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The Republicans Who Won’t Quit Trump

The Republicans Who Won’t Quit Trump

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Prominent Republicans criticized Donald Trump for two years. So why are even these supposed moderates now pledging to support him?

First, here are three new stories from The Atlantic:

Career Over Country

Breaking up, Neil Sedaka told us many years ago, is hard to do. But it shouldn’t be impossible. When a Republican governor describes Donald Trump as a “three-time loser,” warns that the party will lose “up and down the ballot” if Trump is the 2024 Republican presidential nominee, and calls the former president “fucking crazy,” it’s easy to imagine a responsible politician who has packed his bags and is waiting on the steps of the GOP’s Delta House for his taxi back to the world of sensible adults.

Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, however, is not such a politician.

Sununu gained a lot of media attention and applause from the Never Trump Republicans for being one of the former president’s most brutal critics. But now that Trump is all but inevitable as the GOP nominee, Sununu is bashing Joe Biden and embracing Trump as the lesser of two evils. “Did you see [Trump’s] last visit to New Hampshire?” Sununu said to reporters earlier this month. “He was comparing himself to Nelson Mandela and talking about Jesus Christ being speaker of the House—it was kooky talk … He sounds almost as bad as Joe Biden.”

Almost as bad as Joe Biden? I will be the first to note, as I did here, that Biden’s reputation as a walking gaffe hazard is well deserved. He gets carried away, embellishes, and remembers things that didn’t happen (a sign, I think, more of his penchant for self-important Irish blarneying than of his age). He spent his life as a senator; senators talk a lot, and sometimes they say dumb stuff.

But to compare Biden’s blunders to Trump’s derangement is inane. Trump’s mind often slips the surly bonds of Earth: He has claimed that he won all 50 states in the 2020 election, invented people who invariably call him “sir,” lied endlessly about an astonishing number of things, embraced the QAnon conspiracy theories, and, as Sununu himself admits, compared himself to Jesus Christ.

Biden is a competent politician who sometimes stumbles or goes off the rails in his public statements. Trump is a disturbed, emotionally disordered person who, in Liz Cheney’s words, is “the most dangerous man ever to inhabit the Oval Office.”

So why is Sununu going to vote for Trump? Because Republicans have to win. That’s it. “I just want Republicans to win,” Sununu told Puck’s Tara Palmeri in a podcast released yesterday. “That’s all I care about.”

Perhaps if Sununu had been forced from office or personally threatened by Trump supporters, he might feel differently—or at least be less inclined to stand for such mindless hyper-partisanship.

Or perhaps not. Peter Meijer, the former GOP representative from Michigan who was primaried out of Congress and harassed because of his vote to impeach Trump a second time, has endured far worse than Sununu, and yet he, too, is backing Trump again. Meijer is running for one of Michigan’s U.S. Senate seats, and he seems to be trying to mollify the MAGA church long enough to carry a statewide election. Meijer, like Sununu, is laying his more-in-sorrow-than-anger shtick on the incumbent: “My overarching goal is to make Joe Biden a one-term president,” he told Adam Wren at Politico.

We could mine the statements of other Republicans for similar pyrite nuggets of shiny Trump criticism that amount to nothing. (Even Nikki Haley can bring herself to say only that Trump was the right guy at the right time—but now is the wrong time.) None of them, I would argue, really believes that Biden is a worse president than Trump was, and they all know the danger of a second Trump term. So why would they bend the knee one more time?

The Republicans coming back to Trump are driven by two factors: ambition and delusion.

Ambition is the easiest motive to explain. Mitt Romney, at 76 years old, is retiring: He can afford to say that he might vote for a Democrat rather than enable Trump again. He’s had it with his Republican colleagues and he wants to go home. But Haley is 51, Sununu is 49, and Meijer is 35. None of these people is ready, in Washington vernacular, to go spend more time with their family. They all probably expected Trump to be disgraced and driven from public life by now, and they had plans for their own future. They did not grasp that disgrace, in today’s GOP, is a fundraising opportunity, not a disqualification from office.

Numbed by opportunism, many Republicans will simply hunker down and try to survive the next five years. They’re all sure that, after that, it’ll be their time, and they will triumphantly cobble together a new GOP coalition out of independents, moderate Republicans, and what’s left of the MAGA vote, gaining that last group by assuring Trump’s base that no matter what they may have said about their idol, at least they never went over the fence and voted for a Democrat.

But these ambitious Republicans are also under a self-serving delusion that the next Trump term will be something like the first Trump term. They assume that adults will somehow restrain Trump and that the nation will function more or less normally while Trump goes off to his beloved rallies. They are committed to the fantasy that four more years of a mad king will be akin to weathering one more passing storm. (They have also likely convinced themselves, as Haley did while working for Trump, that they can best limit the damage by being in the mix of GOP politics, rather than by being excommunicated.)

This dream narrative ends with the normal Republicans emerging from their tornado shelters, surveying some limited and reparable damage, and restoring the center-right, conservative kingdom. President Haley or Senator Meijer will get the GOP back to cutting taxes and erasing government regulations, all while mending fences with millions of people who were horrified by the violence and madness of Trumpism.

None of that is going to happen.

Trump has made it clear that he has no regrets about any ghastly thing he did as president, that as president again he will bring a legion of goons and cronies with him into the White House (including seditionists and rioters whom he will pardon and release from jail), and that he fully intends to finish the job of burning down American democracy. Politicians such as Sununu or Meijer know all of this, but they apparently think they will remain untouched by it. They have put their party and their personal fortunes over their allegiance to the Constitution, perhaps hoping that they will at least have a chance to rule over whatever is left in the ashes of the republic.

Today’s News

  1. A new CDC report shows that U.S. life expectancy at birth rose in 2022, in part because of falling COVID deaths.
  2. The U.S. Department of Justice has indicted an Indian man on murder-for-hire charges over an alleged plot to kill a Sikh activist in New York.
  3. Officials from Qatar, Egypt, and the U.S. are asking for an extension of the cease-fire in Gaza between Israel and Hamas.

Evening Read

Bettmann / CORBIS / Getty

Must the Novelist Crusade?

By Eudora Welty

Published in the October 1965 issue of The Atlantic.

Not too long ago I read in some respectable press that Faulkner would have to be reassessed because he was “after all, only a white Mississippian.” For this reason, it was felt, readers could no longer rely on him for knowing what he was writing about in his life’s work of novels and stories, laid in what he called “my country.” Remembering how Faulkner for most of his life wrote in all but isolation from critical understanding, ignored impartially by North and South, with only a handful of critics in forty years who were able to “assess” him, we might smile at this journalist as at a boy let out of school. Or there may have been an instinct to smash the superior, the good, that is endurable enough to go on offering itself. But I feel in these words and others like them the agonizing of our times.

Read the full article.

More From The Atlantic

Culture Break

Illustration by Paul Spella / The Atlantic. Sources: Noel Celis / AFP / Getty; Thomas Coex / AFP / Getty.

Read. Patricia Evangelista’s Some People Need Killing: A Memoir of Murder in My Country is a powerful story that seamlessly segues from Evangelista’s own life story into a riveting police procedural.

Listen. Is it possible to argue productively? On Radio Atlantic, host Hanna Rosin explores some practical advice for handling both private and political disagreements.

Play our daily crossword.

Shan Wang contributed to this newsletter.

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