Trump has tarnished his administration’s legacy and betrayed the GOP

Former President Trump seems determined to detract from the substantial accomplishments of his administration, especially its transformation of critical U.S.-Taiwan-China relations.  

His behavior since the 2020 election also has deeply damaged the reputation and prospects of the Republican Party, which honored him twice with its presidential nomination and defended him loyally against both partisan attacks and legitimate criticism. 

Most importantly, Trump’s actions have seriously undermined American democracy at home and its image abroad.

On China and Taiwan, Trump’s no-nonsense approach startled China’s communist regime, which was accustomed to decades of bipartisan engagement that brought prosperity and military power to Beijing while working to the West’s economic and security disadvantage.  

Trump ended that dynamic, demanding transparency and reciprocity from China and using tariffs and sanctions as leverage. For the first time ever in dealing with a U.S. administration, China was put in a no-win situation. If it did not comply with Trump’s trade conditions, the hammer of financial penalties would fall.  

But if it made the required changes in its economic system, that also would mean political reform, an existential challenge to Communist Party rule. Chinese leader Xi Jinping did not intend to emulate the evolution of South Korea and Taiwan from dictatorship to democracy.  

Meanwhile, Trump enabled his foreign policy team to undertake the most revolutionary transformation of China’s national security challenge in half a century. The vice president, the national security council, and the State and Defense departments began the long overdue process of revisiting the Nixon-Kissinger understanding with China and the ensuing decades of misguided accommodation.  

Recognizing the growing China threat and articulating a corresponding national security strategy converted even the Biden team of Clinton and Obama administrations veterans. The fundamental change initiated by the Trump team and followed by President Biden was most evident in U.S. policy toward Taiwan with increased arms sales, higher-level contacts with Taipei, and a more robust assertion of navigational freedom in the region.

To halt Trump’s momentum on the economic and security fronts — which also seemed to assure another Trump term — and to escape the political reform trap Trump had laid for him, Xi played the COVID card. Whether the virus release was intentional, a lab accident, or an entirely natural event, Beijing withheld critical information that the world needed to cope with the outbreak. As the pandemic raged, Trump insisted he had not been “duped” by Xi. Despite Trump’s spurring the almost miraculous government-industry effort that quickly produced safe and effective vaccines, the pandemic clearly hurt his reelection prospects. 

But what has more decisively obscured his administration’s historic response to the existential danger from China has been his reaction to losing the 2020 election. His claims of fraud and electoral wrongdoing may have seemed superficially plausible given the extent of unusual voting procedures because of pandemic restrictions. But, as his multiple legal challenges failed for lack of supporting evidence, it became clear that his claims were at first a delusional obsession, but ultimately a cynical fabrication to hold onto power at all cost. 

Trump’s self-absorption totally supplanted any concern for the Republican Party’s governing prospects beyond the presidency. With that office lost to the Democrats, the near-term future of the GOP now rested with the fate of the U.S. Senate, where Republicans held a 52-48 majority.  Trump’s election-eve Georgia rally with two incumbent GOP seats at stake convinced many voters that the system was rigged and their participation didn’t matter. Enough disillusioned Republicans stayed home to defeat both incumbents and turn control of Congress over to the Democrats, producing the legislative record of the past two years.

But Trump was not finished with his narcissism at the expense of his party. In last year’s race for governor in Virginia, he criticized Glenn Youngkin, the GOP candidate, before half-heartedly endorsing him. He advised voters to boycott all future elections until the 2020 result was reversed and he was returned to power. Youngkin won, despite Trump’s destructive message. 

For this year’s midterms, Trump is supporting only his loyalists over better-qualified GOP candidates who would be more likely to win in November. He even suggested to his Georgia voters that Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams is preferable to incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp who refused to collude with Trump to reverse Biden’s Georgia victory.

Beyond blotting his administration’s impressive record in countering the rising China threat, and sabotaging the Republican Party, Trump’s most grievous post-election sin has been his willful undermining of American institutions and democracy itself.

He has magnified a few flaws in the electoral system and pandemic-related irregularities into unfounded allegations of massive voter fraud in a few swing states. He has accused hundreds of honest, dedicated election officials of corruption and said Americans should not trust their government institutions, whether at the federal, state or local level.  

The corrosive effect of this inflammatory rhetoric has exacerbated existing national divisions and created new ones. Sensationalist mainstream and social media have facilitated conspiracy theories, extremist rhetoric and despair over the future of the republic. Reactions on both ends of the ideological spectrum have ranged from moral condemnation and social ostracism of those with differing opinions to violent language, which sometimes leads to actual violence. On both the left and the right, many have reached the extreme conclusion that the desperate state of politics in America today requires desperate corrective measures. “Armed rebellion” and “civil war” have crept into the national debate — to the delight of America’s enemies abroad.

I have experienced firsthand some of the extreme intolerance. I was informed by someone on the political left that my 2020 vote for Trump makes me complicit in all his egregious behavior after Nov. 3, including the planning and coordination for Jan. 6, 2021, which, my critic alleges, was all known and predictable on Election Day 2020. Somehow, those responsible for the security of the Capitol also missed it.

From the right, my criticism of some Trump policies, and especially his post-election behavior, so infuriated one Trump supporter — an educated professional — that he emailed me, twice, warning, “You have blood on your head.”

After calls for violence against FBI agents from some of his supporters, Trump reportedly sent a message to Attorney General Merrick Garland: “The country is on fire. What can I do to reduce the heat?” It remains to be seen if it was a message of genuine patriotic concern on Trump’s part or just another cynical ploy. But extremists on the left, including some of their apologists in the media, bear their own responsibility to cool passions and calm the national debate. 

Joseph Bosco served as China country director for the secretary of Defense from 2005 to 2006 and as Asia-Pacific director of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief from 2009 to 2010. He served in the Pentagon when Vladimir Putin invaded Georgia and was involved in Department of Defense discussions about the U.S. response. Follow him on Twitter @BoscoJosephA.

Tags 2020 presidential election china tariffs China-Taiwan tension Donald Trump Trade with China Trump

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