They just can’t quit Donald Trump. No matter how much he horrifies, provokes, shames, endangers, and attacks the party he hijacked, Republicans cover their eyes like toddlers thinking if they can’t see out, no one can see in. The cowardice and capitulation to the baby-man who throws tantrums would embarrass a three-year-old.
Trump’s latest outrage was his threat to shred the U.S. Constitution to reclaim the presidency, where the job is to uphold the Constitution. That followed his Hitler’s-coming-to-dinner earthquake when he welcomed two notorious racists to his Florida White House. That criticism from the GOP leadership took six days while Republicans hoped the meal at Mar-a-Lago, where top-secret documents reside a few feet away from the dining room, would stay in Mar-a-Lago. Hardly.
Even by Trump standards, hosting Kanye West, known for bizarre racist rants and his demand that we now refer to him as “Ye,” and Nick Fuentes, his Holocaust-denying sidekick, was an offense against humanity. It could, I suppose, be seen as progress that a Black man and a brown man can spew words out of Mein Kampf. It’s hard to imagine other ex-presidents hosting the prominent Nazis of their day. Picture Dwight Eisenhower inviting Nazi-clad George Lincoln Rockwell to sup with him in Gettysburg or Ronald Reagan having David Duke up to Rancho del Cielo.
The GOP denial—We Hardly Knew Ye—was painful to watch, albeit predictable. Six days of silence followed the dinner heard around the world with Ye and Fuentes, a 24-year-old Catholic reactionary with sympathy for the Inquisition, who wants to deny women the vote and is celibate because “to have sex with women is gay.” He got banned from CPAC. Of course, Little Nick, who attended the pre-insurrection rally, calls January 6 “awesome” and was one of the fine people marching in Charlottesville. He is now openly rooting for Vladimir Putin in Ukraine. As for criticism, Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy have perfected the nonresponsive response to questions about the man they let take over their party. The Old Crow mumbled, “There is simply no room in the Republican Party for antisemitism or white supremacy, and that would apply to all of the leaders in the party who will be seeking offices.”
Note the missing word: Trump, who they admit they will vote for if he’s the nominee in 2024 but whose name they dare not speak. They gave him acres of space to be a racist conman in 2016, and they’ll do the same in 2024 if he wins the primaries.
The House speaker in waiting began his criticism by backing up Trump’s assertion that he didn’t know Fuentes before that dinner. There’s a chance that this isn’t Trump Fabrication 30,001, but it doesn’t matter. By the end of the evening of full-frontal Fuentes, Trump called the extremist “a smart cookie,” according to a fourth hanger-on at the table.
Trump can’t even pretend he doesn’t know that Ye is a certifiable bigot. He got more time leaning on the Resolute Desk across from the president in 2018 than Trump’s foreign policy staff bearing the presidential daily briefing. Turning the Oval Office into the bar scene in Star Wars, Kim Kardashian’s (now former) husband and the (now former) Adidas influencer made bizarre comments. He rambled about Hillary Clinton and the Yeezy effect, how Trump giving him a MAGA hat made him feel like Superman, and that he wasn’t bipolar but sleep deprived. The only sour moment on their third date—Kanye had an audience at Trump Tower in 2016—was when Ye offered the 45th president the vice presidential spot on his 2024 bid for the White House. Trump supposedly howled in rage about Ye’s presidential ambitions, trying to discourage the nutcase. But by the time dessert came around, Trump bestowed on Ye one of his highest accolades: “He gets me.”
Unfortunately for the rest of us, the Trump-GOP union has proved an enduring marriage that can be saved—no matter how many times he cheats, lies, or pays off porn stars. Republicans have declined chance after chance to rid themselves of their pesky king, including after his “good people on both sides” comment and one death in Charlottesville; COVID denial so insistent it helped spread the virus; and an attempt to bribe the Ukrainian president in a weapons-for-Biden-dirt exchange.
The January 6 insurrection seemed like the last straw. McConnell said Trump was morally responsible for the carnage, and McCarthy was uncharacteristically critical. But the Californian felt he had to go to Mar-a-Lago to bend the knee. South Carolina Senator and chief lap dog Lindsey Graham said, “Enough is enough” after January 6. His 2016 warning that Trump would destroy the party—and the party would deserve it—had come true. Of course, Graham downplays the Trump summit with Ye and Fuentes, playing a both-sides game: “The meeting was bad, he shouldn’t have done it. But again, you know, there’s a double standard about this kind of stuff.” Yeah, as if Barack Obama, an early victim of Trump’s racist birther movement, is out dining with racist cranks.
Any time Republicans express some horror over Trump, their ire vanishes within hours. When the base inevitably stands by Trump, so do elected Republicans. The MAGA bloc, the biggest in the party, has seen unimaginable behavior by a president and still says, “Yep, that’s our man.”
One day what’s left of the party of Lincoln will wonder, like a first wife who stayed too long, “What was I thinking?” with the exception of a handful of outcasts like Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney, Rusty Bowers and Adam Kinzinger. Governor Brian Kemp, who admirably stood up to Trump over his efforts to find 11,780 votes to overturn Georgia’s election, was just reelected in a landslide. But even he is now cozying up to Herschel Walker after having ignored him during the campaign. Like his Washington colleagues, eager to get back on Trump’s right side, Kemp has turned tail and campaigned for a Trump-chosen candidate unworthy of the Senate and whose former wives, girlfriends, and children he abandoned have denounced him.
Republicans should ask themselves, “What’s a failed coup?” The answer, more apparent now that Trump has announced how far he’s willing to go: “It’s practice.” A retiring senator at a party last week, off the record and out of earshot, wouldn’t call out Trump for the treasonous creature he is. Up to now, officials of high rank and formerly high esteem flirted with a trial separation. But this week, when Trump promised to violate the country’s founding document if he’s not restored to the throne, they crumpled like stale crackers—crumbs Trump can easily flick off his blue jacket. Now he’s asserting again that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue, confident his adopted party won’t fire back.
The GOP can cover its eyes and let Trump have his way again, or end their dependence at long last. But like the tearful Goebbels in the bunker, they just can’t quit him.