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Op-Ed: Trump’s lock on the GOP has ended. Now what?

Donald Trump addresses delegates on the final night of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in 2016.
Donald Trump addresses delegates on the final night of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in 2016. Since then, the GOP has been the party of Trump.
(Timothy A. Clary / AFP/Getty Images)

President Trump violated his oath of office this week. He swore to protect and defend the Constitution. Instead, he fomented an insurrection against Congress and has taken no responsibility for it nor shown any contrition.

He is not fit to hold office at this point, and certainly should not be supported in the future.

The president has floated a third run for the White House and, before this week’s siege of the Capitol, would have entered the 2024 primary as the prohibitive favorite. It seemed as if he would leave office with a lock on the Republican Party, despite losing the election.

But Trump has forfeited any claim he once had to continue holding any position of national responsibility. The Republican Party — my party — can no longer tolerate someone operating so clearly outside the bounds of democratic norms. And he must be kept from running in 2024. We now have clear evidence from two straight national elections that Trump cannot even win a plurality of the votes. And that was before Wednesday’s national disgrace.

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Setting aside the insurrection, Trump has dramatically weakened his party since November, costing Republicans the Senate majority (a loss that reportedly delighted him). Trump’s phone call to Georgia’s top election official, begging for a “recalculation” of the votes cast in his race, was an abject disaster, as was his message to his supporters that their votes might not count. It turned out some of them were listening, just as they were at the rally on Wednesday morning, when he urged them to march to the Capitol.

It didn’t have to end like this for Trump. George W. Bush lost the popular vote in 2000, but then governed in a way that delivered a majority vote four years later. His was the template Trump should have followed: Prove your critics wrong — especially the ones who treated you as illegitimate — by surprising them on policy and politics. Reach out to all Americans, not just your supporters. And sometimes zig when they expect you to zag.

But Trump went backward, losing by 3 million votes in 2016 and then by 7 million in 2020. He could have cleaned up leftover messes from previous administrations, cutting a new path through the wilderness of Washington’s bipartisan failures.

Trump largely failed to do that. He did score some victories on criminal justice reform, gaining traction on the issue in a way that left his critics wondering whether the president’s unorthodox style might be what the country needed to break the partisan impasse. But he turned out not to have the attention span for forging other policy wins, including in areas that would have endeared him to moderate suburbanites who were wary of him in 2016, weary of him by 2018, and worn out by him in 2020.

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Trump, who had billed himself as the ultimate deal maker, failed again and again to make deals that would have helped his reelection. At one point, he had congressional Democrats talked into $25 billion for his border wall in an agreement that would have also taken care of the nation’s “Dreamer” population. But he just couldn’t close the deal.

Playing solely to his base lost Trump the election, alienating former Republicans in the suburbs who might have overlooked his character flaws had he given them more to chew on than uncouth behavior and conspiracy theories. The Georgia Senate runoffs showed again that the Republican Party under Trump has major problems among traditional center-right voters, even as it has picked up some support among other demographics. To win in the future, the party must find leaders who can (and will) appeal to both.

Trump’s failure to understand the possibilities of his own policy influence — and the political rewards to be reaped from it — sank his presidency. Perhaps he thought that by cutting deals to appeal to America’s center he would lose his base. In retrospect, though, that was terrible judgment. They would have followed Trump anywhere, as we’ve seen in his disastrous quest to overturn the election results.

Every conversation about his term — and his obituary — will begin and end with the insurrection he fomented against the U.S. Congress because of his unwillingness to accept the results of a free and fair election.

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Republicans cannot nominate Trump again in 2024, for both political and national security reasons. To nominate him again would divorce the party from the wide political spectrum that has defined the United States since its founding. Trump’s legacy could have been something positive despite his losing the election; that’s all wiped away now.

Republicans must cut all ties with Trump. We didn’t want him to leave office in a blaze of disgrace; he chose that path himself. We accepted him as our party leader and our president, and many worked faithfully to shape his administration in a positive way. But he clearly doesn’t want us anymore, and we should oblige this final request.

Several people stood tall on Wednesday, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Vice President Mike Pence, who rejected Trump’s demands to disregard the Constitution. Those are the true Republicans and patriots who did the right thing.

But many did not, including GOP Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas and Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, who were effectively Trump’s deputies in fomenting an attack on the Capitol. Even after the mob was cleared, they and a few others plowed ahead with their illegitimate electoral objections, disqualifying themselves from pursuing the presidency or other positions of leadership going forward. They threw in with those who occupied the U.S. Capitol wearing animal pelts and horns. Utterly disgraceful.

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The party has interesting voices on the horizon, including Sens. Tim Scott of South Carolina and Tom Cotton of Arkansas. They and others can lead as we move on from Trump, banishing him to the political wilderness for violating his oath and staining the office of the president with his actions. Perhaps now we can return to a GOP anchored on principles instead of personalities, with leaders who serve for the good of the nation instead of their own personal self-aggrandizement.

Scott Jennings is a longtime Republican advisor, former special assistant to President George W. Bush and CNN political commentator. He is a contributing writer to Opinion. @ScottJenningsKY


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