Column: Unity might be possible if Trump fever is past

  • Former President Donald Trump speaks at the New Hampshire Republican State Committee's Annual Meeting on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023, in Salem, New Hampshire. (Scott Eisen/Getty Images/TNS) Scott Eisen

  • An attendee claps as former President Donald Trump speaks during the New Hampshire Republican State Committee 2023 annual meeting, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023, in Salem, N.H. (AP Photo/Reba Saldanha) ap — Reba Saldanha

  • Former President Donald Trump speaks during the New Hampshire Republican State Committee 2023 annual meeting, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023, in Salem, N.H. (AP Photo/Reba Saldanha) Reba Saldanha

  • FILE - Insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump breach the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File) John Minchillo

  • Former President Donald Trump speaks during the New Hampshire Republican State Committee 2023 annual meeting, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023, in Salem, N.H. (AP Photo/Reba Saldanha) ap — Reba Saldanha

  • Contributor Wayne Gersen in West Lebanon, N.H., on April 12, 2019. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Geoff Hansen

For the Valley News
Published: 2/6/2023 9:51:30 AM
Modified: 2/6/2023 9:50:49 AM

Over the past few weeks countless articles are reporting on the emerging divide within the GOP between the Trump supporters and the rest of the party who Trump supporters disparagingly refer to as “RINOs,” Republicans In Name Only. Based on these reports, it appears that Trump Fever has broken and the RINOs will prevail.

For the past seven years, Trump supporters have dominated the GOP to such an extent that the party’s 2020 platform effectively consisted of a statement indicating that the GOP would offer full support for whatever Trump sought.

When he lost in 2020, Trump’s hold on the party did not diminish. He continued to dominate headlines, requiring party members’ absolute and unquestioning support for every position he took, especially his position that the 2020 election was stolen.

In the 2022 midterms, Trump loyalists ran for offices at all levels of government, with 82% of his endorsed candidates winning.

But as New York Times reporter Michael Bender noted in December after Herschel Walker’s defeat in Georgia, this seemingly impressive statistic masks the fact that most of these victors were incumbents and heavily favored candidates. In the most competitive races, Trump’s anointed candidates all lost and of the six candidates he spent heavily on only one, now-U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio, was victorious. This poor showing led many GOP leaders to have second thoughts about his leadership.

Worse for him, his outlandish statements and crude demeanor began to grate on the evangelical community who had appreciated his steadfast support for anti-abortion jurists but often felt conflicted about his character.

Finally, and perhaps most devastatingly, the crowds at his rallies and donations are dwindling.

Two articles in last Sunday’s Valley News reported on Trump’s first 2024 campaign stop in New Hampshire, and neither painted a pretty picture. Gayla Cawley’s Boston Herald article (“Trump opens 2024 run in New Hampshire,” Page A2) offered a matter-of-fact description of the former president’s speech at the New Hampshire Republican State Committee annual meeting. The speech included his 2024 campaign promises and his taunting of those who oppose him and his grievances against the deep state and “fake news.”

The overall level of enthusiasm, though, came across as somewhat muted as compared to past rallies, and her description of Trump as still having “a strong presence with the Republican Party” struck me as different from his dominating presence in the primaries leading up to the midterms, where GOP candidates fearful of defeat pledged their unflagging support for him.

Concord Monitor reporter Michaela Towfighi’s article on the same page (“Return highlights Republican divide”) included some pointed questions about Trump’s hold on the GOP. Citing a host of anti-Trump GOP leaders from New Hampshire, Towfighi opened her article by noting that Steve Duprey, a former state party chairman, was not attending the Trump event.

Duprey was one of a list of prominent New Hampshire Republicans who chose “country over party,” as Duprey described it, when it came to supporting Trump’s quest for reelection. Tired of the former president’s path of “aggression and division” and his failure to honor the rule of law, Duprey and others are seeking a more positive message to voters and “a concrete platform that’s consistent with traditional Republican principles.”

Towfighi’s article also offered former attorney general and longtime GOP strategist Tom Rath’s assessment of the former president, who asserted that the party needed to rid itself of “this disease and move forward and listen to what the electorate is telling us: (Trump’s) kind of extremism and sort of almost hero worship is not conducive to having a government that produces the results that benefit the way people live.”

Towfighi reported that Rath endorsed Biden in the 2020 election based on Joe Biden’s “honesty and decency” which he saw as being “far superior” to that of Donald Trump. His bottom line is that Trump is “not the force he once was” and would not be a shoo-in for the primary or the general election.

The coldest assessment of Trump’s chances in 2024, though, appeared in the National Review online. “Trump Has Completely Lost His Grip on Reality” by Charles C. W. Cooke is as blunt and scathing its title. The article opens with a list of some potential candidates who might run in the 2024 GOP presidential race before offering this description of the candidacy of the ex-president:

“And then there’s Donald Trump, who, despite being the only candidate who has officially announced his bid, is ... well, ranting like a deranged hobo in a dilapidated public park. No, don’t look at him — he might come over here with his sign.”

Cooke goes on to liken the former president to “... a drunken talk-radio caller from Queens” who offers contradictory and implausible solutions to the ills of society and “edgy insult comedy for the people who might be listening in at the bar.”

While Cooke’s article is written in the style of one of Trump’s Truth Social rants, it includes several issues Cooke believes a GOP presidential candidate should and could raise in 2024: the border problems, high inflation, increased violent crime rates, and mushrooming debt. And while I doubt that I would agree with many of the solutions the National Review might offer for those problems, they would be substantive and grounded in a set of facts we could both agree on as opposed to being based on the magical thinking and ungrounded reality the former president promotes to his supporters.

If Rath, the GOP strategist and former attorney general, is right in his assessment that the electorate has overcome Trump fever, we may be ready to engage in the kind of protracted dialogue necessary to solve the complicated problems we now face. The name-calling and divisiveness promoted by the former president will not solve the problems that confront us. Mutual respect, unity, and patient incremental progress might.

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