How the GOP Sold Out America

Donald Trump is the first incumbent in American history to threaten the peaceful transfer of presidential power. He would not be in a position to do so without his enablers in the Republican Party.

Don Newman

October 18, 2020

While it may be weeks after the polls close on November 3 before all the absentee and mail-in ballots have been counted, the court challenges exhausted and the winner of the US presidential election declared, one thing is already clear: We know who has lost.

Whatever the final outcome of the vote, the Republican Party will be the loser, continuing a losing streak that began in 2015 when Donald Trump began running for the party’s presidential nomination, spewing the most hateful and fanciful venom that anyone had heard openly in an election campaign in years.

It is true that some of the other 16 candidates vying for the nomination initially tried to challenge him. But most made the calculation that the Trump phenomenon would run out of steam and they did not want to alienate the delegates he had already won. Instead, by holding their fire, they hoped to woo and win those delegates’ support.

But by doing that, they ended up enabling Trump. He won the nomination, to the shock and consternation of party leaders and “regular” Republicans throughout the United States. The Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, initially withheld his support for Trump. But that brief hope for civility and common sense evaporated when Ryan threw in the towel and got on the team after a face to face meeting with Trump.

There he joined the most duplicitous, hypocritical and shallow man in the United States Senate: Mitch McConnell. A Senator from Kentucky, McConnell is the leader of the Republican majority in that heretofore August body and author of the 2010 quote, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

But if McConnell was willing to do anything to block Democrats, he was the opposite with Trump. He quickly became the president’s chief enabler and brought along the Senate’s 52 other Republicans with him almost all the time.

The most egregious examples of that tactical complicity emerged during Trump’s impeachment, and again more recently. At the start of 2020, after the House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, declaring him unfit to be president. The US Constitution requires that impeachment charges be tried in the Senate. But before that trial could begin, McConnell announced that no witnesses would be called and that Trump would be acquitted.

Now, on the eve of the election, McConnell is pushing through the nomination of Trump nominee Amy Coney Barrett to be one of nine judges on the US Supreme Court. She is to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the revered liberal voice on the court who died September 18. Trump nominated Coney Barrett, an arch- conservative, in an effort to cement a 6-3 conservative majority on the court for years to come.

But if McConnell was willing to do anything to block Democrats, he was the opposite with Trump. He quickly became the president’s chief enabler and brought along the Senate’s 52 other Republicans with him almost all the time.

McConnell has been Trump’s willing accomplice in this endeavour. In what has to be the apex of hypocrisy — even for him — McConnell rushed to hold hearings on the nomination so the new justice could be approved before the election. Why is that hypocritical? In Barack Obama’s last year in office a Supreme Court vacancy occurred and Obama nominated a qualified, uncontroversial candidate, D.C. appeals court Judge Merrick Garland, to fill it.

But with the Republican majority in the Senate, McConnell refused to give Garland a hearing before the Judiciary Committee, the first step in any confirmation procedure. At the time, he said no Supreme Court vacancy should be filled by any president in the year before an election.

Now that Trump is president, McConnell finds the shoe on the other foot. Just weeks rather than many months away from the election as was the case in 2016, he is rushing to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court even as Trump is slumping in the polls and American have begun voting. With the Senate in Republican control it is almost certain Coney Barrett will be confirmed, a conservative voice on the court until she dies, even if Trump loses to Joe Biden on November 3.

And what if Trump does lose, as the reputable polls are forecasting? It is true they were forecasting that, too, in 2016, but that year then-FBI Director James Comey intervened in the election a week before the vote and disrupted Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Clinton still won the popular vote with almost three million more votes than Trump. But through the vagaries of the Electoral College, which actually elects the president, Trump became the 45th president.

This year, Trump will certainly lose the popular vote again. Barring another “October Surprise”, he will also lose in the Electoral College. But for months Trump has been claiming the election was going to be “stolen” from him through absentee mail-in ballots and whatever other chicanery he can think of.

This is the most egregious thing Trump has done yet. Casting doubt on the legitimacy of the democratic process is unconscionable. Even more because the 40 percent of Americans who support and will vote for him believe what he is saying. Trump could claim that he “really” won the election and refuse to leave office, triggering a major political crisis.

If McConnell and other Republican leaders go along with him and try to enable this most egregious affront yet, then all will be lost for the party and deservedly so. Even worse, it could be lost, too, for the United States.

Columnist Don Newman, Executive Vice President of Rubicon Strategies in Ottawa, is a lifetime member of the National Press Gallery and a former Washington correspondent for CTV and CBC.