History will not judge well those Republican moderates who abandoned a difficult fight against Trump because they thought it was a hopeless fight.
Despite sinking into further disrepute since his departure from the White House, remarkably or perhaps unremarkably, Donald Trump has firmly established his position as the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
At first glance, it is easy to attribute Trump’s success simply to the increased radicalization and division apparent in the “land of liberty.” But I see it differently.
For me, the cowardly retreat of Republican moderates has not received sufficient blame for the marginalization of American conservatism. Their opposition to Trump, despite increased opportunity for it to be effective, has been both pitiful and pathetic.
After the underwhelming Republican performance in the 2022 midterms, for which Trump was resoundingly culpable, one would have hoped to see the emergence of a nominee with the potential to restore respectability to the GOP’s leadership. After all, the chance was staring them in the face.
Yet, no viable moderate competitor has emerged. While some will argue that the party is so lost that, at this point, the situation is hopeless, how do we know that to be true if no one has tried?
As a result, the Trump virus has continued to fester and spread. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, considered the most likely contender to take on Trump, is just Trump without the amusement. He’s just as determined to push dogmatic agendas, be it on guns, LGBT rights, or abortion. He is just less funny. Quite a bit.
Trump’s presidency was characterized by the binary choice he created: you were either with him or against him. This polarizing force instilled fear in those who dared to defy him. However, in the current nomination context, there’s no excuse for moderate Republicans to cower. Gone should be their fear of alienating Trump’s voting base because that base has left them. After all, it is a base that despises them as much as they despise that base. Instead, they should be jumping at the chance to confront him.
But this cowardice is baked in, starting at the top. Party leaders, like Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy, have often been reluctant to criticize Trump, fearing jeopardy to their political careers. Ronna McDaniel’s election as chair of The Republican National Committee is another signal. She is widely seen as having been picked because she is best positioned to prevent Trump from forming a splinter movement, should he lose the nomination.
Their support sends a message to rank-and-file Republicans that dissent from Trumpism is not welcome.
So, if the GOP is truly lost to the MAGA movement, why haven’t we seen more defections to the Democrats or an appetite for an alternative movement? The Lincoln Project, a political action committee formed by moderate Republicans, is the closest thing but its efforts alone aren’t enough.
Asa Hutchinson, former two-term Arkansas governor, is running as a “non-Trump” candidate, vowing to champion “common sense, consistent conservatism.” While commendable, Hutchinson is polling with less than 1 per cent support, unable to build any momentum largely thanks to the absence of figures like Mitt Romney, which highlights the apathy and fear that has become pervasive among moderate Republicans.
One must wonder what happened to the conviction and performance of these moderates in the face of Trump’s antics. Where is Jeb Bush, who was last reported to be attempting to buy and sell Israeli spyware through his private equity firm? And even if they are quiet now, at least Bush and Romney previously tried to take Trump on. Where are the many others who never even bothered? They carry far more of the blame.
Spineless refusals to confront Trump are directly responsible for his continued popularity. History will not judge well those moderates who abandoned a difficult fight because they thought it was a hopeless fight. Those who flew the white flag and surrendered their party to the MAGA pirates will be seen for what they are: cowards.
This article first appeared in the Toronto Star on May 7, 2023.