Despite Trump’s Legal Woes, GOP Political Candidates Are Leaping to His Defense

Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney’s overwhelming primary lossOn Tuesday, Harriet Hageman (Trump-endorsed) made it clear (in case you were still unsure) just how cultist today’s Republican Party is.

Last week, Donald Trump’s home was raided by FBI agents armed with a warrant indicating there was probable cause that the Espionage Act had been violated. Last month, the networks broadcast the January 6 House hearings. This revealed how Trump and his aides attempted to obstruct peaceful transfer of power. Yet after all of this, Trump remains wildly popular among GOP voters, and Trump’s most vocal critic from within the GOP received less than one-third of the votes cast in the Republican primary in Wyoming. She was ousted by a candidate whose previous career highs as an attorney involved attacking any and all environmental regulations, and who, on the stump, urged voters to dump Cheney because, in joining the House committee investigating January 6, she “betrayed Wyoming, betrayed the country and she betrayed me.”

Trump responded gloatingly to Cheney’s primary defeat, framing it explicitly as payback for her role on the January 6 committee. On his Truth Social site, he declared Cheney a “fool,” and opined that she “should be ashamed of herself.” Trump’s post attacked the “Unselect Committee” as being made up of “political Hacks and Thugs,” and welcomed Cheney’s descent into “political oblivion.”
Apart from the puerile nature of the post, it’s the venom that stands out. In race after race around the country this election season, Trump has attempted — and with some notable exceptions, such as in Georgia — largely succeeding in purging the GOP of any and every independent voice capable of standing up to his authoritarian hold over the party’s rank and file. Eight of the ten Republican Congress members who voted for his impeachment will now be out of officeJanuary Outgoing Arizona House Speaker Rusty BowersHe was running for a seat in the state Senate and, after angering Trump World by testifying before a January 6 committee, lost his primary. “Stop the steal” candidates are now positioned as GOP candidates to run for secretary of state in four of the five swing states of 2020 — Georgia, again, being an outlier here. Trump-backed Senate Candidates rode high in primaries of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Arizona, among many other states. And so on.

Despite Trump’s growing legal woes and the escalating risk he now faces of felony charges and conviction, large numbers of GOP political candidates continue to leap to his defense and to attack his opponents within the GOP as being RINOs — Republicans In Name Only. They are buying their popularity through their embrace of ever more extreme language.

For example, New York’s congressional hopeful is running this week Carl Paladino, who not too long ago got into hot water for saying the U.S. needs a political leader capable of moving the crowd like Adolf Hitler did, went on Breitbart Radio to say that Attorney General Merrick Garland “probably should be executed” for authorizing the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago. Florida Senator Rick ScottThe FBI raid was likened to the Gestapo actions. Rep. Marjorie Taylor GreeneSeveral calls were made for the defunding of the entire Department of Justice.

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As he flails in the legal realm, Trump, the GOP’s puppet master, is becoming more dangerous by the minute in the political realm. Cheney appears to recognize this, and stated, after her defeat, that she would do everything in her power — including possibly running for president — to thwart the twice-impeached ex-president’s ambitions to return to the White House. She will likely run into organized GOP opposition if she does. From state GOPs blocking her name from being on primary ballots to decisions by Republican National Committees to prevent her from appearing in the same debate as Trump, She also established The Great Task, a political action committee that aims to educate Americans about Trump’s threats to democracy and his attempts to rewrite history around the events of 2020, 2021, and 2021.

Now, I’m not a fan — to say the least — of Cheney’s political career prior to her star turn on the January 6 committee. She’s always been fiercely anti-abortion, opposes gun control, was supportive of Trump’s most restrictive anti-immigration policies, and, when he was president, voted in line with his priorities 93 percent of the time.She also strongly supported the waterboarding of terrorism suspects, a horrible practice approved by her father Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush. It was this approval that gave the U.S. government its stamp of approval on torture.

In this moment, however, a large percentage of the GOP has embraced paramilitarism. political candidates run attack ads showing them toting assault rifles and hunting down their less ideologically pure party brethren, and when the GOP’s congressional leadership has come out in support of tactics designed to secure electoral victory even in the face of massive opposition from a majority of the electorate, Cheney’s voice is important.

This past June, she spoke of the “personality cult” gripping the Republican Party. After her primary election defeat this week, she opined about Trump representing a “very grave threat and risk to our Republic” and came as close as any senior politician has done in recent years to calling for the creation of something akin to a popular front, bringing together Republicans of good conscience, Democrats and independents to stop the drift toward authoritarian governance represented by the MAGA movement and its power-hungry leader.

Even though it took Cheney many years to reach her conclusions about Trumpism and the dangers that it poses, she is absolutely correct. But I fear her belief in the GOP’s ability for it to make right is a mistake. This is not a story about a good barrel and a few rotten apple. The barrel is completely corrupted at this point and there are very few good apples remaining. It’s a bad barrel filled with contamination. Or, to abandon the metaphor, it’s a political party that from top to bottom has, over the past several years, almost entirely remade itself as an extremist tool intended to fluff up one man’s vanity and enable his every assault on the democratic institutions, culture and norms of the Republic. The idea that Trumpian power can be thrown out of it seems like wishful thinking. Even if it was, the anti-abortion and anti-immigrant policies of the pre Trump GOP should not be admired.