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Woster: The big choice Republicans face on Trump

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Joshua Haiar

The attached interview above is from SDPB’s daily public affairs show, In the Moment.

How much should they try to do about Donald Trump?

The Republicans, I mean. The rational ones.

The rational ones in leadership roles, or not. The rational ones like, say, our two U.S. Sens. John Thune and Mike Rounds, and our lone U.S. Rep Dusty Johnson.

How often and how much do they challenge Donald Trump and his lies? How much can they afford to, in a party that seems to have embraced the relentless liar who clearly cares more about his own ego and, perhaps, another run at the presidency than he does about this country and its Constitution?

Or about the Grand Old Party, for that matter, which now has Trump as its tyrannical leader, so it isn’t nearly as grand as it once was.

U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois, raised the question of Trump and the Constitution on Twitter this week. Kinzinger's tweet came after Trump released a statement that made it pretty clear that he was intent on overturning the 2020 presidential election in the weeks and days leading up to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by deranged Trump supporters.

Trump also made it clear that, should he run for and win another term as president, he would be willing to pardon Jan. 6 insurrectionists convicted and sentenced for their crimes.

In other words, the law of the land would be the law of Trump.

Trump also again criticized former Vice President Mike Pence for doing his job on Jan. 6 to allow the certification of Joe Biden's victory over Trump to proceed to approval by the House and Senate.

"He could have overturned the election," Trump said of Pence, critically.

Kinzinger’s question for Republican leaders

Which prompted this tweet from Kinzinger, a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel and pilot with combat experience in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"'He could have overturned the election.' This is an admission and a massively un-American statement. It is time for every Republican leader to pick a side… Trump or the Constitution, there is no middle on defending our nation anymore.”

It's yet another powerful condemnation of Trump and challenge of other Republicans to do the same by Kinzinger, who serves on the bipartisan congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

When I say "bipartisan" I mean Kinzinger and Wyoming U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, the only Republicans on the otherwise Democrat committee. Other Republicans either wouldn't serve, under the direction of House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy or were not picked by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who guessed rightly that certain GOP members would be disruptive.

What the committee work is revealing about Trump’s behavior while in office, in particular the last few months, and his plan to overturn the 2020 election is frightening. And there’s more to come.

Kinzinger and Cheney are the two most outspoken GOP critics of Trump in Congress. Kinzinger isn't running for re-election, so he doesn't have to worry about facing a Trump-endorsed, Trump-worshipping conspiracy theorist in a primary.

Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, is running for re-election, in a race against a challenger endorsed by Trump and is likely to get lots of Trump support. I disagree with Cheney on many points but love her courage and her commitment to the rule of law and the truth, which naturally puts her at odds with Trump.

But back to Kinzinger's challenge, and what GOP leaders can and should do.

Times when our delegation broke from Trump

First, what have some already done, including our congressional delegation?

Well, Johnson voted to keep Liz Cheney in a leadership position among House Republicans, when the majority of his GOP colleagues voted to kick her out. He took some rough-worded guff from Trumpsters over that.

You can believe Trump knew who voted for Cheney and didn’t like those votes at all.

Thune, Rounds, and Johnson also voted to certify Biden's win. They have all condemned the Jan. 6 insurrection. They have all said Biden's win was fair and that there was no widespread election fraud that could have changed the outcome.

Rounds recently was most direct on a national TV news interview, repeating his statement that the election was fair, "as fair as we have seen,” and that it was past time to move ahead to real issues.

Trump blasted him with a response, calling Rounds an "ineffective" leader and a "jerk," and wondered if he was “either crazy or stupid."

Other Republicans supported Rounds and what he said. They included GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell, who said Rounds simply told the truth about the 2020 election "and I agree with him.”

Thune said to Rounds: "Welcome to the club.” It’s the hated-by-Trump club.

McConnell and Trump apparently haven’t spoken in a year. And Thune — the No. 2 Republican behind McConnell in the party’s Senate leadership ranks — and Trump have had a bristly relationship since late in the 2016 presidential campaign. That’s when Thune called for Trump to withdraw from the race after an Access Hollywood video came out showing Trump bragging about sexually harassing and assaulting women.

Instead of stepping aside, Trump went on to defeat Hillary Clinton and take not just the White House but control of the Republican Party.

How can the Grand Old Party become grand again?

Now rational Republicans are looking for a way to get the party back. And it won't be easy. Trump's popularity among rank-and-file Republicans remains high. And his core base is supportive to a frenzied degree.

So how much and how often do the rational Republicans challenge Trump? Is it better to try to ignore him as much as possible, hoping that without Twitter and without responses from them his prominence will fade? Does challenging him make him stronger with his base and more of a threat to run again?

That’s the quandary rational Republicans find themselves in these days.

A Republican friend of mine who doesn’t like Trump told me to stop writing about him so much. He said Trump gets way too much media attention, from me and from many media sources larger and more influential than I am.

“Why are you amplifying his words every week?” my friend asked. “Twitter shuts him off and you turn him up.”

My Republican friend believes that, left alone to figure out their next nominee without all the Trump-bashing, they would choose someone else. But when Trump critics bash him, some Republicans feel obliged to defend him and support him, my friend argues.

“Left to their own devices, they would have selected a new nominee,” he said. “But the last few months, I feel them rallying around him again.”

Maybe a fair point. But I never felt the GOP not rallying around Trump. Maybe briefly after Jan. 6. But it didn’t take Trump long to get back in control of the party.

And it’s hard not to write about — and sometimes rant about — a former president who continues to spread dangerous lies and talks about pardoning convicted insurrectionists if he wins the presidency again.

It’s hard not to go back to Congressman Kinzinger’s challenge to Republican leaders: “You have to choose: Trump or the Constitution.”

In some ways, our delegation has made the right choice already

You could argue that by voting for Biden’s certification and speaking the truth when asked about the 2020 presidential election, rational Republicans, including Thune, Rounds, and Johnson, have been choosing the Constitution over Trump.

And there’s some truth in that. And some courage required. They get a barrage of criticism from Trumpsters in South Dakota and beyond whenever they do it. Sometimes they get threats.

Dusty Johnson recently spoke on ABC News in response to questions about a survey showing that more than 70 percent of Republicans question the validity of the 2020 presidential election.

Johnson said he tells those Republicans that, of course, there’s room for improvement in the voting system but “don’t for a second think the whole system is rigged. There are people who want you to believe that, but they’re wrong.”

Trump is the leader of those people who want to spread the false belief in a rigged system. These are not reasonable people. They either do not understand or do not believe in the Constitution or both.

So confronting untruths and calling out Trump on lies seems essential.

But is that enough? And if Trump decides to run again, what will the sane Republicans say when asked, as they will be, if they will support him this time.

One of the most moderate of the U.S. Senate Republicans, Susan Collins of Maine, was asked that question the other day on ABC News. I like and respect Collins, who voted to acquit Trump in his first impeachment trial before the Senate but voted to convict in the second trial. She said Sunday that she was “not likely” to support Trump if he runs again.

“Not likely” not good enough in decision on Trump

Not likely? After what he has done in inciting the insurrection at the Capitol?

Not likely? After he apparently sought help from the Justice Department and the Homeland Security Department in the closing days of his term to see if voting machines in key states could be seized?

Not likely? After he shredded memos telling him that such actions would not be legal.

Not likely? After he called the secretary of state in Georgia and asked him to “find” enough votes for Trump to overturn Biden’s win there?

Not likely? After he spent weeks and months stirring up the emotions of his supporters with lies and calls to action that led directly to the attack on the Capitol?

Not likely? After what he continues to do in spreading the Big Lie. assaulting the nature of truth and facts and denigrating anyone who challenges him? After what he said he will do if elected again, which is pardon those who broke into the Capitol and threatened to hang Mike Pence and harm members of Congress.

After the disrespect he has shown and continues to show to the rule of law and the threat he poses to the future of this nation.

Not likely?

Maybe that’s strategy. Maybe it’s smart as a Republican senator not to show your cards too early in the election cycle.

Maybe it’s smart not to get Trump riled — and, more importantly, to rile up his base — any more than necessary.

Maybe if left alone Trump will decide not to run and Republicans like Collins can get behind one of the many other worthy candidates she says are thinking about running.

I agree there are many worthy candidates within the GOP, other than Trump. Many much better candidates. But there were in 2016, too. And look what happened then.

And what if he does run? Then what will Republicans like Collins, McConnell, Thune, Rounds, and Johnson do when asked who they support?

And who will they support?

Because if Trump runs again, Kinzinger’s question — and how it is answered by Republicans — could in a very real way determine what kind of a nation will are to be.

One of laws and truth or Trump and lies.