Saturday, February 27, 2021

The Anti-Trump GOP’s Risky Bet | Opinion


The impeachment of Donald Trump was either a resounding vindication of constitutional principles or a damaging stain on them. He will either continue as a motivating force in the Republican Party or fade into deserved obscurity. GOP voters are either fed up with him or eager to find an heir to his revolution.

It all depends on whom you ask. For Democrats and dissenting Republicans, the narrative is that Trump deserved impeachment, his legacy is damaged beyond repair and his party would do well to find better heroes moving forward. But how prevalent is that view among actual voters, especially those who backed Trump just three months ago?

Funny thing about these Republicans souring on Trump—they exude confidence that deep down, their voters agree with them, or soon will. Even with little or no applause accompanying their stances, they express platitudes that would ordinarily resonate with traditional conservative voters—references to their sacred oaths and the Constitution itself, as if both obviously required every House member to impeach, and every Senator to convict.

And yet, vast majorities of their fellow Republicans, respecting the same Constitution and working under the same oath, saw things differently. Forty-three of 50 in the Senate, and 201 of 211 in the House, to be exact. There is little reason to believe the Trump faithful are abandoning ship. Witness the reactions aimed at Rep. Liz Cheney after her impeachment vote, or Sen. Bill Cassidy after he joined the Republican conviction caucus.

So how will this divide work out for the anti-Trump faction of the GOP? The current scarcity of support for it among voters is not a guarantee that it will fail in the future—absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. There does exist some number of Republican voters repelled by Trump before, during or after the Capitol riots.

But how many? The politicians casting their fate to the winds of Trump fatigue will need more support than they appear to have now. As members of the House, Liz Cheney and other members of the GOP impeachment brigade face primaries in just over a year. In the Senate, only Lisa Murkowski of Alaska faces voters in 2022. Of the remaining six senators who voted to convict, two are retiring, three just won fresh six-year terms and the last is Mitt Romney, whose low opinion of Trump has been baked in for years.

Liz Cheney protest
A man holds up a sign against Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) as Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) speaks to a crowd during a rally against her on January 28, 2021 in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Gaetz added his voice to a growing effort to vote Cheney out of office after she voted in favor of impeaching Donald Trump.
Michael Ciaglo/Getty

In both chambers, the Republicans casting Trump aside must hope for more than short memories on the part of their constituents. They will need voters to gravitate toward them in an epiphany that the former president’s critics were right, and that devotion to Trump was ill-placed. It is hard to imagine anything Trump might do in private life that would make large numbers of his supporters retroactively regret their votes.

But the anti-Trump Republicans in Congress have a longer game to play. By rejecting him as a party leader, they raise the strong suggestion that a different flavor of leadership is needed—one offered, presumably, by people like themselves. That argument will require more than opposing Trump; they will need to find their own way to win support by attracting conservatives with skillful resistance to the Biden agenda, or by wooing moderates and swing voters who weren’t that conservative in the first place.

They will be making these attempts in competition with personalities who bank on continued support for Trump, display their own capacity to govern like he did, or both. If those others garner the lion’s share of Republican admiration (and money), anti-Trump Republicans’ decision to give the former president the back of their hands could backfire.

So, to the surprise of no one, Trump and attitudes about him are the key to the Republican future. If his post-presidency manages to attract anything resembling the ardor and passion of his term, candidates resembling him could excel. If that fan base fades or collapses, the vacuum could be filled with some of the emboldened malcontents now rolling the dice against him.

But one must wonder: what in the world would cause Trump to bleed support? The election is over, and so is another failed impeachment. His Twitter banishment means there will be no 3 a.m. hot takes that could make admirers wince and critics pounce.

The pro-impeachment wing of the GOP has had a bellyful of Trump, and craves a different direction. To avoid stumbling, its members will need a lot of voters to develop the same distaste. That may be all the more challenging during a Biden presidency that could spark more Trump nostalgia than Trump fatigue.

Mark Davis is a talk show host for the Salem Media Group on 660AM The Answer in Dallas-Ft. Worth, and a columnist for the Dallas Morning News and Townhall.

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.


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