We knew it couldn’t last.
This week, rumors that Kim Kardashian and Kanye West are seeking a divorce sent shock waves around the world, causing couples everywhere to ask themselves: “If they can’t make it, who can?”
I kid. (Is that allowed yet?) With Kim and Kanye, the only reasonable reaction to their breakup should be: “I can’t believe they lasted this long.”
Which brings me to another impending separation, this one much more consequential than that of a Hollywood power couple. I’m referring, of course, to the imminent, mutual separation of Donald J. Trump and the Republican Party. While there hasn’t been a formal announcement yet, it’s D-I-V-O-R-C-E for DJT and the GOP.
Trump’s likely departure from the Republican Party after Biden’s inauguration shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows the New York billionaire’s history. He’s always been flexible when it comes to his political affiliations. He registered as Republican in 1987, independent in 1989, Democrat in 2001, Republican again in 2009, back to independent in 2011, and returning to the GOP in 2012. When Trump was nominated in 2016, most observers knew that he would remake the GOP to suit his own particular strengths and weaknesses. For better and for worse, that’s exactly what he did.
Even in December, Republicans held out hopes that the rocky (but often wildly successful) marriage between Trump and the GOP would survive the election. Many of us begged Republicans to call off the circular firing squad that formed in the weeks after Trump’s bitter loss and to build on successes in the House and the state legislatures.
As late as last week, I wrote that there was still time for Republicans to write a triumphant sequel to 2020, splitting the runoffs in Georgia, winning back the House in 2022, and emerging stronger than ever in 2024. All we had to do was to unify the party and leave internecine warfare to Democrats and their volatile progressive wing.
Instead, Republicans engaged in a slow-motion auto-immolation, thanks mostly to our Firebrand-in-Chief.
Led by Trump and his surrogates, Republicans wasted political capital and precious time fighting losing battles to challenge election results in Pennsylvania, Georgia, and elsewhere. They also badgered Georgia’s public officials (mostly Republican) and questioned the legitimacy of the upcoming runoff elections, likely suppressing turn out. To make matters worse, Trump rashly announced a last-minute demand to raise stimulus checks in the COVID-19 relief package from $600 to $2,000 per person, putting Mitch McConnell in an unwinnable situation.
These unforced errors probably cost Republicans at least one of Georgia’s Senate seats and, ultimately, control of the Senate itself.
The slender reed of Trump’s fidelity to his party showed signs of breaking since at least mid-December, when the Electoral College officially certified Biden’s win. At that point, most Republican legislators and voters resigned themselves to a Biden presidency. Not Trump. When Pence, McConnell, Tom Cotton, and others refused to join in the decertification vote, the reed finally snapped. In a series of tweets, Trump lashed out at allies and friends, viciously attacking them and other members of the “surrender caucus” for their disloyalty. It reminded observers of the many times throughout his presidency when he picked the wrong fights with the wrong people.
But he wasn’t done.
On Wednesday, Trump delivered a blistering speech to a crowd of thousands of MAGA loyalists in Washington, D.C., reiterating his grievances about a “stolen election” and urging them “to be wild.” Then he told them to march up Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol Building to disrupt the pro forma Electoral College vote certification.
“Our country has had enough!” he said. “We will not take it anymore and that’s what this is all about…We fight like hell, and if you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
Did Trump know what would happen next? Of course not. Did he realize that he was playing with fire? Absolutely.
The violence and chaos that ensued seemed to validate the worst accusations of demagoguery and selfishness that Never Trumpers and Democrats have heaved at the president over the last four years. Worse, the nation was forced to endure the nauseating spectacle of Democrats suddenly becoming staunch defenders of law and order after months of condoning the violent BLM and Antifa riots. Dissent was suddenly unpatriotic and resistance was treason.
But hypocrisy is like a superpower for Democrats, who know that the media will never expose them for what they are. Republicans are held — and hold themselves — to a higher standard. That’s why Trump’s erratic behavior since the election, which culminated in the reckless speech and the mob it inspired, rightly shocked the nation and sealed the figurative divorce papers that will soon separate him from the GOP.
The fact that this divorce may have been inevitable doesn’t make it any less tragic. For millions of Republicans who voted for Trump, the week’s events have been heartbreaking. Even formerly ardent supporters are now angry and disappointed at the president’s appalling lack of self-discipline. Smart Republicans value the populist appeal and fighting spirt that Trump introduced to the GOP. Trump himself, however, has outworn his welcome. His actions have tarnished his administration’s many positive accomplishments.
In hindsight, it was a mistake to believe that Trump in extremis would put the party or the country ahead of himself. Losing the election was a crisis that revealed the worst aspects of his character.
Trump is like the scorpion in the ancient fable of the Scorpion and the Frog. In that tale, a scorpion asks a frog to carry him across a river. The frog demurs, fearful that the scorpion will sting him. The scorpion protests that he would not harm the frog, because if he did so, both of them would drown. The frog agrees with the scorpion’s logic and lets the creature ride on his back across the river. When they reach the middle of the river , the scorpion stings the frog, dooming them both. As the dying frog sinks below the water, he asks the scorpion why he stung him when he knew the dire consequences.
The scorpion replies: “I couldn’t help it. It’s in my nature.”
Trump has always been a fighter. From the beginning, his aggressive nature inspired him to sting his enemies, who were usually (though not always) Democrats. In the end, his enemies grew immune to his sting, so he began to attack his friends — all those trusting, Republican frogs. Now the frogs must dump the scorpion before they find themselves floating down the river with the president’s maimed legacy.
Who knows? Maybe Trump will enjoy an afterlife as the leader of a third party in 2024, or perhaps he’ll remain on the periphery of politics as a kingmaker or gadfly. Either way, you can bet that he’ll go down stinging.
It’s in his nature.