Trump indictment is a chance for the GOP to reclaim itself

Do Republican leaders have the courage to take back their party?

August 8, 2023 5:50 am

Former President Donald Trump boards his plane at Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, following an arraignment in Washington, D.C. federal court on August 3, 2023. Trump pleaded not guilty to four felony criminal charges after being indicted for his alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Donald Trump’s indictment for various schemes to overturn his 2020 election loss will get distorted by allegations that Democrats, President Joe Biden and “the deep state” are unfairly trying to prevent his return to the presidency.

Yet in reality, Republicans provided the details of Trump actions to the House Committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection and then to Special Counsel Jack Smith’s grand jury which issued four felony charges.

These were Trump cabinet members, White House officials and state party leaders who once considered it an honor to work for him. Some took stands out of patriotic duty, others did so to protect themselves legally or politically. But they do deserve some appreciation as this country struggles to right itself during a crisis for democracy.

When Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2021 voted to acquit Trump of impeachment charges for Jan. 6, he assured the public that Trump “didn’t get away with anything  —  yet.”

“We have a criminal-justice system in this country. We have civil litigation. And former presidents are not immune from being accountable by either one,” he said in a speech from the Senate floor.

U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell embraces Daniel Cameron, the Republican candidate for Kentucky governor, during the Fancy Farm Picnic on Aug. 5, 2023. Applauding is Elaine Chao, who resigned from Trump’s cabinet the day after theJan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Austin Anthony)

Well, the legal reckoning is upon us, even after GOP leaders told voters that any criticism of Trump was a partisan, political attack. Too many still genuflect to a man who uses chaos, extremism, grievance and conspiracies to enthrall enough of the party’s base to make him difficult to challenge.

All the while, Trump — who appears likely to win the 2024 GOP presidential nomination —  is destroying the party he is supposed to lead. He has overseen losses in the House, Senate and the presidency; used party funds to fight his various legal battles while key state operations struggle for money; and encouraged House Republicans to focus so much on revenge and distraction that a government shutdown is likely.

That Republican senators have been fairly quiet after the indictment is one of a few encouraging signs that the situation might change:

  • A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted right after the indictment was released, shows 45 percent of Republicans nationwide said they would not vote for Trump in 2024, if he is a convicted of a felony. It showed that 35 percent would vote for him regardless. All others said they didn’t know.
  • Former Vice President Mike Pence, who Trump wanted to illegally refuse to certify the 2020 election results, issued a strong statement after the indictment: “Today’s indictment serves as an important reminder: Anyone who puts himself over the Constitution should never be President of the United States. Our country is more important than one man. Our constitution is more important than any one man’s career.” A struggling presidential candidate, Pence is likely to be a key witness in a Trump trial.
  • Recent New York Times/Siena College polls of Republican voters nationally found waning enthusiasm for “anti-woke” candidates who focus on abortion, gender and diversity issues. Voters are more interested in traditional GOP concerns of economics and security.
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — who is a distant second in the GOP primary and is the most aggressive attacker of “wokeness” — has just shown the nerve to say they Trump is wrong about having won reelection.

Why should non-Republicans care about a party that took a wrong turn — long before Trump — by catering primarily to older, white and rural voters in a country fast becoming more racially diverse, younger and urban?

Our democracy benefits from the give-and-take and sometimes consensus from political ideologies focused on serving citizens. We can’t tolerate more attacks on democracy, deliberate strategies to divide people, and the general nastiness that the Trump cult has generated.

It’s time for Republican leadership to show some courage and make an effort to return to the party that told President Richard Nixon he should resign over the Watergate break-in and his imperialist thinking. Public support for the indictment and the legal process would reinforce the GOP’s long-touted commitment to law and order.

We will know soon enough. After Republican after Republican testifies, just watch how much  party leaders still insist Trump’s damage is all the Democratic Party’s’ fault.

Bailey Canamore, 11, of Clinton, carries a flag behind Scott Jennings as he speaks live on CNN before the 143rd Fancy Farm Picnic on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2023. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Austin Anthony)

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Vanessa Gallman
Vanessa Gallman

Vanessa Gallman, a Kentucky Lantern freelance columnist, worked for more than two decades as editorial page editor for the Lexington Herald-Leader. She was also a local government editor for The Washington Post and a national correspondent for Knight-Ridder Inc.