Donald Trump is scared. He has beaten, dominated, and bludgeoned the Republican Party into positions that would make a drunken riot cop blush with shame. But now that Trump may lose in a landslide, his captives and quislings are plotting their escape.
The courage kickoff started when General James “Mad Dog” Mattis ripped Trump a new one after Trump threatened to use U.S. military forces against our own citizens. In so doing, Mattis joined several other retired, high-ranking military officers who have publicly savaged Trump in recent days.
Mattis, one of the few adults to serve in Trump's administration, resigned on principle, and his criticisms were strong and pointed—so I don’t include him in what I’m about to say next, which instead applies to the many elected Republicans who acted like pantywaists before they started to smell Trumpian blood in the electoral waters: When it looks like a ship is sinking, the rats begin scurrying off.
Take Sen. Ben Sasse, for example; he wrote a book about the “vanishing adult” before becoming one himself. After taking a proverbial knee for the last couple of years, Sasse has reemerged recently as a Trump critic. He (coincidentally) rediscovered his courage after winning his primary election—at the very moment that Trump was (and still is) losing by double digits to Joe Biden. Anyone else think Sasse might already be looking ahead to a post-Trump Republican Party in 2024? The danger for Trump is that Sasse isn’t the only one putting down markers for potential political support.
Sasse also isn’t the only vanishing adult to have reappeared suddenly. Commenting on Mattis’ criticism of Trump, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski now says she’s struggling with whether to support Trump in 2020. “Perhaps we're getting to the point where we can be more honest with the concerns that we might hold internally, and have the courage of our own convictions to speak up,” Murkowski said.
“Getting to the point” where we can be “more honest” about Trump? After three years of insanity, what will it take for our elected officials to get to the point of honesty? If Trump violated a protester on national TV, would that move the needle?
Still, it’s better late than never. The future of the country is at stake. Republicans are facing a profoundly moral choice—the moral choice of their careers. They've already failed, repeatedly, and fed me column fodder for years now. But fate is handing them one last chance to get on the right side of history.
The question is, will they take it?
The Mattis, Sasse, and Murkowski comments come on the heels of former President George W. Bush issuing a statement on the death of George Floyd, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper’s decision to stand up to Trump (before backing down), Republican Senator Chuck Grassley’s move to block Trump nominees until he explains the firing of inspectors general, the primary defeat of Trumpy Iowa Rep. Steve King, and new approval ratings showing Mitt Romney—the only Senate Republican to vote for impeachment—suddenly surging in Utah (even as Trump is underwater in the state).
These comments also come on the heels of another week’s worth of polls showing Joe Biden crushing Donald Trump.
It’s finally hitting Republicans that there will be life after Trump. And if they want to hang on to their careers and reputations, they better paddle faster.
This raises questions about the vulnerable Republicans who are on the ballot in November. Do any of them begin distancing from Trump?
This is less likely to happen than in the past. Trump is thin-skinned and will refuse to give Republicans any leeway to save themselves. What is more, the electorate has become so polarized that there’s little hope of attracting members of the opposite party to vote for you, even if you stand up to your party’s standard bearer.
So the best way to save yourself is to try and save the top of the ticket. Take Martha McSally, for example. While it looks increasingly likely she and Trump could both lose Arizona, Trump will almost certainly outperform her. Both may be doomed, but she needs Trump more than he needs her.
Still, it's possible that one or two incumbent Republicans might ultimately conclude that sticking with Trump and getting re-elected are mutually exclusive, and that would make things interesting. Maine’s Susan Collins, who has an independent brand that predates Trump’s political rise, is one such example. It’s conceivable she will, at some point, conclude that her best chance to win is to distance from Trump and try and localize the election. Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner is the other possible defection. This is probably the kind of last-ditch maneuver you see after Labor Day.
But the point is, people are looking for the exits. Speaking of Trump’s billionaire friends, Peggy Noonan predicted this week that, “When they begin to think he won’t be re-elected they will turn, and it will be on a bloody dime.”
They won’t be alone.
“I’m fairly confident that Mr. Trump will be defeated in the election,” conservative columnist George Will predicted on Wednesday. “The next morning, a lot of Republicans will say, ‘Trump? I don’t recognize the name.’ They’ll get over this fairly fast.”
Trump, the man, will not go quietly into that good night. But a landslide loss would cast this one-term president in the role of a “loser,” more akin to Jimmy Carter than Richard Nixon.
Trumpism. One day, it’s a miracle, it will disappear.