Over at The Bulwark, where old school Republicans wring their hands (eloquently) at what’s happened to the Grand Old Party, the team sent out a telling list of topics which will be under discussion in an upcoming podcast. And while their trio of Never Trump podcasters promises to touch on the emergence of Ron DeSantis as the Florida governor twinkles into the primary race, there remains only one sun in the solar system. And his first name isn’t Ronald, though it rhymes.
[DeSantis has been playing dumb for his audience — formerly a GOP no-no — while ripping the liberal “woke” agenda for purportedly bringing down banks and causing sundry economic havoc outside of Florida, where he says it can effect no damage because he will kill it.]
Normally that would make good fodder for beltway-based chatter. But what the Bulwark conservatives who’ve seen their party poisoned by Iago — sorry, MAGA — are really going to talk about is this:
- Mar-a-Lago classified docs. (DoJ, led by special counsel Jack Smith.)
- Criminal wrongdoing regarding January 6 assault on the Capitol. (DoJ, also led by Smith.)
- Election fraud in the state of Georgia. (Fulton County, Georgia, district attorney Fani Willis.)
- Various investigations into Trump’s business behavior. (New York State district attorney Letitia James; Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg.)
- The Stormy Daniels hush money. (Manhattan DA Bragg.)
- A securities fraud investigation into Truth Social’s merger with DWAC. (SEC)
That’s a list — heretical in the MAGA-verse — of the six known investigations into possible criminal behavior by the 45th President of the United States. It’s #5 that’s getting the most attention this week — notably because Trump said so — but the order could change. Next week it could be a looming Jack Smith indictment rather than a looming Alvin Bragg indictment that hits Trump and his campaign. (Any one of the six could come down before primary season really gets rolling.)
Clearly if the forward-looking plan of the GOP Trump resisters, or Democrats for that matter, was to relegate Trump-driven narratives to the bottom of the list — to move on from Trump — that mission is presently an abject failure. Trump is holding the party hostage — and his multiple legal predicaments are, counterintuitively, looking as if they might actually help him.
What choice do old-school Republicans have but to talk about Trump — especially when one of the biggest narratives is the idea that the more crimes Trump is potentially guilty of, the stronger he becomes politically?
In light of that, the GOP left-behinds can’t very well talk about their ilk like Liz Cheney (a professor now, shunted from the Senate for perceived crimes against “patriots”) or Mitt Romney (he actually thinks liars don’t belong in Congress, even when they’re certified GOP). Or anyone else, save a cursory cull of DeSantis.
So the GOP’s former establishmentarians are forced, if they want to talk about their party at all, to talk about the man who leads it — Donald J. Trump. He sucks the air from the room, the ink from the papers, the fonts from the phones.
The Lincoln Project — created to beat back Trumpism on the right — is busy doing the same thing, of course:
“The reason there’s a former president being indicted is because the Republican Party nominated and elected a criminal. It’s no more complicated than that.” —@StuartPStevens pic.twitter.com/jbFwZGQFZJ— The Lincoln Project (@ProjectLincoln) March 22, 2023
Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper enumerated the reasons for moving on from #45, telling MSNBC last spring: “Any elected leader needs to meet some basic criteria: they need to be able to put country over self, they need to have a certain amount of integrity and principle, they need to be able to reach across the aisle and bring people together and unite the country…Donald Trump doesn’t meet those marks.”
But moving on from Trump is dead in the water, especially as his legal turmoil amplifies his bandwidth in the fickle attention economy.
The idea that Trump has taken the GOP hostage isn’t new — articles in publications with very different political viewpoints have run with it — from the Washington Post (More Evidence GOP Is Under A Hostage Situation) to Time Magazine (How Donald Trump’s Control Over the GOP Became a Hostage Situation).
And all that was back during the 2020 midterms when Trump was working largely behind the scenes — and before he again, as in 2016, started dominating the news cycle.