Don’t bet on the GOP coming to its senses just yet

Despite developments like Mike Pence calling him wrong, GOP loyalty to Donald Trump remains solid

Vice President Mike Pence is seen here with Speaker Nancy Pelosi during the joint session of Congress to certify the Electoral College votes on Jan. 7, 2021. Rioters had stormed the Capitol the day before. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Vice President Mike Pence is seen here with Speaker Nancy Pelosi during the joint session of Congress to certify the Electoral College votes on Jan. 7, 2021. Rioters had stormed the Capitol the day before. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted February 8, 2022 at 6:00am

I always thought I was a decent judge of character. 

It didn’t take long during my interview with California Democratic congressional hopeful Peter Navarro (who years later became a top ally of President Donald Trump and key adviser on trade and economic policy) to figure out that he was an arrogant bully. I didn’t like him right away.

I had the same reaction to Connecticut GOP hopeful Peter Schiff, a libertarian investment adviser who came into a meeting armed with an unconvincing poll from a lightweight pollster. He promised to run a national campaign even though he had often failed to vote in his home state. Warning bells went off in my head only minutes into the meeting.

I thought I knew a huckster and a bully when I saw one, and I figured the American people did too — which is why I continue to be surprised by the loyalty shown former President Donald Trump by Republicans. 

You don’t need particularly sensitive antennae to see that Trump is a narcissist and a liar. 

He’s always struck me as a self-promoter and carnival barker. After watching him give speeches and deal with the press, I can’t imagine how anyone would think he is intelligent. Or articulate. Or knowledgeable.

And we aren’t talking a close call here.

I can see people having very different views on abortion, guns, tax policy, national security, health care and dozens of other issues. And I understand that when you are on a team, you tend to rally around the members of that team.

But treating Trump as some sort of political figure to rally around? That boggles the mind.

The latest evidence of Trump’s stupidity is a Feb.5 statement from the former president. “Republicans are getting absolutely creamed with the phony redistricting,” he whined, not explaining how redistricting was “phony.”

“We were expecting to do well in New York,” he said showing his ignorance about redistricting. “Now,” continued Trump, “we’ll lose four seats and the Old Broken-Down Crow, Mitch McConnell, sits back and does nothing to help the party.”

In fact, Republicans were never expected to “do well” in redistricting in the Empire State. And while Democrats are doing better than expected nationally, I’m not sure what McConnell, the Senate minority leader, was supposed to do to change things, at least outside of Kentucky.

But Trump doesn’t care about facts. He cares only about outcomes and whether he is advantaged.

Yes, I understand that some people are angry with the establishment, believe Democrats are a threat to our economy and culture, and yearn for the 1950s. Some uneducated Americans even like Trump’s vulgarity and name-calling.

But Trump continues to get crucial support from people who are educated — the kind of people who, if they rejected Trump, would weaken him, encourage critics within the GOP, and turn the party back to a reasonable brand of conservatism. 

Can those Trump supporters possibly believe that it is possible to insert ultraviolet light inside people to kill COVID-19? Do they really support seizing voting machines? And do they really regard the assault on the Capitol as “legitimate political discourse” after watching video of the attack and its ensuing destruction?

Now, the Republican National Committee has censured GOP Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, arguing that they are cooperating with a Democratic effort to discredit Trump. And former Vice President Mike Pence has said that Trump was “wrong” about his authority (or lack of authority) to stop the election of Joe Biden.

The question is whether these developments will have an impact on some people who have been Trump supporters, turning them against the GOP.  

Will a growing percentage of Republican voters come to recognize Trump’s lies and reject his assertion that the election of 2020 was stolen? Will they be shocked and upset that he surrounded himself by so many advisers who said he could simply change the outcome of the 2020 election? And will more Republicans start to recognize Trump’s lies and see him as a bully who is intent on winning, even if that means undermining key democratic institutions? 

I remain skeptical.

Trump voters aren’t watching CNN or MSNBC, reading The New York Times or The Washington Post, or getting their information from dispassionate sources. 

If you are watching Fox News or NewsMax, you aren’t getting information that will encourage you to rethink your assessment of Trump, Cheney or the two parties.

Just as important, few high-profile conservative Republicans have jumped off the Trump bandwagon. Maybe a few more will do that over the next few weeks, and maybe that development will create a true fracture in the GOP. But so far, the people who have defended Trump still defend him, and those who have avoided criticizing him continue to avoid criticizing him.

People like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who once mocked Trump as a fraud and a liar, have been stunningly quiet in the hours and days after the RNC’s censure of Cheney and Kinzinger and Trump’s Feb. 5 statement on redistricting and attack on McConnell. 

That may change, of course. But most Republicans who find Trump repugnant have already signaled their opposition to him, and the party apparently lacks a large contingent of people — in the grassroots, in elective office and in the national party’s leadership — for whom character, integrity and the truth are important.