Maybe it’s time to change the Republican Party’s name.
That thought crossed my mind as I watched U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, speak movingly about his decision to vote in favor of the first article of impeachment indicting President Donald Trump. Romney, the GOP’s presidential standard-bearer just eight years ago, predicted with heartbreaking accuracy that his vote would open him and his family to unbridled rancor and calumny from this president and his enablers.
Trump and company did not disappoint.
Almost before the echoes of Romney’s short speech had died, the president and chorus took to social media and airwaves to attack the Utah senator’s sanity, courage and character.
Team Trump now has broken with the three men – Romney, the late Arizona Sen. John McCain and former President George W. Bush – who most recently carried the Republican flag.
The president continued his mission of demolition the next day.
First, he decided at a prayer breakfast that revenge and recrimination rather than reconciliation and forgiveness were the ticket. Then, at a White House gathering that featured more than an hour of Trumpian stream-of-consciousness rambling, he lashed out, again and again, at Democrats, Romney and any Republicans who did not offer him absolute, unquestioning loyalty.
The president’s message to the GOP was clear: Line up, boys, and kiss the ring.
It’s a sad and bewildering thing to watch the dissolution of a great political party.
The Republican Party’s greatest strength always has been its unwavering commitment to a set of principles. Free trade. Limited government, particularly when it comes to the executive branch. A strict adherence to the Constitution. Advocacy of personal responsibility.
This president believes none of that.
He starts and stops trade wars on whim. He argues that the Constitution’s constraints on presidential authority do not exist. He ignores all other constitutional checks and balances. And, whenever something goes wrong, he blames someone else.
That’s what makes his hold on the GOP both so puzzling and so tragic.
There is a fevered quality to the fear this president inspires.
Trump and his followers tout his invincibility, but there is little objective evidence to buttress their belief.
Donald Trump has yet to lead the Republican Party through an election cycle in which the GOP wins the popular vote.
In 2016, he trailed Hillary Clinton – the most vulnerable Democratic presidential candidate since Walter Mondale – by nearly 3 million votes. What’s more, he needed the help of both the Russians and an epic misjudgment by former FBI Director James Comey to get even that close.
Then, two years later, during the 2018 off-year election, the GOP’s popular vote deficit in U.S. House races swelled to 10 million.
Along the way, Republicans lost bastions – every House seat in Orange County, Calif., and Alabama’s U.S. Senate seat – once thought impregnable. Those Republicans didn’t vote for Democrats because they wanted to. They did so because a Donald-Trump-led GOP violated principles they held dear and left them no choice.
Now, the president and cheerleaders are doing victory dances because they averted disaster in the impeachment process. To record that dubious achievement, they had to bend and twist both Senate rules and constitutional understandings out of any recognizable shape. Even then, Donald Trump became the first president in U.S. history to have a member of his own party cast a vote for his removal.
That didn’t stop the president and his camp followers from crowing that his public approval rating had reached 49 percent, largely, he argued, because the economy was doing so well and people like him so much.
Again, the Trump cult failed to ask why this president is the first one since polling began never to crack 50 percent approval. This is especially remarkable given that the stock market has boomed throughout his term, even if some other economic indicators have been less hopeful.
That’s the way it is with hallucinations.
They make people forget who they are and what they believe.
It’s hard to recognize the Republican Party now.
That’s because it has stopped being the Republican Party and instead has become the Trump Party.
Now, and perhaps forever.