When the news hit of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s resignation, forced by massive dissent in his own party, a lot of us immediately arrived at the same burning question.
How could British Conservatives dump Donald Trump’s pal Boris Johnson so convincingly when nearly all American Republicans still genuflect at the very mention of Trump’s name? (We should pause here to give special thanks to Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger and a few others in the GOP who have been brave enough to publicly stand up to Trump.)
You would think that in any kind of normal democracy (or Republic) that Trump could hardly remain the clear frontrunner to be the Republican presidential nominee again in 2024. Trump so desperately wants to turn the country’s attention away from the damning January 6 hearings, that he may announce his intentions soon. Like, really soon. Like, unprecedentedly soon.
I mean, if he announces at any time in advance of the November midterms, it would be a gift to Democrats as Trump would likely once again screw the needs of his own party for his own purposes.
We know Johnson is much like Trump, if more widely read and with more of his own hair. He has been a careless, truth-challenged PM with no respect for ethical concerns. His rapid decline in popularity began when he was hosting large alcohol-fueled parties at the same time he and his Conservative party had put the country on strict COVID lockdown — a national lockdown much more comprehensive than any in America. Johnson first lied about it, of course. Then he got caught in the lie. Then he sort of apologized, but it still took a few more scandals to bring him down.
But as David Frum rightly points out in the Atlantic, Trump and Johnson may have both run dysfunctional governments and may have both been lying demagogues (Johnson became prime minister on the promise of Brexit’s supposed benefits for the working class), but, unlike Trump, Johnson never tried to overthrow the British government. And also, in Britain’s parliamentary system, it’s relatively easy to dump a leader. You don’t need an impeachment or an election.
Republican politicians have been given three easy opportunities to walk away from Trump. Each time, they declined. We’re talking about impeachment trials Nos. 1 and 2 and then, of course, the insurrection of January 6, featuring the assault on the Capitol. During that time, a few Republican leaders (see: McCarthy, Kevin; McConnell, Mitch) actually briefly blamed Trump for the riot before taking the more prudent course of kissing the Trumpian ring.
McCarthy, the House minority leader, may have been more egregious in his post-January 6 sucking up, but Senate Minority Leader McConnell is untouched in his hypocrisy.
Minutes after voting to acquit Trump in Impeachment No. 2, McConnell went before the cameras to say, “Former President Trump’s actions that preceded the riot were a disgraceful, disgraceful dereliction of duty, Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.”
And yet a few days later, McConnell was saying that he would, of course, vote for Trump if he ran again in 2024.
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It’s not that hard to figure out why most Republican office holders refuse to dump Trump, even though many of them privately agree with what McConnell said about Trump and his disgraceful behavior.
Those who defend Trump, or who just stay quiet, are certainly afraid of Trump, but they’re far more afraid of Trump voters, now (and forever?) the Republican base.
A Monmouth poll released just days ago explains everything.
In June of 2021 — months after the January 6 riot — and then again in June of this year, Republican voters were asked whether they thought the events of that day amounted to an insurrection, whether it could be labeled a riot or whether it was simply a form of “legitimate protest.”
In each case, Republicans have become more attached to the Trump version of the day.
In 2021, 33% of Republicans said January 6 was an insurrection. Last month, only 13% would call it that. And don’t worry, it gets worse. Last year, 62% would call the event a riot. Now, only 45% do.
And worse still, a year ago 47% of polled Republicans said the riotous insurrection was more a “legitimate protest.” Last month, 61% — a solid majority — described what seems to have been part of an attempted coup as simply “legitimate protest.”
That’s not all. In a pair of CBS News/YouGov polls, Republican voters were asked if they agreed that the events of January 6 were an attempt “to overturn the election and keep Donald Trump in power.” The first time it was asked, in January of 2021, 56% of Republicans agreed with the position. In a poll taken last December, the number was down to a remarkable 33%.
Editor’s Note: Mike Littwin will be off next week, on a much-deserved vacation in the Colorado high country.
In other words, the Big Lie, in its various iterations, is still considered something like the truth for a great majority of Republicans.
The question is why? Why here and not in Britain?
One obvious answer is Fox News and similar media outlets, featuring Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, Steve Bannon and the rest of the mob who have chosen to lie on Trump’s behalf to their apparently gullible audiences instead of reporting obvious truths.
But even more of the blame should fall to every cowardly Republican politician who continues to enable Trump and has either encouraged the Big Lie or simply allowed it to fester.
It’s hard to understand how anyone following the January 6 hearings — and especially anyone who watched White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson’s bombshell testimony — could believe Trump should ever be allowed anywhere near the White House again.
Not even if someone like, say, Lindsey Graham or maybe Lauren Boebert offered to arrange a tour.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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