Jonah Goldberg: Will the GOP finally do something about its Trump problem?
It’s not just that Trump doesn’t care about what’s good for the party (if it’s not also good for him), it’s also that he wants the GOP to embrace strategies and messages that affirmatively hurt Republican candidates.
On election night, Donald Trump took to his post-truth social media platform, “Truth Social,” to spin the results. His first utterance was to celebrate Republican Joe O’Dea’s loss in the U.S. Senate race in Colorado. “Joe O’Dea lost BIG!” Trump crowed. “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!!!” O’Dea had distanced himself from Trump during the campaign (and Trump attacked him for it ).
Soon after, Republican Doug Bolduc lost his Senate bid in New Hampshire by nearly 10 points . In the primary, Bolduc embraced Trump’s nonsense about the 2020 election being stolen, and in return Trump had endorsed him. But days after he secured the nomination, Bolduc reversed course, admitting the election wasn’t stolen. A couple of weeks later, on a QAnon-friendly podcast, he backtracked .
That’s not how Trump saw it. Trump declared that Bolduc lost because he “disavowed, after his big primary win, his long-standing stance on Election Fraud. ... Had he stayed strong and true, he would have won, easily.” Bolduc squeaked through his primary with 1,867 votes.
Trump would prefer that the GOP lose a Colorado Senate seat, if the alternative is electing a conservative Republican who isn’t a Trump lickspittle. Moreover, he believes, or at least wants Republicans to believe, that Bolduc would have won in New Hampshire if only he’d showed unwavering loyalty to the stolen election lie.
It’s really very difficult to articulate how stupid this is. Not flawed. Not mistaken. But just really, really how — hey, let’s stick a fork in the toaster to see what happens! — dumb this is.
The former president’s petulant postelection attacks on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin got most of the attention, but these swipes are more illustrative of the problem Trump poses for the GOP.
It’s not just that Trump doesn’t care about what’s good for the party (if it’s not also good for him), it’s also that he wants the GOP to embrace strategies and messages that affirmatively hurt Republican candidates. Trump has infected the right with a suite of self-destructive habits — among them, defending the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, spreading the election fraud myths, rejecting early voting as somehow illegitimate, and thinking that being obnoxious is good politics.
This has long been obvious. If Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, had picked Senate candidates for the 2022 midterms, without interference from Trump, the GOP would have picked up several seats it lost.
The problem is that members of the Trumpian faction of the party don’t care. They’d rather be the leaders of a new minority party than risk that status in pursuing the power of the majority. That’s why they’re trying to scapegoat McConnell, even though McConnell-aligned PACs spent almost a quarter-billion dollars trying to salvage various MAGA races, while Trump mostly sat on his dragon’s hoard, refusing to help his hand-picked candidates.
Even more preposterous: Many Trump boosters are attacking McConnell while also disparaging anyone who criticizes Trump as fake Republicans or even violators of Ronald Reagan’s “ 11th Commandment ”: Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.
According to this worldview , Trump is blameless for this political carnage. The fault lies with the very Republican “establishment” — which Trump has purged and pilloried for years — because it didn’t do enough. But the GOP had a historically disastrous midterm not because George W. Bush didn’t hold a rally for the crackpots, but because voters refused to rally to the crackpot banner.
This double standard of loyalty has been the driver of Republican dysfunction throughout the Trump era. Trump’s minions have internalized his one-way narcissism: Party loyalty for thee, not me. You must be civil to Trump, but his crude incivility is glorious and hilarious.
Again, this has long been obvious. What makes this moment different is that after years of sowing noxious weeds the reaping is here. It does not speak well of Republicans who knew that Trump’s various antics and misdeeds were indefensible but only now criticize them when there’s a price exacted on their political power.
But it’s still better than the alternative. Given the structure of the GOP primaries, Trump could still win the nomination. Given the ample precedents of Republicans standing up to Trump only to beat a cowardly retreat, it’s impossible to know if they can finally jettison this Jonah (no relation) from their cursed ship. But it is more possible now than ever before and, finally, more politically necessary.
Jonah Goldberg is a nationally syndicated columnist whose work is regularly published in the Grand Forks Herald.