Republicans have a choice: party or country?

Republicans have a choice: party or country?
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They arrive every year around this time: small beige envelopes from Ron Kaufman, the treasurer of the Republican National Committee (RNC), asking Republicans for a yearly contribution to renew their membership, support Republican candidates and prevent the Democrats from dismantling the great “positive vision” of this president.

The RNC reminded many of us, with dates varying, that “we have not heard from you since 05/05/2016.” The RNC is worried the obvious may be true — that we might have “deserted our president and our party.” 

But they have it backwards. President TrumpDonald John TrumpO'Rourke: Trump driving global, U.S. economy into recession Manchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms Objections to Trump's new immigration rule wildly exaggerated MORE and the GOP leadership have deserted the traditional conservatives, the Republican agenda and the core values of the party.

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Many of us joined because we believed in a strong defense, fiscal responsibility, close attention to the Constitution, and keeping government as small as possible. We were compassionate conservatives and looked to the Reagan and Bush teams for example, and to Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower for inspiration.

Today’s Republican Party, under Trump, is in another universe. It has two problems — the president himself, and what he has done to the party.  

President Trump is a disgrace to his office. He is a sexist, a pathological liar and the first president in my lifetime who appears not to work hard to master the duties of his office. The only thing worse than his character are his policies. Trump has been anti-alliance and pro-dictator, a policy that defies benign explanation. The United States has stopped leading in international organizations. Our allies are adrift.

Trump has abandoned free trade and fostered an economic policy characterized by tariffs, a tax cut for the rich, no apparently controls on domestic spending, and the return to trillion-dollar-per-year deficits. Trump’s idea of fixing health care is to repeal ObamaCare without replacing it. The economy continues to do well, not because of him, but in spite of him.

His big fix on illegal immigration was to impose stricter enforcement that results in separating children from their parents at the border. The administration’s inhumane treatment of border crossers and asylum seekers is a stain on our national honor. Neither Mexico nor Trump’s own party would fund his wall, so he took the money from the defense budget

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The Trump administration has set a record for firing cabinet-level officials and for not manning senior billets subject to senatorial confirmation. The best of his appointees — James Mattis, H.R. McMaster, John Kelly, and now Dan Coats — have left office, apparently for telling Trump the truth about his abuse of the national interest.  

If incompetence were an impeachable offense, Trump would be convicted, except for one fact:  he has neutered the Republicans in the legislative branch. Knowing his popularity among “the base,” they have lost their courage and independence. A veiled threat of having a pro-Trump candidate run against them in a primary has created squads of toadies throughout the House and Senate. 

The behavior of House Republicans during former special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony was similarly outrageous. Rather than engaging the witness or discussing the Russian threat to our elections, they took turns weaving conspiracy theories about obscure villains and how the president’s rights were trampled as he apparently tried to obstruct justice. 

In times past, the lions of the Senate would insist on respect for the law and the Constitution. We remember the Republican legislators who came to the White House to tell President Nixon that he would be convicted of his Watergate-related crimes. He resigned forthwith. 

The Republicans in today’s Senate — nicknamed, insulted and browbeaten by our vulgar president — are pliable and eager to please the “master tweeter.” Their nominal leader, Vice President Mike Pence, has become a joke even in this party of kiss-ups. The actual Republican leader, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellAre Democrats turning Trump-like? House Democrat calls for gun control: Cities can ban plastic straws but 'we can't ban assault weapons?' Churches are arming and training congregants in response to mass shootings: report MORE (R-Ky.), appears wedded to the president’s agenda. This great deliberative body has been reduced to being a transmission belt for Trump’s desires. 

In the meantime, thousands of Republicans have left the party. The dissidence in the party is significant. When President Trump leaves the White House, he may well take what’s left of the Republican Party with him, destroying the two-party system. 

Trump remains popular in his new party, but many rank-and-file Republicans will continue to opt for country over party. For them, 2019 will be another year that they don’t write a check to the Republican National Committee. 

Joseph J. Collins is a retired Army colonel and Department of Defense civilian. From 2001-04, under President George W. Bush, he was a deputy assistant secretary of Defense for stability operations. For over 25 years, he taught strategy at West Point and the National War College.