Witcover: Trump remains a cancer on the presidency
WASHINGTON — Though out of office now, former president Donald Trump continues to draw wide publicity despite the preposterous Big Lie that his 2020 defeat was the result of a rigged election.
The manner in which Republicans in Congress kowtow to his hold on a significant minority of GOP voters is debilitating not only their party but also the long established, vibrant two-party system in this country.
Instead of rallying internally behind some other leader and reconstructing their party around its honored conservative fiscal and ethical principles, they grovel before Trump’s self-aggrandizement and threat of a 2024 return to the Oval Office.
A most disconcerting ramification of this circumstance is the sudden decision of Republican Rep. Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, a former pro football star, not to seek reelection next year. Instead, he says he will focus on trying to deny Trump a second term in 2024.
Gonzalez is among a handful of House Republicans opposed to Trump who predictably would have drawn the former president’s wrath and political opposition had he sought to retain his seat in Congress in the midterm elections.
Calling Trump “a cancer for the country,” Gonzalez said he had no stomach for a Republican Party that would “make Trump the center of fund-raising efforts.” Instead, he said, “most of my political energy will be spent” preventing Trump returning to the presidency.
In voluntarily stepping aside next year, Gonzalez is presenting himself as a sacrificial lamb to Trump’s further ambition, amid other signs that Democratic opposition to the once-defeated president would be greater than ever before in 2024.
The recent landslide rejection of the Republican recall election against Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom in California suggested a determined anti-Trump sentiment in blue-state America should any such comeback attempt get that far.
Just how much Gonzalez’s gesture might spread through GOP ranks seems uncertain right now, with no other well-known Republican politician yet to emerge Trump right now. A fellow Ohioan, former Gov. John Kasich, has been a vocal Trump critic but a past also-ran in presidential aspirations.
In any event, the prospect for any Republican nominee in 2024 probably will depend on how successful President Joe Biden is in achieving his ambitious campaign to “build back better” the America he inherited in ousting Trump in 2020.
Right now, despite early political setbacks inflicted on Biden, he already has given the country a reminder of what America was like before Trump, in terms of normalcy and business as usual. By 2024, that reminder could be persuasive, should Biden decide to seek a second term as already our oldest chief executive.
Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at email@example.com.