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To Save Their Party, Republican Senators Need to End The Trump Cult

January 16, 2020

By Joe Rothstein

Last October, a nationwide Harvard-Harris poll of Republican voters asked whether they identified more with the Republican Party or with Donald Trump. The result: 46% said they identify with Trump, 25% the GOP. That pretty much aligns with recent election history. If you are a Republican senator or congressman, you support Trump or lose your seat in Congress.

The GOP appears to be transforming into more of a personal cult than a political party. That transformation will be complete if the Republican controlled Senate does what’s expected and gives Trump a nothing-to-see-here pass on impeachment.

With impeachment behind him, let’s say Trump goes on to win reelection. What use will he have for the Republican Party? He would have nothing to fear from Congress. He would have nothing to fear from a William Barr-led Justice Department. He has been stacking the courts with his people. With four more years Trump could rule more like Putin. Who would stop him? Republican members of Congress? They have a chance to do that now. They’re not likely to get another.

Even in his current wounded state Trump has shown his contempt for Congress. If he escapes impeachment and wins reelection despite his bizarre and autocratic behavior, he will shift into full autocratic gear. Not only will incumbent Republicans fear criticizing him about anything, look for him to select candidates to complete the transformation into the Trump Party. Those not sufficiently loyal would face primary election challenges. Time and again he has shown us that loyalty moves in only one direction. His.

But let’s say he escapes impeachment and does not win reelection. In that case the situation for incumbent Republicans may be even worse. How is that possible?

It takes little imagination to see an ex-President Trump blaming the party for not working hard enough to defend him. The Barnum-like rallies would continue, probably as commercial events, with admission charges and profits from Trump branded merchandise. Locations would be selected not just for profits but for states and districts where he could promote “his” people in primaries, against those who he considers soft-on-Trump. He would have TV programs on Fox or on his own network with ratings that would swamp Hannity and Limbaugh. He would create political stampedes on issues designed to incite anger and disruption. Incumbents, particularly Republican incumbents, would be on the hot seat to run with the Trump crowd or to try to fend it off.

That’s a bleak picture for Republicans, but a likely one. Win or lose with Trump and they’ve lost their party and their independence.

So, what’s the solution? Get rid of him now before he does further damage. Take the opportunity House Democrats have provided and remove Trump from office.

Evicting him from the White House now accomplishes a number of positive things for Republicans.

First, it radically changes the dynamic of the 2020 election. Mike Pence becomes president. He doesn’t lose the evangelical vote at the core of Trump’s base. It likely brings back many Republican never-Trump moderates. It takes much of the 2018 Democratic energy out of 2020 campaign. The government is “normalized,” which would be a relief to most Americans after three years of constant whipsawing in the Trumposphere. Vulnerable Republican senators won’t be forced to run for reelection as Trump acolytes, possibly saving Senate control for the GOP.

Next, it likely means that Trump faces criminal charges. About what? Pick your case. The Mueller report had a menu of crimes, none of which the Justice Department would touch under the theory that a U.S. president cannot face prosecution while in office. Despite Justice Department inaction, Trump’s lawyers are in court even now trying to stop his tax returns from being revealed, fighting a defamation suit from a woman who claimed he raped her, dealing with various campaign spending violation charges, including the porn star hush money case. Even the mystery of what happened to millions of dollars raised for his inauguration is being litigated.

Whether or not Trump goes to jail, losing his Oval Room legal armor will move him deeper into criminal and legal jeopardy. He would have less time for political mischief. Many of his followers would abandon him. Considerable steam now powering the Trump cult would evaporate.

Getting 20 or 21 or 22 Republicans to say Trump is guilty as charged and remove him from office would be a messy business. I hear the screams and threats even as I write this. But consider the alternatives—-his re-election or his defeat. Both are worse for Republican office holders and the future of the party. Republicans are in the clutches of a dangerous cult that will destroy their party if it’s not defeated now.

So, Republican senators, agree to hear witnesses, subpoena evidence Trump has yet to turn over, make sure the public learns the truth about Trump. His numbers will take a hit. You are more likely to survive. Voting to remove him won’t be easy. But every other choice you have is worse.

(Joe Rothstein’s new political thriller, The Salvation Project, is now for sale on all online book sellers and most independent book stores)

Joe Rothstein is editor of U.S. Politics Today. His career in politics spans 35 years, as a strategist and media producer in more than 200 campaigns for political office and for many political causes. He was a pioneer in professional political consulting and one of the founding members of the American Association of Political Consultants. During his career Mr. Rothstein has served as editor of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Anchorage Daily News and adjunct professor at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management. He has a master's degree in journalism from UCLA.