It’s White Flag Week for the GOP
Trump has an endorsement list, and he’s checking it constantly.
DREAD DIDN’T WORK. UNICORNS NEVER APPEARED. Not one felony charge, violation of his oath, sick statement about wounded or fallen soldiers, or even insurrection did anything—ever—to break the hold Donald Trump has over his voters.
So every elected Republican who found comfort in denial must now embrace reality as they stumble over themselves to embrace Trump. While the endorsement rush picked up in recent weeks, and intensified in the waning days and hours before the Iowa caucuses, Trump’s blowout win Monday will force every last holdout in the dying establishment to soon come to heel.
Whatever patriotic sentiment, policy priorities, or constitutional loyalty these Republicans once prided themselves on must now be buried for good. A few years ago they thought their careers had been sullied by an ignorant reality TV star who lied a lot. But 2024 primary voting has begun and what was the Republican party is now marching to its death for far worse—an autocrat and a criminal.
Campaign aides, and Trump himself, have made it clear through the media that the Dear Leader differentiates between endorsements and support, and will be keeping careful track of who comes around after it’s over.
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So there isn’t one list, but several. Sens. Mike Lee and Marco Rubio made sure to unlock prized pre-Iowa suckup status, which won’t award them a special NFT but will translate to better access down the line—and Lee hopes a seat on the Supreme Court. Those House members who backed Trump early, which he monitored on the 538 endorsement tracker, are feeling good now.
Rubio stuck it to both Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley on Sunday, the eve of the Iowa caucuses. He awkwardly strained in the statement to back Trump without praising him:
Rubio’s pathetic submission to Trump, knifing Haley and his own governor even before they contested the first primary, was especially surreal given Haley’s willingness back in 2016 to endorse Rubio’s presidential campaign and warn the country against the dangers of Trump.
Trump probably savored all the 2016 videos of Rubio and Lee trashing him that were bouncing around social media all weekend; he enjoys the conquest of critics and doubters.
Rep. Tom Emmer—whose candidacy for speaker this past fall was tanked by Trump because he had voted to certify Joe Biden’s election—was humiliated after debasing himself to endorse Trump two weeks ago. Trump World leaked a quote to the New York Times of Trump saying (of Emmer) “they always bend the knee.”
On Tuesday night, Sen. Ted Cruz—Trump’s final rival in 2016 who refused to endorse him at the convention but later did despite Trump’s attacks on his wife’s looks and lies about the senator’s father being involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy—declared on Fox News that “it’s time for the Republican party to unite” behind Trump. That same New York Times account included quotes about Cruz: Trump said Cruz “shouldn’t even exist,” because Trump could have destroyed him. “I kind of did destroy him in 2016, if you think about it. But then I let him live,” Trump reportedly said “according to a person who heard the remarks and recounted them soon after.”
Senators who loathe Trump and bought time supporting Sen. Tim Scott’s brief campaign risk Trump’s wrath, says J.D. Vance, who warned in Politico they could end up finding out “how much Donald Trump wants to keep a grudge.”
Those senators and governors with marks on their backs—like Sen. Mitch McConnell, Gov. Chris Sununu, and Gov. Kim Reynolds—still promise to “support” the nominee but will be punished if Trump wins again. And those Republican senators who, like Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski—voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial—will likely be exiled even if they make the same pledge. Mitt Romney can tell them all about it.
ENDORSING TRUMP WILL BE PAINFUL for many Republicans because, as Chris Christie said last week, “they know better.” Those who have waited until now to kiss the ring have not forgotten what Trump demands. The memories remain—of defending Trump through his crimes and betrayals, culminating in an insurrection that they now must portray as some innocuous misunderstood chapter in an otherwise successful one-term presidency and a Big Lie they must continue to perpetrate along with him for all time.
There was Helsinki and Charlottesville, Trump’s defense of President Xi Jinping as COVID-19 spread and killed thousands of Americans, the collusion with Russia in 2016, the obstruction of justice in 2017 to cover it up, the betrayal of the Kurds, the plan to host the Taliban at Camp David, and the constant expressions of admiration and support for Vladimir Putin.
Republicans are not hopeful or confused about the dystopian future they will help usher in if Trump should prevail.
They know now that they will rationalize troops in the streets after Trump intentionally incites protests to invoke the Insurrection Act.
They know now that they will defend his crippling of NATO when Russia conquers Ukraine and invades other Eastern European nations. Should that inspire the Chinese to invade Taiwan, Republicans will look away when Trump does.
They know now that they will support a full-blown kleptocracy as Trump and his family enrich themselves far beyond what they dared in the first four years.
They know now that they will have to express support for Trump as his every criminal ally is pardoned and his every political foe is investigated and many prosecuted.
They know now that they will abide his talk of third and fourth terms in office. Should he declare an emergency and postpone the 2028 election, they will tell us it’s coming as soon as everything calms down and America is great again.
That is what they know is coming if Trump wins in November.
But there will be so much more they cannot, and we cannot, imagine—destructive outcomes far worse than Steve Miller and Steve Bannon hungrily threaten now.
Because a President Trump rewarded for trying to steal an election, stealing national secrets, emoluments violations, and rape won’t resemble the man constrained the first time. Without a united GOP Trump could not win, but the enthusiastic approval of Republicans now, and throughout multiple criminal trials this year, will put Trump in a strong position to beat Biden.
If Trump loses he will claim the election was stolen and he will call for violence, and nearly every Republican submitting now will join the chorus. It will be too late, at that point, for them to tell the truth.
Republicans have themselves to thank for all of this. Trump has no strength without their weakness.