Whether or not you believe Trump has a chance to win the Republican nomination in 2024 isn’t relevant. A majority of Republican leaders believe it. This is the prevailing attitude driving the leaders of the fractured Republican Party going into this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), billed as “America Uncancelled.”
The battle lines of the Republican civil war were symbolically drawn again by Kevin McCarthy and Liz Cheney when both were asked if they believed Trump should speak at CPAC. McCarthy’s response was, “Yes he should.” Cheney’s response was, “That’s up to CPAC. I don’t believe that he should be playing a role in the future of the party or the country.” McCarthy holds the majority Republican opinion, Cheney the minority. And so the civil war for the tattered soul of the Republican Party is engaged.
Don’t get me wrong, I see this as a good thing. They all deserve to go down in flames after the carnage they visited on the country with four years of coddling and enabling the one-term monster and his pirate ship regime. To paraphrase Donald Trump himself, there are vicious and corrupt people on both sides. But it’s the amount of viciousness and corruption that this cult of personality has created that is disturbing.
Normally, when a party’s candidate loses, that party will reorganize around new people and new ideas. This political “taking out the trash” is a common scene. After George Bush Sr. lost re-election in 1992 there was no movement to reanoint him for 1996. Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss, while devastating to most of us, was dealt with realistically. There were no serious attempts to revive her candidacy for another run in 2020.
The Republican obsession with Trump is different. It is a direct result of the Trump cult of personality. Most of the Republican leaders are unwilling to let go of him because the 74 million voters who voted for Trump represent (to them) an insurmountable force. It’s not that they cherish Trump as some kind of ultimate leader or unifying figure. Privately most of them hate his guts and wish they’d never heard his name. They just don’t think they can come up with anyone better.
That is why Liz Cheney’s defection will not be tolerated. Republicans don’t just think Trump is their best route back to power, they think he’s their only route back to power.
The extent to which Republicans disavow Liz Cheney’s apostasy is reflected in a recent tweet by CPAC 2021: “We have just learned that someone we invited to CPAC has expressed reprehensible views that have no home with our conference of organization. The individual will not be participating in our conference.”
This “persons who will go unnamed” approach is a species of their cowardice. That they felt the need to tweet such vicious nonsense in the first place symbolizes this latest Republican race to the bottom. It will be interesting to see how far down the rabbit hole Republicans will be willing to chase this Trump-as-Grover-Cleveland fantasy. Will they follow him all the way to prison and beyond? Who knows? We will just have to wait and see what happens because, so far, the length and breadth and depth of their obsession with Trump has surprised us all. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.