In 1972, the esteemed political philosopher Dr. Seuss wrote a children’s book in which unmitigated umbrage is directed at an implacable pooch in a purple jumpsuit named Marvin K. Mooney.
“The time has come! The time is now!” inveighs the exasperated narrator. “Just go. Go. Go! I don’t care how!”
Today, critical elements of the Republican Party are saying the same thing to Donald J. Trump: “Just go, go, GO!”
Marvin K. got the message and eventually left. Donald J. is having none of it. With exquisitely bad timing, the former president announced a third run for the White House just as calls for his exit were reaching a crescendo. As a Washington Post headline reported, “A Red Wave of Criticism Crashes Into Donald Trump After Midterm Losses.”
One voice among many was Scott Reed, a veteran GOP strategist, who told the AP: “I mean, we had a historic opportunity and Trump’s recruitment of unelectable candidates blew it for us. Trump’s now lost three elections in a row for the Republican Party and it’s time to snap out of this foolishness.”
Winsome Earle-Sears, the lieutenant governor of Virginia and an ardent Trump backer, said voters had sent “a very clear message” in the midterm elections that “enough is enough.” On Fox Business, she explained: “A true leader understands when they have become a liability. A true leader understands that it’s time to step off the stage. It is time to move on.”
The problem for Republicans is that Trump is not a true leader. He’s a consummate egomaniac who cares only about revenge and redemption, and today he is branded with the label he hates and fears the most: loser. Appealing to his better nature, or to the greater good of the party, is fruitless because he doesn’t have a better nature and he’s never cared about the party. MAGA means all, GOP nothing.
But here’s the rub for the Republicans. As a sagacious friend of mine said recently, “They can’t win with Trump and they can’t win without him.”
In a recent NPR/Marist poll, 61% of voters said they don’t want Trump to run again. Even worse, 16% of Republicans told a New York Times/Siena survey that they would abandon the GOP if Trump ran against President Biden. When Trump lost two years ago, around 9% of Republicans had defected, so any further losses could obliterate the ticket.
Democrats are cheering Trump on: He might be the only Republican Biden could beat. Political analyst Ruy Teixeira, writing in The Wall Street Journal, calls the former president the Democrats’ “secret weapon.”
“Democrats, truth be told, are now in a weird codependent relationship with Mr. Trump,” he writes. “They know — and they are correct in thinking this — that the craziness associated with him is their most effective point of attack against the Republican Party and its candidates.”
“Craziness” is the right word. Plenty of Republicans who liked Trump’s policies — tax cuts for the rich, judges for the right — are simply exhausted by the turmoil and tension that Trump triggers. The failed coup of Jan. 6, highlighted so graphically by congressional hearings last spring, symbolizes part of his loathsome legacy. So does the indelible image — recounted in those hearings by young Trump aide Cassidy Hutchinson — of the president hurling his lunch against a wall and leaving a red blotch of ketchup for others to clean up. Some stains can’t be erased.
But it’s also true that Trump remains wildly popular with the Republican base — about one-third of all voters. They’re not enough to elect him, but they’re more than enough to sink another Republican if they react to their hero’s ouster by staying home. It’s an excruciating problem, made even more difficult by the fact that many Republicans are not just falling out of love with Trump; they’re increasingly smitten by his archrival, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.
At 44, DeSantis is 32 years younger than the exiled emperor of Mar-a-Lago. He won Trump’s adopted state by almost 20 points and ran particularly well among Latino voters. As they dream of their new Prince Charming, however, Republicans must figure out how to ditch their old one.
Dr. Seuss ends his tale with these words: “The time had come. So, Marvin WENT!” The time has come for Donald to leave, too, but he’s not going anywhere.
The Republicans who crassly and cravenly kissed his ring for years have only themselves to blame.
Steven Roberts teaches politics and journalism at George Washington University. His new book is “Cokie: A Life Well Lived.” He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.