Time for Republicans to can Donald Trump
This appeared in the Chicago Tribune
Former President Donald Trump’s name wasn’t on the ballot in the midterms. But his presence — for better and worse — reminded us of a blimp in a circus tent, set to deflate.
In his tireless effort to prove his enduring influence as a political kingmaker after refusing to concede following his 2020 loss, Trump endorsed more than 330 candidates, held some 30 rallies and raised millions of dollars. Many of his picks were inexperienced and otherwise flawed candidates, but all passed his litmus test, a willingness to defend the former president’s bogus claims of a stolen 2020 election.
Yet, after raising expectations of a “red wave,” the Republican Party failed to deliver much more than a pink ripple. A striking number of the candidates who had won Trump’s coveted endorsement were defeated, including nominees for governor and Senate in Pennsylvania and for governor of Michigan, New York and Wisconsin.
Despite high inflation and President Joe Biden’s shaky approval ratings, the predicted landslide turned into a cliffhanger with control of the House still not known.
The Republican disappointment also ignited something new for Trump since he became the GOP’s de facto leader: Open calls for him to step aside, and to refrain from running again, so his party and the nation can move on.
Although Trump predictably lashed out online in his standard fashion at “fake news” and “enemies of the state,” it is not so easy to dismiss such prominent conservative critics as the Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post, Wall Street Journal and Fox News, a number of Trump’s fellow Republicans and conservative allies, noting how much his political brand had grown toxic, producing underwhelming results in three consecutive election cycles.
“Trump Is The Republican Party’s Biggest Loser,” read an editorial headline in The Wall Street Journal. “Trump is the past,” said host Stuart Varney on Murdoch’s Fox Business Network.
And with tabloid-style subtlety, the New York Post ran a full-page election night photo of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who handily won reelection without seeking Trump’s endorsement, with the headline “DeFUTURE.”
They’re not joking. DeSantis surfed to reelection on his own statewide GOP tide, strengthening talk that he may take on Trump for the nomination in 2024. At a rally the previous weekend, Trump rewarded DeSantis’ new prominence — and possible rivalry — with the sort of nickname he branded earlier rivals: “Ron DeSanctimonious.”
Trump also mentioned as a potential rival his former Vice President Mike Pence, who has an autobiography coming out, a possible confirmation that Pence, too, is considering a presidential bid.
Needless to say, there are numerous other potential contenders waiting in the wings. But the former president has a way of sucking up all the oxygen in the room, even after he has worn out his welcome.
Or, as conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg, a Trump critic, wrote in 2016, the former real estate developer has put his party in the position of mice who, as a group, want to bell the cat, but no individual mouse has been brave enough to try it alone.
Let’s hope the Grand Old Party finally is beginning to realize they need to take on the big cat and stand as a party for principles, not just a person, and move on.