COMMENTARY: GOP desperately needs a dramatic change of heart


By Berl Falbaum

Whenever there is a controversy about Donald Trump -- which is almost daily -- I feel like I am in a political echo chamber.

The subsequent reactions bounce off the walls without any reflection or unique insights, especially when they involve the responses of Republican office holders to Trump’s latest controversy.

No matter how many times we have gone through this exercise, the formula is always the same, i.e.:

--Republican leaders refuse to condemn the former president’s comments (or actions).

--They will not commit to endorsing another potential Republican presidential candidate in 2024.

All the political experts, analysts and reporters -- in the electronic and print media -- regurgitate the same story time and time again.

But the stories miss the mark. Their reluctance to chastise him is not a mystery.

Politicians do not lead. They follow their constituents. Where the voters go, they go. If for one minute they believed criticizing Trump would help them to be elected, they would do so quicker than they can say, “I never heard of Donald Trump.”

Let’s take a quick look back at some Trump history with Republicans and the evolution of this relationship.

When Trump announced his candidacy in 2015, the most vocal critics were Republicans. For example, South Carolina Senator Lindsey O. Graham called him a “kook,” “the world’s biggest jackass,” a “race-baiting xenophobic religious bigot.” The former Republican governor from Texas, Rick Perry, labeled Trump a “cancer.” Florida Senator Marco Rubio called Trump a “con man,” “dangerous,” and an “embarrassment.” Other Republicans had similar uncomplimentary views.

But once Trump won the nomination, everything changed. Why? Because Republicans recognized Trump’s popularity with the Republican electorate and some independents.

For seven years, neither Trump’s hundreds of offensive sexist, racist, anti-Semitic remarks nor his lying, and corruption moved the needle and until it does, Republicans will not budge when it comes to not criticizing Trump.

Also, we should not forget that in 2020, he received 11 million more popular votes than in 2016 despite all the falsehoods, fraud and incompetence.

The only true statement Trump ever made was when he observed, "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters ...”

While Republicans did not do as well as expected in the mid-term election, they did win control of the House. They are only two seats from prevailing in the Senate.

Even losses of Trump apostles don’t meet the test of repudiation, as Kari Lake lost her race for governor in Arizona but received 49.7 percent of the vote. Herschel Walker, the U.S. Senate Republican candidate in Georgia, lost in the state’s run-off election yet won support from 48.6 percent of Georgia’s electorate. Lake and Walker still received almost half of the vote. Repudiation?

Furthermore, totally ignored was the fact that some “Trump candidates” lost because of local issues that had nothing to do with the former president. (For instance, Walker’s personal scandals almost equaled the number of votes he received).

No, there is considerable evidence that Trumpism remains very much alive and kicking. (According to Newsweek Magazine, roughly 170 election deniers won their races in the general election -- more than half of the total).

We are a long way from so-called repudiation of Trump. Overall, the electorate remains split just about evenly when it comes to Trump. (All the numbers cited in this column are basically 50-50).

The real story is that the country has lost its moral compass; our values, ethics and integrity have been severely marginalized, if not erased.

True, our politics were never ethically pure. But we had some standards; we had lines we would not cross. It was not too long ago that a candidate who bragged about grabbing women by the genitalia would not have gotten out of the gate.  

The present Trump presidential campaign scenario is similar to what it was in 2015, although the criticism of him was harsher the first time. Republicans recognize that he might well win the nomination, thus they are coy as to whom they would support. Barring any major development, I believe he may well be the party’s candidate for 2024.

So, let’s change the focus and concentrate on how we restore a demand in the electorate for decency, civility, dignity, and respectability in our political process.

If we don’t address the problem, we can’t solve it. Bewailing the lack of criticism from Republicans for Trump’s ugly politics does nothing to rid ourselves of the coarseness and vileness in our politics.

We need to focus on the electorate and convince it that we have an obligation to our children and grandchildren to hold politicians accountable for turning a blind eye to –or participating in—the foulness in our body politic.

If we are successful in that charge, we can be confident that Republican office holders and others who defend the ugliness of Trumpism will have a change of heart. They will respond if they believe they will pay a price.

If there were ever a sure bet, this is it.
Berl Falbaum is a veteran political columnist and author of 12 books.