In 1956, then Senator John F. Kennedy authored a best-selling book titled Profiles in Courage, in which he told the stories of Senators in American history who, on principle, bucked the tides of power. Today, some Republican writer or conservative syndicated columnist – George Will or Max Boot – should write a book called Profiles in Cowardliness. It should cover Republican leadership’s near total cowardliness in the face of Donald Trump, whom they despise on many fronts. Many in Republican leadership believe he has hijacked their Grand Old Party (GOP).
Clearly the Republicans – except for Rep. Justin Amash, who recently quit the Party after accusing Trump of impeachable crimes – are intimidated by this foul-mouthed president. Republican politicians are cowed by Trump’s bellicose personal rhetoric. We have seen this cycle repeat itself countless times, with the media boosting their ratings by recklessly repeating Trump’s insults.
Republicans remember what Trump did to Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio during the 2016 Republican primary. They observe how loud-mouthed Donald spews toxic falsehoods at Democrats and gets away with it. Why, Republicans ask themselves, should they take any chances provoking this unstable Twitter Emperor and his ditto-heads on social media whom he deliberately incites? The answer: because patriotism demands action.
Donald Trump acts as if he is above the law – coming off his career as a corporate criminal, he has become a government outlaw. He has always cheated justice. Trump flouts the Constitution, refuses to faithfully execute the laws preventing corporate crimes, and obstructs justice. Just as bad are Trump’s ethical and personal failings; he has brought disgraceful personal behavior, serious daily lies, expensive nepotism, denials of grave realities facing the country, bigotry, violent incitement, and disrepute to the White House. All of these failings are why the Founding Fathers gave impeachment authority to the House of Representatives and the authority of open trial to the Senate.
There are many more indictable and impeachable offenses, but the focus here is on why the entire GOP has completely fallen in line. Only former Republican Governor of Massachusetts William Weld has dared to officially challenge Trump in the upcoming Republican primary. This week, former Republican Congressman and Governor of South Carolina Mark Sanford announced he is testing the waters for a run against President Trump, emphasizing Trump’s huge expanding deficits. It is shocking that so few opponents have emerged considering Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 and remains more consistently unfavorable in the polls than any president in modern times.
Republicans must think “crooked Donald” is invincible. So why try? Plenty of Republican politicians consider Trump to be a clear and present danger to Party and country. They include Former Senators Flake and Corker; current Senator Mitt Romney; former Governor of Ohio John Kasich; former New Jersey Governor and EPA head, under Reagan, Christine Todd Whitman; and former House Speaker Paul Ryan. All have spoken out about Trump’s dangerous ignorance and loutishness. All believe him to be unqualified and fear his reckless actions. On trade, immigration, climate crisis, and his open admiration of brutal dictators, they find him appalling.
Yet there are few signs of a serious challenge. In the 1990s, John Kasich was the Chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee. At the time he was critical of the wasteful, unauditable Pentagon budget then (imagine now). Asked about 2020, Kasich told The Washington Post that he’s “never gotten involved in a race that [he] didn’t think [he] could win,” adding, “things are very volatile in this business and you just cannot predict what might change.” Such words hardly signal anything beyond extreme caution.
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One would think, these persons and others who could take on Trump (for example, the very popular former Governor of New Jersey Thomas Kean) would want to stand up for traditional Republican principles and positions (think about Senator Robert Taft, Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Theodore Roosevelt, and of course, Abraham Lincoln). In sharp contrast, current Republican leaders almost never criticize Trump publically apart from a mild op-ed (Romney) or the occasional public comments (Whitman).
It gets worse. Apart from William Kristol, Trump’s arch-critic, there doesn’t seem to be any activity among Republican kingmakers to find a challenger or even consider mounting a third party accountability challenge from the political right.
There is someone, were he younger, who would take on Trump. He is former Republican Senator from Connecticut, Lowell Weicker. He was known in the Senate as a ferocious defender of the Constitution and was prominent during the Watergate hearings that exposed Richard Nixon.
Apart from elected officials, what about those cabinet secretaries and White House chief of staff, whom Trump praised to the skies, before he drove them out with a frenzy of ruthless epithets (“dumb as a rock,” etc.)? They know the insides of mad Trump’s White House, which would receive media attention.
At the least, Republicans who challenged Trump in the primaries would put Trump on the defensive and hold him more accountable.
Time is passing on the road to November 2020. There are countless Republicans who deeply believe that Trump is a disgrace to his office and a threat to the Republic, as well as to the future of the Republican Party. Who amongst them will stand up and be counted?
Is their moral courage totally AWOL?