Republican politicians who don’t support Donald Trump have made completely different choices over the past five years.
Some, such as Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, have tempered their criticism of the 45th president by sometimes antagonizing him while meeting others in the service of their partisan goals.
A smaller group of others, such as Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, have strongly opposed Trump — in her case, voting to impeach him and helping lead the House investigation into his behavior on Jan. 6, 2021. On Thursday night, Cheney will once again take center stage as the Jan. 6 panel holds what is expected to be its last July prime-time hearing.
As Peter Baker writes, Cheney and her allies are betting that history’s judgment will ultimately justify their choices, while insisting that her motives are not political.
“I believe this is the most important thing I’ve ever done professionally,” Cheney Baker told an interviewer, “and quite possibly the most important thing I’ve ever done.”
So far, however, the accommodation folks have kept up the day. McConnell worked closely with the Trump White House to provide the federal judiciary with more than 200 conservative judges, realizing a decades-long project that culminated in the far-right transformation of the Supreme Court and the turnaround of Roe v. Wade.
Republicans are also on the brink of retaking the House and possibly the Senate in November, even as the party’s official organs have sided with Trump and, in the case of the Republican National Committee, helped pay his bills. significant legal bills.
Is the center still vital?
Yet Trump’s consolidation of the Republican Party’s grassroots—the MAGA die-hards who wouldn’t blanch if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue, proverbially—has left a vacuum at the center of American politics that both parties have crowded into to fill .
Democrats seized the middle of the 2018 midterm elections and recaptured the House by focusing on kitchen-table issues like health care, while committed to taking full control of Congress two years later. Republicans have resisted this year by seizing inflation and various cultural issues in an effort to portray Democrats as outside the mainstream.
One reason behind all this political volatility: College-educated suburban voters have bounced from election to election, making that bloc a sort of no-man’s-land between two entrenched camps.
Such vacuum cleaners always attract political entrepreneurs and there is a thriving activity aimed at these voters. On Politics has dealt with much of that newfound energy in recent months, from new parties emerging to mega-donor-backed independent voting initiatives to cash-flush super PACs milling about in Republican primaries.
In previous years, groups with names like “No Labels” and “Third Way” have claimed the mantle of political centrism. But partisan voters have generally mocked those efforts, assuming they are Trojans for corporate donors. Other centrist initiatives, such as the anti-communist, pro-worker group American for Democratic Action, faded in influence as their historic moment passed.
David Greenberg, a historian of American politics at Rutgers University, said there was “an enormous number of people dissatisfied with where the Democratic Party seems to be going,” along with the well-documented and better-organized never-Trump Republicans .
But he noted that structural barriers such as the Electoral College had made it difficult for third parties and other groups to settle in, even if voters seem sympathetic to their arguments.
Occasionally, charismatic figures such as Theodore Roosevelt, who ran for president in 1912 under the banner of the “Bull Moose Party,” have tried to boost the center of the electorate and fight against both poles. More often, however, attempts to break the Democrats’ and Republicans’ stranglehold on the system have failed due to a lack of strong leaders.
Greenberg also marveled at the irony that so many Americans now feel that the two major parties have been pushed to rely only on their respective bases.
“If you really go back historically, our two-party system itself was thought to be a bulwark against extremism,” he said — unlike multi-party systems in places like Weimar Germany, which allowed radical groups to take power without ever having a majority. of voters.
A compromise from Missouri
One of the more interesting centrist experiments out there takes place in Missouri, where a former Republican senator, John Danforth, backs an independent Senate candidate, John Wood. Wood, a former aide to Danforth, was most recently a prosecutor on the Jan. 6 panel.
In an interview, Danforth said his goal was to provide an alternative to two major political parties that he believes have gone off course in their own way.
“The problem isn’t just Trump or the Republican Party,” Danforth said, though he said he was concerned that Republicans were attacking the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election and of lawsuits confirming the results.
“But on the other hand,” he added, “we have identity politics, we have the cancel culture. We have the whole kind of presentation of America as oppressors and victims. And that’s not healthy either.”
“The whole point of this campaign is, we need to heal the country,” Danforth said.
A consummate Republican insider, Danforth grew up in elite circles in St. Louis and attended Princeton University and Yale Law School, where he also earned a master’s degree in divinity. After a stint in corporate law, he was elected state attorney general and became a senator at the start of the slow Republican takeover of politics in Missouri.
At a time when politicians tend to have more success by rioting against the elites in Washington, Danforth, 85, is an unabashed defender of the old ways of doing business. He was especially offended by the storming of the Capitol, an event that led him to break with Senator Josh Hawley, a Missouri politician he mentored and helped take office in 2018.
While supporting Hawley, Danforth told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch after the freshman lawmaker greeted the Capitol crowd with a raised fist on Jan. 6, “was the worst mistake I ever made in my life.”
And while Danforth claimed to be optimistic about Wood’s chances, which most Missouri political analysts rate as poor, he said he felt compelled to try.
“We are not a corrupt system,” he said. “We are not a system that should attack people, neither in the Capitol nor through this political view of guns. That’s why I do this. I have to do it. You know, I just feel I have to.”
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