Memo to serious Republicans, conservatives: He ain't going away.
Donald TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 committee chair says panel will issue a 'good number' of additional subpoenas Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Pentagon officials prepare for grilling Biden nominates head of Africa CDC to lead global AIDS response MORE dominates the party's politics, policies and tone. Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump-backed challenger to Cheney decried him as 'racist,' 'xenophobic' in 2016: report State Department spokesperson tests positive for COVID-19 The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Lawmakers fret over wild week of deadlines MORE (R-S.C.), once a John McCainJohn Sidney McCainWhoopi Goldberg signs four-year deal with ABC to stay on 'The View' Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid Meghan McCain: Country has not 'healed' from Trump under Biden MORE Republican, now says the party "can't grow without him."
There are Republican office holders who genuinely embrace Trump. For other leading GOP politicians and strategists, it's a calculation: placate Trump and his crazy stuff now, win the Congress next year and start to move on.
That's a fantasy.
The narcissistic former president is incapable of just going away. The Trump brand hardly suffers though it seems every week a new book comes out on his tragic governance — and those from people without subpoena power.
Start with the 2020 election, which should be history; Biden won the popular vote handily and the electoral college with several states to spare. That has been validated by Republican state officials, dozens of court cases, Congress and Trump's own attorney general and vice president. It was more clear-cut than Trump's victory four years earlier and two other presidential elections in this century.
Time to move on, right? Trump won't allow it.
A majority of Republicans now believe he won last November, that the election was “stolen” by Joe BidenJoe BidenFord to bolster electric vehicle production in multi-billion dollar push Protesters demonstrate outside Manchin's houseboat over opposition to reconciliation package Alabama eyes using pandemic relief funds on prison system MORE and Democrats. Many elected Republicans refuse to disown this insidious falsehood, the core of what Trump is saying and doing.
Trump is an effective demagogue. Six years ago, he had many Republicans questioning whether Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama says US 'desperately needs' Biden legislation ahead of key votes Obamas to break ground Tuesday on presidential center in Chicago A simple fix can bring revolutionary change to health spending MORE really was born in the United States, even though Obama’s 1961 birth in Hawaii was in the newspaper.
In Michigan, a Republican-dominated legislative committee repudiated Trump's claims that massive vote fraud cost him the state. Biden carried Michigan by more than 150,000 votes. Trump called this Republican action a “cover up,” suggesting these Republican lawmakers should be voted “the hell out of office.”
He undoubtedly will be happier with the phony, partisan, outside audit of the vote in Maricopa County, Arizona. That was the intent of this bogus exercise which has no standing — but Trump and his right-wing media and political supporters will claim that it's proof the election was stolen. The con game continues seven months after the election.
Trump's failure on the pandemic continues to adversely affect Americans: 14 of the 15 states with the worst vaccination rates voted for Trump. To be sure, there are separate socio-economic factors — but Trump, who could have influenced some of his followers, rarely mentions vaccinations; one poll shows that 44 percent of Republicans aren't sure he ever was vaccinated.
Actually, the former president could take credit for the rapid development of the extraordinarily effective vaccines — but this might help Biden, avoiding which apparently motivates Trump more than the lives he might save.
Trump still defends the Jan. 6 mob assault on the Capitol, which he inspired. There is even a loony theory that the FBI, with undercover agents, was behind the assault. Trump has demonstrated contempt for the independence of the bureau.
Threats of violence aren't uncommon in Trump world. Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyTrump-backed challenger to Cheney decried him as 'racist,' 'xenophobic' in 2016: report Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats stare down 'hell' week MORE (R-Wyo.) who's had the political courage to warn of the perils of Trump's influence in the party, has security guards after threats against her.
The Cheney experience says it all about the former president's hold on Republicans: Cheney checks all the conservative litmus tests — she’s for low taxes, a strong national security and gun rights and is against abortion and Obamacare. For her House colleagues, all that was tangential to her stance against Trump: They dumped her from a leadership post. A number of other Republicans who voted for impeachment have been censured by their state and local parties.
Trump was in Ohio this past week venting against Rep. Anthony Gonzales, a former professional football player with an MBA from Stanford and grandson of a Cuban refugee, who voted to impeach Trump.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWineMike DeWineAnti-Trump Republicans on the line in 2022 too The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble Legal groups sue Ohio redistricting commission, allege partisan gerrymandering MORE, praised for his handling of the pandemic, also faces a primary from a Trump-loving challenger.
In a half century of covering national politics, the best Republican strategist I've ever known is Stu Spencer, whose counsel launched Ronald Reagan; he became a legend in GOP politics. At 94, he still has political instincts that the Lindsey Grahams can only dream of. Last year he voted for Biden, only the second time he pulled the Democrat lever (the first was Harry Truman). Spencer is deeply pessimistic that whatever the short-term, a Trump dominated party is a long-term loser, preventable only if prominent Republicans speak out now. He told me, “We need more Liz Cheneys, but I'm afraid there won't be. They're scared.”
There was a Republican Senator who warned against a party “embracing a philosophy that lacks political integrity or intellectual honesty,” riding the four horsemen of “Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear.”
That was Sen. Margaret Chase Smith’s still celebrated “Declaration of Conscience” 70 years ago about the threat of Joe McCarthy.
The threat today is greater.
Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.