Almost exactly two years ago, my relationship with a life-long friend came to a sudden, heated end. It took time, but eventually I realized just how toxic that friendship had been and how my life improved after.
As the New Year gets under way, many Republicans may find themselves in a similar situation.
Much like our current president, my thin-skinned former friend was prone to fits of rage over trivial things (usually board games or fantasy football). He’d browbeat anyone who criticized him and harangue people who didn’t do what he wanted. And God help anyone, like me, who had the gall to stand up to him.
But at least he didn’t have the ability to start a war with Iran.
While many mutual friends just walked away, others stood by him and overlooked his boorish behavior. That meant that I lost more than one friend.
The same choice faces Republicans across the country during this election cycle: stand by someone who objectively abused the power of the presidency or walk away from both Trump and the people who stand with him. Recent developments suggest there will be no fence, or border-wall if you prefer, to straddle.
Just a few weeks ago, some of President Trump’s most ardent conservative detractors penned an opinion piece in the New York Times lambasting not just Trump and calling for his defeat this November, but also any congressional Republican who has stood with him.
As the authors wrote, “this president’s actions are possible only with the craven acquiescence of congressional Republicans. They have done no less than abdicate their Article I responsibilities.”
These authors held on to the same hopes that I did in the embryonic stages of Trump’s presidency. As I wrote just after his inauguration, the Trump administration posed the best opportunity for Congress, particularly the U.S. Senate, to redeem the moral and governmental authority it had let atrophy over a period of decades.
Tragically, they have not. Those who tried have been swept aside by his throngs of zealots and the threat of intraparty primary challenges. What remains of the once-venerable institution resembles a puddle of swamp slime without the rigidity to hold any form, much less a backbone.
Nevermind innocent until proven guilty, Trump has been acquitted by Republicans in the Senate before he has been tried. And that despite the administration’s refusal to allow key witnesses to testify. It’s a farce.
But the conservatives who wrote the Time’s opinion piece already knew that. For the first time, they have begun to target Republicans in Congress who let Trump pull their once-beloved party into the gutter. The organization aptly named The Lincoln Project will spend the 2020 election actively working against Republicans who support Trump and trying to free the party from his shackles.
In Colorado, Sen. Cory Gardner may be near the top of their list.
Of course, each of these individuals knows they will be walking away from both friends and professional success. It seems likely they will be spurned by the majority of their party, both in social settings and in the business where most earn their livings. It’s that sacrifice, for the country’s greater good, that makes the group so worthy of their namesake.
The sacrifice isn’t a suicide mission, though. I worked with several members of the group on various political campaigns and each are too intelligent to take up a hopeless cause.
Instead, the goal will be to peel off enough Republicans so disgusted with Trump that they make the same choice in private, at the ballot box. And in close races, it will take only a few to accomplish their goal.
There’s a good chance many Republicans rang in the New Year with the chorus question “should auld acquaintance be forgot?” As I’ve learned, and the Lincoln Project knows, the answer is sometimes yes.
Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq
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