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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Leubsdorf: GOP stands for party over morality

Top Republicans say Trump unfit, but they’re voting for him anyway

By Carl P. Leubsdorf
Published: May 20, 2024, 6:01am

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell called Donald Trump “practically and morally responsible for provoking” the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection.

Trump’s former attorney general, Bill Barr, likened him to “a defiant 9-year-old” and said he “shouldn’t be anywhere near the Oval Office.” New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu called Trump “crazy.”

But in today’s GOP, apparently, party loyalty trumps “moral” responsibility, and “crazy” is not disqualifying. McConnell plans to vote for the former president again. So do Sununu and Barr. “I think Trump would do less damage than (President Joe) Biden,” Barr said.

Some former Trump advisers are finding it easier than Barr to show the courage of opposing Trump — including, notably, first-term Vice President Mike Pence.

“I believe anyone that puts themselves over the Constitution should never be president of the United States,” said Pence, who, in the face of death threats during the Jan. 6 insurrection, resisted Trump’s demands to overturn Biden’s victory. But like most other top Republicans opposing Trump in 2024, he said in a Fox News interview in March, “I would never vote for Joe Biden. I’m a Republican.”

Other top Trump advisers refusing to vote for Trump include former Defense Secretary Mark Esper and former National Security Adviser John Bolton. “If his first four years were bad, a second four will be worse,” Bolton wrote in a new forward to his memoir, “The Room Where It Happened.”

In addition, a few current GOP officeholders like Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Indiana Sen. Todd Young say they won’t vote for Trump, along with some prominent retired (or retiring) Republicans like former House Speaker Paul Ryan, former Rep. Liz Cheney, former Gov. Chris Christie and outgoing Sen. Mitt Romney.

They are the exceptions. Top Republicans rarely said a bad word about Trump when he was in office, so it’s unrealistic to expect they’ll change now. But it says a lot about today’s GOP that so many of its leaders are voting for someone they believe is unsuited, if not dangerous, and most who don’t back him won’t publicly support his only real alternative.

That’s why the recent declaration by Georgia’s former Republican lieutenant governor, Geoff Duncan, stands out. He’s not only voting against Trump, but he’s voting for Biden.

“I am voting for a decent person I disagree with on policy over a criminal defendant without a moral compass,” Duncan wrote in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, reminding all that the election ultimately is “a binary choice” between Biden and Trump. “It’s disappointing to watch an increasing number of Republicans fall in line,” Duncan wrote, citing McConnell, Barr and Sununu. “Trump has disqualified himself through his conduct and his character.”

Another recent incident illustrated the thrall in which Trump holds the Republican Party. That was the decision by the executive committee of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation to reject Cheney (whose father was Ford’s chief of staff) for its Medal for Distinguished Public Service for fear a reelected Trump could threaten its tax-free status.

Their action became public when Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer David Hume Kennerly, who was Ford’s White House photographer and remains close to the family, resigned from the foundation’s board. “If the foundation that bears the name of Gerald R. Ford won’t stand up to this real threat to our democracy, who will?” he asked.

When Barr said Trump would do less damage than Biden, CNN’s Kaitlin Collins asked him how the current administration’s actions were worse than Trump’s attempts to prevent the 2021 transfer of power. Barr’s response: “Did he succeed?”

But he conceded, “I’m very troubled by it and that’s why it’s not an easy decision, but I think when you have a Hobson’s choice, you have to pick the lesser of two evils.”

Romney told CNN’s Collins that while he agrees with Trump on most domestic issues, “there’s another dimension besides policy — and that’s character.”

“Having a president who is so defaulted of character would have an enormous impact on the character of America,” he said. “And for me, that’s the primary consideration.”

But clearly it isn’t for most Republicans.