was there to say that Trump was, “a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot. He doesn't represent my party.” 

"You know how you make America great again?,” asked Graham. “Tell Donald Trump to go to hell."

Then every single one of these leaders showed that they had feet, not of clay, because clay has much more consistency than anything demonstrated by these men. Watery mud, at best. 

The Republican Party might have tried to hold itself separate from Trump’s white nationalist kleptocratic authoritarian agenda. It didn’t. It might have broken with Trump when the first impeachment hearings revealed how he attempted to bully Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy into generating false evidence against Joe Biden in exchange for the weapons it needed to hold back Russia. It didn’t. It might have broken away from Trump at a hundred different points, before, during, and after Jan. 6. It didn’t. 

Every day Republicans have had an option: Take their lumps for supporting Trump, and try to save what remains of their party. Instead, they’ve picked door number two—the one where they pull out a spade and dig the hole even deeper. Every day they’ve made the bet that wading further into the swamp is the better alternative—even though they’ve watched the waters close over the heads of so many former party stalwarts.

Last night in Illinois, Mary Miller beat out Rodney Davis for the nomination in the 15th congressional district on the sole basis of being the most willing to do anything, anything, anything, that Donald Trump says. It’s a story that has been repeated so many times in the last five years. What’s left of the Republican Party to save at this point? There’s no version of Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene that is not just about being proxies for Trump. Ditto Josh Hawley, Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, et. al. 

If Republicans stepped away from Trump, who would lead that charge? McCarthy? Graham? Cruz? Any of them might have preserved something of a dry place to stand that they could leverage now. But they didn’t. There’s maybe Mitt Romney and maybe half a dozen members of the House who have made it through the last four years like kids hunched down at the back of the class, hoping that the teacher would never, ever call on them. The only other Republicans who haven’t groveled at a level that embarrasses earthworms have either lost their seats, retired, or are about to.

Republicans should be thanking Cassidy Hutchinson for this fresh opportunity to declare that they didn’t know Trump was that bad. Because, beyond the ketchup on the walls and the grabbing for the wheel, what Hutchinson made dead obvious was that Donald Trump acted to make sure that his supporters at the Capitol were armed and that he intended to lead their assault on Congress personally. He wanted to be on hand to direct the people chanting “Hang Mike Pence,” which was music to his ears.

There are going to be charges of seditious conspiracy. A number of people are going to go to jail. What’s left of the Republican Party can either take this opportunity to bail on Trump or double down on the destruction of democracy.

Expect them to choose door number two. Again.