GOP can’t win with Trump at its center


“You don’t have to be a genius to succeed in politics,” the late Robert F. Kennedy once told a friend of mine. “But you do have to be able to count.”

In a nutshell, that’s why the Republican Party needs somehow to shed itself of former Boss Trump or, for practical purposes, it will cease to exist. “Practical purposes” defined as winning national elections.

Polls show that strong majorities of GOP voters have been taken in by Trump’s biggest and most fundamental lie: that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him due to massive voter fraud. Never mind that Trump’s peerless team of crackpot lawyers failed in 60 separate state and federal courts to prove a single claim. Not one. Or that the infinitely cunning Democrats somehow managed to lose congressional seats while also cheating Trump.

Never mind, too, that Republican election officials in Georgia, to name just one state Trump lost, recounted the votes three times without changing the result; or that two Trump-endorsed candidates then proceeded to lose U.S. Senate runoff elections there and promptly conceded defeat.

The simple fact is that record turnout buried Trump by 7 million votes nationwide. True Believers, however, know what they think. George Orwell put it this way in his classic political satire “1984”: “In the end, the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality, was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense.”

Orwell also understood that denying reality was ultimately fatal. A ship’s captain can deny the existence of icebergs and turn off the radar, but icebergs can sink ships regardless of popular opinion.

Blinded by the cult of Big Brother Trump, almost three-quarters of Republican voters profess to believe that he actually won, that Joe Biden’s presidency is illegitimate, and that they’ll support Trump again in 2024.

Bless their gullible hearts.

Two quick caveats: First, the Republican Party is shrinking like, well, a proverbial iceberg in the Gulf Stream. Three-quarters of GOP voters is a smaller proportion of the general electorate than it was six months ago. Second, if one-quarter of Republicans refuse to support Trump, he can stage all the MAGA rallies he wants, but he cannot win a national election.

In Arkansas, where I live, two prominent Republicans are sending up flares as the good ship GOP sails into dangerous waters. First came Jim Hendren, a retired fighter pilot, veteran state legislator and state senate majority leader. OK, so he waited until after the election and the failed Jan. 6 coup attempt, but on Feb. 18, Hendren released a nine-minute video making his contempt for Trump and Trumpism clear.

He singled out Trump’s 2016 slandering of Mexican immigrants as rapists, his ridicule of a Gold Star family and his mockery of Sen. John McCain’s heroism. “I watched the former president actively fan the flame of racist rhetoric, make fun of those with disabilities, bully his enemies, and talk about women in ways that would never be tolerated in my home or business,” he said.

“Then for months,” he continued, “I watched as members of my own party and our former president tried to overthrow the results of a fair and free election ... with lies, with false statements, conspiracy theories and attempts to subvert the Constitution.”

In a subsequent newspaper interview, Hendren got down to the arithmetic: “There’s a real danger that the Republican Party is going to be one that you can’t win a primary without being a Trump supporter, and you can’t win a general by being a Trump supporter,” he said. “What would have happened, then, is we’ve taken a party that was about principle and about conservative government to one that is about one man and a personality. And that is a race that doesn’t end well for the GOP.”

One can certainly quibble with Hendren’s characterization of Arkansas-style conservatism. Also, it’s widely suspected that he’s setting up to run as an independent gubernatorial candidate against Trump’s former Assistant Liar Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who has vowed to protect Arkansas from being taken over by New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Seriously, she has.

Hendren’s uncle, current Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, has made similar noises, appearing with CNN’s Dana Bash to say that he cannot under any circumstances support Trump in 2024. Like Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and my personal favorite, Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, they’re making a principled attempt to rescue the GOP from the Trumpist delusion.

Or at least to be there to pick up the pieces in the quite likely event that Trump self-destructs between now and 2024.

Did you see that Trump casino they imploded in Atlantic City last week? Like that.

Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at [email protected]

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