When all the facts come out about the treasonous attack on the U.S. Capitol inspired by President Donald Trump, impeaching him three times won’t feel sufficient. Consider this Washington Post headline from Monday: “Video Shows Capitol Mob Dragging Police Officer Down Stairs. One Rioter Beat the Officer With a Pole Flying the U.S. Flag.”
That said, while I want Trump out — and I don’t mind him being silenced at such a tense time — I’m not sure I want him permanently off Twitter and Facebook. There’s important work that I need Trump to perform in his post-presidency, and I need him to have proper megaphones to do it. It’s to blow apart this Republican Party.
My No. 1 wish for America today is for this Republican Party to fracture, splitting off the principled Republicans from the unprincipled Republicans and Trump cultists. That would be a blessing for America for two reasons.
First, because it could actually end the gridlock in Congress and enable us to do some big things on infrastructure, education and health care that would help ALL Americans — not the least those in Trump’s camp, who are there precisely because they feel ignored, humiliated and left behind.
If just a few principled center-right Republicans, like Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski, abandoned this GOP or were simply willing to work with a center-left Biden team, the Problem Solvers Caucus in the House and like-minded members in the Senate — the people who got the recent stimulus bill passed — would become stronger than ever. That’s how we start to dial down the madness coursing through our nation and get us back to seeing each other as fellow citizens, not enemies.
Second, if the principled Republicans split from the Trump cult, the rump pro-Trump GOP would have a very hard time winning a national election anytime soon. And given what we’ve just seen, these Trumpers absolutely cannot be trusted with power again.
Think about what they’ve done. All these Trump-cult lawmakers willingly promoted Trump’s Big Lie. And think how big it was: Trump took the most heroic election in American history — an election in which more Americans voted than ever before, freely and fairly in the midst of a deadly pandemic — and claimed it was all a fraud, because he didn’t win. And then, on the basis of that Big Lie, eight Republican senators and 139 House members voted to nullify Joe Biden’s electoral victory. That is sick.
That is why I hope the party splits. And here is why a still noisy Trump could be so helpful in breaking it.
What is it that Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz were dreaming of when they went full treason and tried to get Congress to reverse Biden’s win on the basis of the Big Lie? They were dreaming of a world of Trumpism without Trump. They thought that if they cravenly did Trump’s bidding now, once he was gone his base would be theirs.
Hawley and Cruz are so power hungry, they would burn America to the ground if they thought they could be president of its ashes.
But they’re fools. As Trump and his kids made clear at the rally that inspired some of his supporters to ransack the Capitol, the Trumps are interested only in Trumpism with Trumps.
Or as Donald Trump Jr. explained to the soon-to-be rioters (whom Ivanka called “patriots”), the GOP needed a wake-up. All those Republicans in Congress, said Don Jr., “did nothing to stop the steal. This gathering should send a message to them: This isn’t their Republican Party anymore. This is Donald Trump’s Republican Party.”
You tell ‘em, Donny. The more you insist on that, the more principled Republicans will have to leave. And since a recent Quinnipiac survey showed that more than 70% of Republicans still support Trump, you can be sure he will keep insisting it is his party and keep saying vile things that will constitute daily loyalty tests for all Republican lawmakers, forcing them to answer if they are with him or not. That stress will be enormous.
Check out the video of what happened when some Trump cultists ran into Sen. Lindsey Graham at Reagan National Airport after last week’s riot. They mercilessly cursed him out as a “traitor” because for weeks he was telling them that Biden’s victory was not legitimate and then, after the sacking of the Capitol, he declared it was legitimate. Graham needed police protection from the Trumpers just to get to his plane.
As Don Jr. might have told Graham: “Didn’t you get the memo? The Trump family puts its name on EVERYTHING we own. It’s no longer the GOP — it’s the TRP: The Trump Republican Party. You sold us your soul. You can’t reclaim it now from a pawnbroker. We still own the base, which means we still own YOU.”
Or not. This is a time for choosing for Republicans. The old straddle — “I would never let Trump coach my kid’s Little League team, but I love his tax cuts, Israel policies, judges or abortion position” — won’t work anymore. Trump has gone too far, and the base is still with him. So it really is his party. Every Republican is going to have to ask himself and herself: Is it still mine, too?
If you look closely, there are actually four different Republican factions today: principled conservatives, pragmatic conservatives, unprincipled conservatives and Trump cultists. In the principled conservatives camp, I’d put Romney and Murkowski. They are the true America firsters. While animated by conservative ideas about small government and free markets, they put country and Constitution before party and ideology. They are rule-abiders.
In the cynically tactical conservative camp, which you could call the Mitch McConnell camp, I’d put all of those who tried to humor Trump for a while — going along with his refusal to acknowledge the election results until “all the legal votes were counted” — but once the Electoral College votes were cast by each state, slid into the reality-based world and confirmed Biden’s victory, some sooner than others.
“I call them the ‘rule-benders,’ " explained pollster Craig Charney. “They are ready to bend the rules but not break them.”
The unprincipled Republicans — the “rule-breakers” in Charney’s lingo — are led by Hawley and Cruz, along with the other seditious senators and representatives who tried to get Congress to block its ceremonial confirmation of Biden’s election.
Finally, there are the hard-core Trump cultists and QAnon conspiracy types, true believers in and purveyors of the Big Lie.
I just don’t see how these four camps stay together. And for America’s sake, I hope they don’t.
But Democrats will have a say in this, too. This is their best opportunity in years to get some support from center-right Republicans. Be smart: Ban the phrase “defund the police.” Talk instead about “better policing,” which everyone can get behind. Instead of “democratic socialism,” talk about “more just and inclusive capitalism.” And tone down the politically correct cancel culture on college campuses and in newsrooms. While it’s not remotely in the league of those trying to cancel a whole election, it’s still corrosive.
I know, it looks real dark right now. But if you look at the diverse, high-quality center-left Cabinet that Biden has assembled and the principled, center-right Republicans who are looking to be problem-solvers, not Trump soldiers, maybe that light in the tunnel isn’t a train coming at us after all.
Thomas L. Friedman, a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times.