Image Credits: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg.
It may be true, as Stephen Collinson suggests, that Donald Trump has a tighter grip on the Republican Party today than he had during his time as president. Collinson is definitely correct that the GOP is now a cult that threatens America’s representative democracy. On Sunday, I offered a way forward for the Democrats in their efforts to safeguard our Republic, but there may be a better way than trying to pass a very watered down voting rights bill.
When I look at some of the opinion numbers coming out of the Republican base, I worry that the Biden administration may be making the same kind of mistake the Obama administration made in not taking the Birther conspiracy theory seriously until it had metastasized on the right.
In a CNN poll released last week, only 23% of Republican voters believed that Biden legitimately won sufficient votes to win the election last year. This follows a Quinnipiac poll in February that showed that 76% of Republicans believe that there was widespread fraud in the election.
Huge numbers of Americans wrongly doubt the legitimacy of Biden’s presidency. As with the rumor that Obama was born in Kenya and somehow ineligible to be president, the theory does not have to have a factual basis or even make any sense in order for it to spread on the right and become accepted as fact.
And this time Trump is a lot more convincing because he’s an ex-president rather than a television celebrity. He’s dedicating a lot of time to boosting the lie that the 2020 presidential election was rigged against him and it’s very effective.
He’s not only poisoning public opinion, he’s distracting everyone from more important matters, like his incitement of a treasonous insurrection on January 6 and his many legal woes. The more we focus on Trump’s hold on the Republican base, the less we pay attention to details like the FBI raid last Wednesday on Rudy Giuliani’s home and office.
There are probably good reasons to go easy on prosecuting ex-presidents, even now. Few things could erode trust in the non-partisan nature of the Justice Department and courts more than prosecuting and imprisoning a former occupant of the White House. Putting Trump on trial will not heal this country’s wounds in the short term, which is clear from the continued devotion Trump enjoys from most Republican voters.
But there’s also nothing besides convicting Trump that could change the dynamics of this debate. His influence isn’t waning. The danger he presents is growing. The integrity of our electoral system is being destroyed by Trump’s ability to raise unfounded doubts about it far more than by state laws enacted by Republicans that suppress the franchise. In fact, he’s the driving force behind those laws.
If there’s any reticence to prosecute Trump because it will be divisive or because it will make America look like a “Banana Republic,” the Biden administration and the Justice Department should get over it. He’s lost the benefit of the doubt we ordinarily give to an ex-president. He’s fully deserving of punishment for the host of crimes he’s committed in office, in business, and in his personal life.
He’d be a lot less persuasive and dangerous in prison than he is now, and if he’s allowed to run for president again then there will be no end in sight to the damage he’s doing to the country.
A voting rights bill would be nice, and maybe we can still get one that’s less than a band-aid, but anything that’s adequate to the task will remain impossible as long as Trump is free to spread his lies and act as the leader of the Republican Party.