Commentary

Dumping Trump won’t solve the GOP’s leadership problem | Darrell Ehrlick

Republican outrage over his many offenses is too little, too late

December 11, 2022 6:30 am
Former U.S. President Donald Trump gestures during an event at his Mar-a-Lago home on Nov. 15, 2022 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

PALM BEACH, FLORIDA – NOVEMBER 15: Former U.S. President Donald Trump gestures during an event at his Mar-a-Lago home on November 15, 2022 in Palm Beach, Florida. Trump announced that he was seeking another term in office and officially launched his 2024 presidential campaign. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Every once in awhile, I find myself longing to know German, a language known for its voluminous vocabulary of smashed-together words where one word perfectly encapsulates a deep, specific, and complex meaning.

One of the best examples of this is schadenfreude, a German word that connotes taking pleasure in other people’s pain – and one of my nominations for word of the decade. The word is compound from two others meaning both joy and pain.

Today, I am feeling a mix of astonishment and amusement at what is happening as the Republicans race to contain an increasingly erratic leader in Donald Trump, who, as the support for his antics wanes and even the feckless and spineless begin to depart him, he becomes even more zealous and fanatic.

Would that there was a word to perfectly capture that feeling.

I am amazed that a man who encouraged and inspired a Capitol putsch (another Swiss-German word) seems to be, in part, undone because of a dinner with Kanye West and Nick Fuentes, or even calling for the dismantling of the Constitution.

After all, how else can a riot aimed at hunting down Congressional leaders and hanging former Vice President Mike Pence be seen as anything other than a real life enactment of suspending or ignoring our country’s constitution? Why is it suddenly shocking that Trump would espouse that now? It should be as surprising as a sunrise.

Maybe what is more shocking is the outrage that leaders have ginned up after the former president said the quiet part loudly on social media. With Trump, our laws and constitution have never been about serving the people, rather they’ve been used in service of him alone.

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The outrage spun up over Trump’s meeting with West and Fuentes is also surprising because this is a man who has dined with, courted and praised so many other reprehensible figures that focusing on West and Fuentes, certainly two pariahs with absolutely toxic views, is just another in the long line of consistent and constant actions. Remember that Trump praised both Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un, as well as mocking disabled people and suggesting white supremacists were decent people.

Again, the outrage and shock seem particularly delayed and late, given the deep and consistent pattern of behavior by Trump. These most recent actions shouldn’t give anyone pause and concern for Trump, rather it should call into question those who have supported him for so long. Blaming Trump for being Trump should have happened long, long ago.

While certainly running the risk of being too little too late, the Republicans appear to be on the brink of clumsily and inelegantly finding a way to relegate Trump to history and thus silence the sound and fury which has come to signify something worse than nothing; this moment cannot be about simply removing Trump as the leader of the Republican Party. Instead, this must be about remaking the leadership of the party, because those in power are as much complicit for letting this farce in the flesh spread a rot that calls for the dismantling of the Constitution as well as condoning the disease of white supremacy that was given a veneer of respectability by Trump.

Of course, the Democrats have a significant challenge as the ancient leader of their party seems to believe liberals will be happy settling for another four years of a cross between fireside chats and a Werther’s candy commercial.

In one respect, President Joe Biden should be grateful and cheer on Trump to leadership because it’s helped make the dysfunction of the Democrats seem surprisingly manageable compared to the circus of Republican politics.

However, this is not about the American public being given two deeply flawed candidates. Instead, this is a column about leadership, not necessarily the leaders.

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If the Republicans are truly serious about breaking the spell – or tyranny – of Trump as we begin to contemplate 2024, this is the time to make such a switch. But changing a leader is akin to changing clothes – it’s cosmetic more than it is substantive.

These same leaders – the same Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham and Kevin McCarthy – have been the ones who have shown fealty to Trump and failed to denounce a catalog of other reprehensible beliefs, all in the name of maintaining party power. There should be some consequence for such poor decision-making from the leaders.

Moreover, new leadership would allow Republicans to do what they believe they do best – get back to business, especially the business of governing in a structure of shared power that places productivity and compromise over gridlock and threats.

There is indeed righteous and well-earned outrage for Trump’s most recent unhinged antics. But casting aside the leader of its party who has continuously undermined the foundation of our republic itself isn’t the end of Trump unless leadership quickly denounces it and stakes out a clear plan for what it wants to be – something which I wonder if even party leaders know.

Maybe no other story so perfectly encapsulates the (German word warning) zeitgeist of the past seven years, where the erratic leader of the party embarrasses the Republicans but the outrage only lasts as long as the next scandal.

There’s a word for that, too, and it’s English. It means doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.

This commentary first appeared in The Daily Montanan, a sibling site of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. 

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming. With Darrell at the helm, the Gazette staff took Montana’s top newspaper award six times in seven years. Darrell's books include writing the historical chapters of “Billings Memories” Volumes I-III, and “It Happened in Minnesota.” He has taught journalism at Winona State University and Montana State University-Billings, and has served on the student publications board of the University of Wyoming.

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