Column: They’ve watched him for four years. It took until now for GOP leaders to see that Trump’s dangerous?

A rioter in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday.
A rioter in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday.
(Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images)

A tad late, the revolt has finally arrived.

“I can’t do it. I can’t stay,” said Mick Mulvaney Thursday in resigning his job as President Trump’s special envoy to Northern Ireland. Mulvaney, Trump’s former chief of staff, was one of a bevy of shocked — shocked! — administration officials, including Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who quit in protest after Wednesday’s shameful riot.

Then there were the GOP senators, including Steve Daines of Montana and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, who also saw the light. They had promised to challenge the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral college win, but reversed themselves after the pro-Trump marauders stormed and occupied the Capitol. The riots “changed things drastically,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.).

What bravery! What backbone! Surely these Republicans who are challenging the president are profiles in courage.


But hold on just a minute. Trump has been in office for 1,449 days so far, and they are turning on him only now, with 12 days left in his term?

Where were these fearless rebels during the eight weeks after the election when the president was desperately trying to subvert the results? Where were they a year ago when Trump was impeached for extorting a personal political favor from Ukraine’s president? Where were they when the president separated immigrant children from their parents and when he praised the Nazis who marched in Charlottesville? Where were they during the whole dangerous, un-American, anti-democratic tenure of the worst president in modern American history?

For four years, too many congressional Republicans — including the powerful Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — refused to call Trump out as he weakened this country’s relationships with its allies, contradicted scientists, undermined the media, stoked divisions among Americans and trampled the democratic process. Their refusal, for reasons of political expediency, to act as a check on his misbehavior made them complicit in it.

During the impeachment imbroglio, for instance, Senate Republicans under McConnell ignored evidence, refused to hear witnesses and effectively gave their imprimatur to Trump’s abuse of office.

Why did so many Republicans toady up to such an obviously deviant commander in chief? Some were worried about their careers or their reelection chances or were jockeying for position in the 2024 presidential race. Some sold their souls for short-term policy gains. Some hoped to placate the terrifying Trump base.

Now some are backing away and others are not. But the names of McConnell and Josh Hawley and Matt Gaetz and Kevin McCarthy and Mike Pence and Ted Cruz and many, many others will be forever tied to that of Donald Trump, the aberrant president they normalized.


White House aides and senior administration officials who knew better empowered Trump for years, sticking by him and failing to speak out publicly while he fumed and schemed and punished disloyalty and turned the awesome power of the presidency to his own personal purposes.

So what’s changed now for those who are expressing second thoughts?

Isn’t it obvious?

Like rats leaving the proverbial ship, they see the president going down. He’s only days from losing power. His shameless efforts to overturn the election have obviously failed, and he can’t help them or hurt them any longer. He could end up indicted.

Wednesday was a turning point, of course. As they watched the Trump-incited mobs scale the walls and punch police officers and overturn barricades and wave Confederate flags, many Republicans realized that they might have bet on the wrong side.

So at the 11th hour, they’re backing away.

We’re supposed to view that as heroic? Or statesmanlike? I don’t think so. Profiles in pusillanimity, more like.

The reality is that Wednesday’s riot at the Capitol didn’t “drastically change” anything. It was merely the logical, inevitable conclusion of four years of instigation and incitement by Trump.

The audacity of the Republican flip-flop is breathtaking and irritating.

But — on a slightly more positive note — a deathbed conversion is better than nothing. At the moment, the United States needs its Republican leaders to come back from the brink of extremism and irresponsibility, even if only halfheartedly and at the last moment.


For American democracy to recover from the grave damage done to it during the Trump years, Republicans will have to stop pandering to his bitter, resentful base — including the QAnon adherents, the white nationalists, the Proud Boys and the rest.

Perhaps the GOP should listen more to the members of their party who have managed to preserve their integrity, such as Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and others.

In the years ahead, both Democrats and Republicans will have to end the hyperpartisan and dysfunctional behavior that has paralyzed Washington for more than a decade. Debate and cooperation will have to replace the politics of rhetoric and rejectionism if we want our democracy to thrive.

We don’t need to thank the newly awakened Republicans for doing what they know they should have done four years ago, but we should acknowledge that it is a necessary first step in the long, tough process of rebuilding democracy.