The Republican Predicament

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

I have been warning for months, if not years, about the danger the Republican Party poses to the United States, referring to it as a “terrorist organization” and criticizing it for its willingness to do former President Donald Trump’s bidding. But, fairness demands that I point out the beginnings, perhaps, of some cracks in Republican subservience to Trump.

Do not get me wrong: The vast majority of Republicans still appear willing to kneel before the would-be autocrat of Mar-a-Lago. There appears to be no end of Republican politicians trekking to south Florida or willing to appear on stage with Trump to show their loyalty in hopes he does not turn on them and back a primary challenger. Trump still leads a cult-like movement that may well take America down the road to fascism in the near future.

But — but, there is some dissent among Republicans. This past Sunday two southern Republicans suggested that Trump may not be the best thing for the Republican Party. What is most interesting is that both these Republicans — Senator Bill Cassidy from Louisiana and Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas — hail from states that are deeply Republican and from a region that overwhelmingly votes Red, and for Trump, in particular.

Cassidy told Mike Allen of Axios that he does not believe Trump will be the Republican presidential nominee in 2024. “President Trump is the first president,” Cassidy said in the interview, “in the Republican side at least, to lose the House, the Senate, and the presidency in four years. Elections are about winning.” When asked if he would vote for Trump for president, Cassidy offered a definitive, “I’m not.”

Cassidy was one of seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump, at his second impeachment trial, for inciting the January 6 insurrection. “Our Constitution and our country is more important than any one person. I voted to convict President Trump because he is guilty,” Cassidy said in a statement after the Louisiana’s Republican Party censured him for his vote.

Perhaps, more surprising was the position taken by Hutchinson in an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” in which the Arkansas governor criticized the former president for endangering Republican prospects in next year’s midterm elections. “Re-litigating 2020 is a recipe for disaster in 2022,” Hutchinson said. “Let’s talk about the future. The election is past, it’s been certified.… It’s about the future, it’s not about the last election.” 

Hutchinson was responding to a specific question from “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd, who asked if Republicans should be worried by the statement Trump issued last week that Republicans may not vote in 2022 and 2024 because of alleged “fraud” in 2020. Many Republicans fear that Trump’s continuing demand of blind loyalty from his followers, including urging his voters to sit out future elections, will cost Republicans winnable elections. Hutchinson merely said out loud what many Republicans say quietly. 

We do not have to dig deep in history to find a precedent for Republicans to be concerned about Trump’s focus on his 2020 defeat. Many Republican strategists blame the loss of two Georgia Senate seats in that state’s January 5, 2021, runoff on Republican voters staying home because they believed Trump’s claims of fraud in the November 2020 presidential election. These Republicans fear Trump could cost them seats in the House and Senate in 2022 and may yet jeopardize the party’s chances in the Virginia governor’s race next month.

The New York Times reports that Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who supports continued audits of the 2020 presidential vote and who echoes all of Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud, was surprised to discover that almost 10 percent of Republican voters in her district might not vote in 2022. Greene apparently told supporters that an internal survey found that five percent of Republicans said they definitely would sit out the 2022 election and another four percent would consider not voting. Given the closeness of recent Georgia elections, the possibility that nearly 10 percent of Republicans would stay home seriously endangers Republican chances. 

Republicans are caught between a rock and a hard place. As Cassidy said, Trump lost them the White House and both chambers of Congress. His continued ranting about fraud and the possibility that Republicans will not vote endangers future elections. Yet, his followers dominate the party. According to a recent poll, 41 percent of Republicans say they consider themselves Trump followers, not Republicans. And, nearly two-thirds of Republicans say the GOP should punish elected officials who openly criticize Trump. 

Given those numbers, it is not surprising that most Republican polticians are unwilling to go on record saying anything negative about Trump. Most will only whisper what Cassidy and Hutchinson were willing to say out loud. Most are more like Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, who in February criticized Trump for his role in the January 6 insurrection. Yet, earlier this month, Grassley stood next to Trump at a rally and welcomed the former president’s endorsement for another term in the Senate. But, even Grassley made it clear he wanted Trump’s backing not out of fondness for the former president but because of Trump’s popularity. “I was born at night, but not last night,” Grassley told the rally goers. “So if I didn’t accept the endorsement of a person that’s got 91 percent of the Republican voters in Iowa, I wouldn’t be too smart. I’m smart enough to accept that endorsement.”

So, which is it? Cassidy and Hutchinson warning the Republican Party to be careful who it heeds? Or, Grassley, who probably knows better, groveling before evil because it is politically wise to do so?

But, what is the politically wise thing to do? Is it wise to act in the short term to save a political career or to jettison political subservience to one man in the interest of the future of the Republican party and the Republic? That is the Republican predicament, and it appears we are going to have front row seats to watch the decision-making play out.

Posted October 19, 2021