If Republicans decide they are tired of losing elections they should be winning, Herschel Walker’s loss to Raphael Warnock in Georgia’s Senate runoff election should mark the definitive and unequivocal end of the Trump era.
Republicans have grown complacent and comfortable on a bed of final straws with Trump, but Walker’s loss should wake them up from their slumber.
Republicans can write that obituary in any number of ways. After completing their swearing in ceremonies in 2023, in which they will pledge to “defend the Constitution of the United States,” House Republicans could pass a resolution saying they really mean it and disapprove of former President Donald Trump for posting a call on social media Saturday for “termination” of the Constitution. Or Republicans could individually refuse to endorse a nominee who rejects the oath they just took. Or they could tell Trump now to drop out of the presidential race.
Regardless of how they say it, if Republicans don’t write Trump’s obituary today, Trump will surely write theirs tomorrow — as he has the past three election cycles.
Republicans no longer need to fear Trump. If Trump had succeeded in clinging to the presidency, or shown an ability to choose a candidate in Georgia and get him elected, it would make more sense to be alarmed by his urging for termination of the Constitution or be cowed into backing his candidates. While there’s no excuse for Republicans refusing to say that Trump’s cancel-the-Constitution post is disqualifying, there’s also no reason to take anything he says seriously. His words deserve an eye roll, not apoplexy.
Walker’s loss showed once again that Trump is the GOP’s Bridge to Nowhere, continuing the poor performance of Trump-anointed candidates in the midterms. Walker underperformed Republican Gov. Brian Kemp by about 10 points — Walker lost by 2.8% while Kemp won by 7.5%.
After the November elections, Philip Wallach of the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute noted that Trump-endorsed candidates in competitive House districts “underperformed their baseline by a whopping five points, while Republicans who were without Trump’s blessing overperformed their baseline by 2.2 points — a remarkable difference of more than seven points.”
Trump’s fatal flaw is that he has managed to alienate not just independents, but Republicans. Whatever the loyalty of his much-vaunted base, a significant bloc of Republican voters in states like Arizona, Pennsylvania and Georgia proved beyond any doubt that they will not hold their nose and vote for Trumpy candidates. In a time when national elections are decided by narrow margins in a few key states, the GOP can’t afford to nominate a candidate who will hemorrhage 1% of the typically reliable Republican vote, much less 7%.
And yet, too many in the party continue to take Trump seriously. Maybe they feel burned by the 2016 primaries, when pundits and strategists dismissed the prospects of the “Apprentice” star out of hand only to see him take the White House. But things have changed, and we no longer need to be intimidated. Trump is on the wrong side of voters conservatives need to win future elections.
Some Republicans are concerned that if Trump isn’t the nominee, he’ll burn the party to the ground by starting a new party. Republicans should call his bluff and hand him the matches. If Trump wants to start a new party with his dinner companion, white supremacist Nick Fuentes, he’d be doing the Republican Party (and the republic) a favor. There’s no sign that, if he actually followed through, he has enough traction to win, let alone the national campaign infrastructure and financial resources needed.
Republicans have grown complacent and comfortable on a bed of final straws with Trump, but Walker’s loss should wake them up from their slumber. Democrats and the media also need to stop giving Trump so much oxygen. Trump makes a good bogeyman to campaign against and drive up traffic. But he’s become a paper tiger — all roar and no bite. Let him roar all he wants.
The path forward for the GOP is to focus on policy rather than personality and apply our founding principles to today’s challenges. Republicans don’t have to travel back in time 250 years to find inspiration. During the Obama era, my former boss, Sen. Tom Coburn, and other conservatives articulated a vision for limited government and liberty in titanic fights over spending and health care. The GOP gave Obama a shellacking in 2010 and won 63 seats.
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Focusing on policy created not just a red wave but a tsunami. In 2024, Republicans have a deep bench that includes current and past governors like Nikki Haley, Chris Christie, Ron DeSantis, Glenn Youngkin, Larry Hogan and Chris Sununu, leaders with records of real accomplishment in areas voters care about, like education choice, free speech, less government and environmental stewardship.
It’s time for the GOP to leave Trump in the rearview mirror.