Senate Republicans, like almost all Republicans, stood strongly with Donald Trump through four years of chaos, incompetence, malice, and mayhem. They stood with him as he promoted his Big Lie, that he hadn’t lost decisively to an American electorate sick of his bullshit. They stood with him during certification of the vote, not just those who challenged the Arizona and Pennsylvania votes, but those who stayed quiet and refused to criticize their colleagues’ efforts to undermine democracy. And with seven notable exceptions, they stood by him during the impeachment vote by refusing to hold Trump accountable for his unprecedented efforts to destroy American democracy.
Now they want you to think that they really don’t stand with Trump, you know, just because.
There are only seven Senate Republicans with any credibility left on the matter of democracy—Richard Burr (NC), Bill Cassidy (LA), Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Mitt Romney (UT), Ben Sasse (NE), and Pat Toomey (PA). Every single other Republican can go to hell, having destroyed the United State’s credibility on matters of human rights, democracy, and the right of self-determination. Why should the military coup leaders in Myanmar give two shits what Mitch McConnell has to say about their undemocratic power grab? He literally just gave Donald Trump a pass on the same kind of effort, here at home.
Trump literally tried to get Vice President Mike Pence killed, and 43 Republicans didn’t give a shit.
Oh, many are talking a good game.
McConnell himself tried to have it both ways, pretty much hoping the criminal justice system does to Trump what he himself was too afraid or feckless to do. With an eye to nervous corporate PACs, wary of giving money to insurrectionists, he all but begged them to come back to the GOP’s embrace, without doing anything to actually address those concerns.
Trump’s literal strategy was to try and throw out the votes of predominantly Black voters in Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Detroit. And McConnell, given the chance to do something about it, merely shrugged, while his Senate committee sent out “stand with Trump” fundraising emails.
Other Senate Republicans are equally eager to put Trump and the damage he creates in his wake behind them. “Senate Republicans are warning that they no longer view former President Trump as the leader of the party amid growing signs that they are ready to turn the page after a chaotic four years,” says the lede of a Hill piece on those efforts, as I almost died of laughter. North Dakota’s Kevin Cramer, who was too cowardly to hold Trump accountable for trying to murder his Vice President, said, “Now, as you can tell, there’s some support that will never leave. But I think that there’s a shrinking population and it probably shrinks a little bit after this week.” South Dakota’s John Thune claimed that the vote was “absolutely not” an endorsement of Trump’s actions, except it was exactly that.
You’d think that Republicans would be concerned about their political peril. Under Trump, Republicans lost the House, the Senate, and the White House. In fact, Trump was only the third president in the last 100 years to lose reelection. They lost ground among people of color (in absolute numbers, even if as a percentage, they may have made some gains). They lost ground among young voters. They lost ground among suburban college-educated women.
Their most substantial gains? Old white rural men, a constituency that is literally dying off.
Smart Republicans might look at that damage and think, “on the one hand, he tried to get his Vice President murdered, launched an insurrection against our country, and damaged out international standing, and we’re okay with that, but hell, do we want to keep losing elections?” It’s not as if they’re blind to the damage, as Indiana’s Kevin Cramer said, “I am more concerned about how we rebuild the party in a way that brings in more people to it.”
But really, their strategy, for the most part, really appears to be “let’s pretend Trump doesn’t exist.” Texas’ John Cornyn said, “We won’t keep talking about his tweets or what he did or did not do.” Ha ha ha as if they ever talked about his tweets. It was uncanny how Republicans never ever saw his tweets!
Meanwhile, too many Republicans still think they can win over Trump’s base in a 2024 presidential bid, like the Senate’s biggest opportunist, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham. “Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) asserted on Sunday that twice-impeached former President Donald Trump was the face of the Republican Party, declaring that “Trump-plus” was the best path forward for the GOP. At the same time, he insisted that Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara was the “future of the Republican Party,” reported the Daily Beast, on his appearance on Fox’s Sunday show. Too many Republicans will trip themselves to be the biggest Trump cheerleaders, when Trump will only ever enthusiastically support someone from his own tribe, and her name is “Ivanka.”
Undoubtedly, Trump’s deplatforming has dramatically reduced his influence, but it’s only a matter of time before he lands on one of the right’s many platforms, whether it’s Gab, OANN, or Parler, if it ever resuscitates. And then, it doesn’t matter if Trump is speaking to the mainstream as long as he reaches the true believers. He doesn’t have to control the party to severely damage it.
Now to be clear, there’s no way Trump launches a viable third party to challenge the GQP. No freakin’ way. We’ve seen the crowd that surrounds Trump. He doesn’t exactly attract top talent. He’s the guy who bankrupted a casino, a business that literally mints its own money. What’s he going to do, put Steve Bannon in charge? Jared Kushner? We’d witness the biggest grift in political history, which might be great for Trump and his cronies, but wouldn’t be particularly effective in winning significant support.
Ultimately, it’s much easier to take over the existing party, which is where Republicans stand today—swarmed by the MAGA/Q believers they so avidly cultivated with fear-based racist appeals. I don’t think anyone doubts that Trump would be convicted by the Senate in a secret vote. The fact that Republicans couldn’t publicly pull the trigger is all the evidence you need that the Republican Party hasn’t moved past Trump or his supporters. They remain held in thrall by them.
In the short- and mid-term, it’s important we hold corporations accountable for any donations to the Republican Party. They made the right move to cut off that flow of money, and McConnell did nothing to mitigate their concerns. And of course, we need to make sure our side remains engaged and active, to punish Republicans in 2022. History says we’ll lose Congress, but history isn’t always right. It wasn’t in 2002 when George W. Bush won seats in his first mid-term, in the wake of 9-11. January 6 should have as much cultural and political resonance, if not more, than 9-11. Saudi terrorists never threatened our Constitution or democracy. My own fury remains unabated.
So yeah, good luck GQP trying to pretend that they can move on and pretend Trump is irrelevant, and that their own actions enabling him to the very end should be shrugged off. No one is ready to move on.