Opinion | Campaign

Anti-Trump Republicans on the line in 2022 too

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There is one group with almost as much at stake in the 2022 elections as Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer: anti-Trump Republicans.

Historical patterns and current conventional wisdom suggest Republicans will capture the House next year, maybe the Senate too, and do well in state races.

That would reaffirm an indelibly deep Trump stamp on the party for 2024 and beyond. The only way to avoid that is an electoral setback.

Some Republicans, including major figures, have to proclaim that it's long-term political suicide to be a party that embraces lies about "stolen elections," defends right-wing violent mob assaults and panders to racial divisions.

The anti-Trump GOP is a small group, a few current and former elected officials, articulate media voices, and a handful of political strategists. They are conservative, which Trumpism is not.

The ideal is to prevail in Republican primaries, the most prominent of which is in Wyoming, where a Trump-backed candidate is challenging Rep. Liz Cheney, a staunch conservative who has stood up to the former president. There are few such opportunities, however, as most Republican incumbents - as well as challengers - toe the Trump line.

The best place to start is in Ohio and the retirement this month of Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzales. He was a GOP dream: the son of a Cuban immigrant, a college and professional football player with an MBA from Stanford, an entrepreneur, a conservative. He was honest, voting to impeach Trump for inciting the mob violence on the Capitol and accepting Joe Biden's legitimate win.

Trump set his sights on Gonzales, backing an undistinguished loyalist.

Gonzales, following threats to his family, said it wasn't worth it - and retired.

Tim Miller, a veteran Republican strategist, lamented that the Gonzales saga showed "just how dangerous the Republican party has become."

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, the Republican's top vote-getter for decades, gets good marks for his handling of the COVID crisis. That, and his recognition that Biden won the presidential election, made him an enemy of the Trump forces who are now challenging him in next year's primary.

It doesn't get any better in the U.S. Senate race where former party state chair Jane Timken, perennial right-wing candidate Josh Mandel and author J.D. Vance are fighting over who is the most Trumpian.

Ohio State Sen. Matt Dolan jumped into the race, giving the anti-Trump forces an outside shot if the others split their vote. It'll be interesting to see if retiring Sen. Rob Portman - who didn't stand up to Trump for four years - will show political courage now that he's not facing voters.

It's not much better in neighboring Pennsylvania, where the leading Republican U.S. Senate candidate, Sean Parnell, a veteran and failed congressional candidate, is running as a total Trump man. This is no longer the Republican party of Governors Dick Thornburgh and Tom Ridge or Senators John Heinz and Arlen Specter.

Parnell is running for the seat of retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey; it's one of the main Democratic targets next year, along with the seat of retiring North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr. For Burr's seat, Trump has endorsed right-wing Congressman Ted Budd, whose chief primary opponent, former Gov. Pat McCrory, seems at times to be claiming he's actually more Trumpian than Trump's endorsee.

In Nevada the leading Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, Adam Laxalt, spins the lie that Trump won the election last November and warns that Democrats may try to steal next year's election.

Same story in Georgia, where the Trump-inspired front-runner for Senate seat is Herschel Walker, once a celebrated football hero who is encumbered with personal and financial controversies and hasn't lived in the state in years.

The vast majority of Republican congressional candidates will campaign as Trump supporters; most of the top gubernatorial challengers in big states are running as Trump wannabes and blasting Democrats for "overly restrictive" efforts to combat COVID.

In Texas, which has defied predictions that it's turning less Republican, the Trump-embracing governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general (who's also under indictment) are all running for reelection. Democrat Beto O'Rourke, who ran a close race for U.S. Senate several years ago, reportedly plans to run for governor.

If most of these Republican candidates prevail, any hopes of crafting a post-Trump conservative party will vanish.

With minimal clout in intra-party contests, anti-Trump Republicans in the general election will have to draw on their ties to corporate and traditional mainstream GOP supporters, maximize the media megaphone, and embrace moderate Democrats in competitive races.

Rep. Gonzales, calling Trump "a cancer for the country," in a New York Times interview, said Republicans continuing to appease him are making a huge mistake.

If Trumpism scores major wins next year, there is no turning back.

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.

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