In 2020, in the commonwealth of Kentucky, Trump did significantly better than McConnell did on election day. Both won handily, of course, but...
Trump- 1,326,646 (62.1%)
McConnell- 1,233,315 (57.8%)
If Trump knew that, he probably would have thrown it into his latest anti-McConnell tirade-- a widely predicated statement after McConnell told journalists that the Trump-inspired riot on Capitol Hill on 1/6 was "a violent insurrection for the purpose of trying to prevent the peaceful transfer of power after legitimately certified elections, from one administration to the next." McConnell was goading Trump. It worked:
This morning, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's political reporter, Greg Bluestein, wrote that "For the first time in its history, the Republican Governors Association is financing a TV ad during a party primary to support an incumbent facing a GOP challenger. The group unveiled a pro-Kemp ad Wednesday-- and put more than $500,000 behind it." The ad doesn't mention Trump or the Trump candidate, but Trump will surely see the ad as an attack against his one man control of the GOP. Trump had recorded an ad for David Perdue, his own candidate, handpicked by Trump to run against Kemp, who Trump blames for his exile to Mar-A-Lago.
Democratic National Committee spokesman Hyma Moore welcomed the deepening GOP division.
“Grab your popcorn and get ready-- Doug Ducey’s Republican Governors Association is now at war with Donald Trump,” he said, adding: “Trump’s stranglehold on the Republican Party ensures that regardless of which Republican survives this primary, Georgia Republicans are guaranteed to have a rough time.”
14 years ago, almost to the day, Hillary Clinton released the ad the lost her the Democratic primary to Obama, the "red phone" ad implying that Obama was unprepared to be President. On a call with Clinton's very right-wing national security staffers-- Mark Penn, Howard Wolfson and Lee Feinstein-- journalist John Dickerson asked "What foreign policy moment would you point to in Hillary's career where she's been tested by crisis?" There was a pause so long, wrote The Hotline's Jennifer Skalka "you could've knit a sweater in the time it took the usually verbose team... to find a cogent answer." Today, Dickerson, writing for The Atlantic, explored the lack of standards that the GOP has failed victim to. "There is no formal application for the presidency," he began. "If there were, it might contain a few prescreening questions to bounce the obviously unqualified. Is the applicant 35 years of age or older? Were they born in the United States? Have they ever tried to overthrow a lawful presidential election? If a candidate said no to the first two questions or yes to the third, their application would not proceed to the bin for further review. HR would send a note thanking them for their interest. The first two questions are constitutional requirements. The third is not a constitutional requirement but an implicit one: Shredding the Constitution should disqualify anyone applying for a job protecting the Constitution. School-bus operators are not picked from a pool of drivers with a history of high-speed, child-imperiling joyrides. Museum guards are not selected from the ranks of art thieves. This is obvious. But not to the Republican Party. The 2024 GOP presidential nominee will either be Donald Trump, who tried to overthrow the results of the 2020 presidential election, or it will be someone who passes the current purity test: agreeing to overlook the fact that Trump tried to overthrow an election."
When a candidate contradicts years of party doctrine, party leaders lower their standards to accommodate that. Often, this is how political parties succeed. But the standards at issue now are not personal or ideological. They are not about adultery or a position on deficits. At issue now are the standards of the presidency itself.
Instead of having to guess at whether the likely nominee meets once-obvious benchmarks of presidential fitness, we have voluminous verified information, accompanied by contemporaneous evaluations by the most powerful elected leaders in the Republican Party.
The employment file is thick: Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a “dereliction of duty.” House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said, “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters.” McConnell and McCarthy were evaluating Trump’s actions before the attack, but as a matter of presidential standards, what happened next was a greater breach. After chaos erupted at the Capitol, Trump was immovable. His allies in Congress, his family members, Fox News hosts, and his staffers all urged him to do his duty by issuing a statement to end the violence. He refused. His instincts were counter to his duties. Days after the riot, McCarthy identified Trump’s obligation to “quell the brewing unrest and ensure President-elect Biden is able to successfully begin his term.” Trump did none of that.
Republican leaders in Congress and the former vice president have all judged that Trump failed before the riot, during the riot, and afterward. A play of disqualification in three acts.
In the 78 days between Election Day and the inauguration, Trump engaged in a protracted search for ways to overthrow the election. He pressured the Department of Justice, the Pentagon, and Homeland Security on a number of gambits to undo the results. He encouraged others to do the same. He pressured state officials too. Many of those efforts arguably came closer to succeeding than what took place on January 6. Never in American history has a person of such power taken such direct aim at such a core tenet of democracy. A sentence that should not inspire the reaction “Four more years!”
But it does. You’d still have room in the courtesy airport shuttle if you loaded it with every Republican of stature who would speak publicly against Trump’s fitness.
...Polls show that an overwhelming number of Republicans want Trump to be president again. In a CBS poll at the end of last year, 76 percent of Republicans said they wanted Trump back in power. Fifty-six percent want him to wait to run in 2024, and 20 percent want him to “fight to be put back into the presidency right now.” A Reuters poll at the end of last year found that 54 percent of Republicans would support Trump in the 2024 election. He was 43 points ahead of his closest competitor, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
A political party can’t go against the will of its voters, which leaves the GOP stuck in the position of being led by a person whom other major leaders have identified as unfit to govern. Unfit to govern not based on some vague criteria but by the most basic standards of the republic.
The GOP’s response to this puzzle is to redefine the standards for presidential behavior beyond all measure. In a typical example, in October the Senate Judiciary Committee looked into Trump’s efforts to pressure the Department of Justice. The work included interviews with former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, former Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue, and former U.S. Attorney BJay Pak, an Atlanta-based lawyer who was asked to look into claims that the Georgia election was mishandled. The officials fielded requests from Trump and the DOJ lawyer Jeffrey Clark to overturn the election results at the state level, a move that would have required Clark to replace Rosen, who opposed the ploy. Senate Republicans on the Judiciary Committee evaluated the evidence and portrayed a key three-hour Oval Office meeting this way: “President Trump listened to the advice of his senior advisers … and made the decision not to replace Rosen or send Clark’s draft letters.”
Sounds like a ho-hum meeting. Some Trump supporters pointed to the former president’s decision not to go forward with the plan as showing laudable restraint. “President Trump did what we’d expect a president to do on an issue of this importance: he listened to his senior advisors and followed their advice and recommendations,” wrote Senator Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the committee. But a key detail was left out of the minority’s account. At that meeting, all of the top Justice Department leaders told Trump they would resign. Among the reasons was that the Clark letters telling the states to look into the vote count were based on the claim that the DOJ had found irregularities. It had not, and Trump was told that repeatedly, including by former Attorney General Bill Barr. Nevertheless, Trump persisted. In his testimony, Donoghue listed so many planned resignations of different layers of officials-- people picked by Trump and confirmed by the GOP Senate-- that they fill a couple of screens on my phone. “You could have a situation here, within 24 hours, you have hundreds of people resigning from the Justice Department,” Donoghue told Trump.
When you get to the “everyone is threatening to resign” stage, it means that reason and normal channels have been exhausted. The president had pushed events to an extreme. Lauding a president for restraint in this scenario requires setting the standard for presidential behavior in the basement by the holiday tinsel.
Another favorite excuse involves zipping past the specifics to argue that Trump was merely acting on a belief that he earnestly felt about the election. “That would be like you saying that grass is blue and you genuinely believing it. Is it irresponsible that you’re colorblind and you truly believe that?” former United Nations Secretary Nikki Haley told Tim Alberta, explaining Trump’s actions. But a politician who breaks the rules in service of a delusion places himself outside the circle of candidates for the most powerful post in the world; it’s not an argument for keeping him in that circle.
At some point, the constant redefinition of acceptable behavior changes the character of the enterprise entirely. A temperance society that rallies around a leader who celebrates his bender and who complains that his friend had the power to give him that last tray of shots has effectively become a drinking society. In this case, what’s being redefined is the office of the presidency and the basic standards of that office. Those standards are being retooled to accommodate the one person party leaders agree took actions hostile to the presidency.
As with all things, the Democratic Party is... not as bad. Always the lesser evil. Even the way lesser evil. But still evil.