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It’s time for a Republican reset

The latest meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last month revealed that Republicans around the country continue to enthusiastically support former President Donald Trump. In a straw poll of hypothetical Republican candidates, nearly 60% signaled they would back Trump in the rapidly-approaching 2024 presidential election. Coming far behind in second place was Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., who secured just over a quarter of the tally.

With the Republican presidential primaries less than two years out, and campaigning likely to begin around a year before that, many signs point to Trump launching a bid for a second term in the White House. If strong levels of support for Trump among Republicans hold, it’s highly likely we’ll be witnessing another face-off between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Americans won’t cast their next presidential ballots for more than 30 months, but with a number of polls now putting Trump ahead of Biden in a hypothetical matchup, there’s a reasonable chance Trump could end up back in the Oval Office come January 2025.

When Trump departed the White House only two weeks after a group of his rioting supporters stormed the Capitol, the idea of Trump returning and mounting another run for president seemed wild and ridiculous. According to Quinnipiac polls taken in the final days of the Trump presidency, almost 60% of voters said Trump should be barred from holding any kind of elected office ever again, while 53% said Trump should resign from office before his term ended. 

Seven Republican senators voted to convict the former president in his second impeachment trial over the January 6 insurrection. Republican leaders like then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., were widely and publicly critical of Trump. Multiple loyal officials in the Trump administration, including Attorney General William Barr and the Secretaries of Education and Transportation, resigned.

But the picture is entirely different only a short year later. Too many Republicans seem to have turned a blind eye to the ugly final days of the Trump administration, threatening to destroy any conservative who stands against Trump. After Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., joined a Congressional committee probing the events of January 6, Republicans censured both representatives and declared the Capitol violence was “legitimate political discourse.” The GOP also removed Cheney from House Republican leadership last spring over her opposition to Trump. 

These recent trends within the GOP illuminate Trump’s extreme popularity within the party and the headwinds most mainstream Republicans face in opposing him. Republicans must change course quickly. It’s time for the GOP to reset, turn away from Trump and support candidates who reflect the values of not only the Republican Party but of America at large.

Not too long ago, Republicans threw their support behind presidential candidates like former Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a Vietnam War veteran who exemplified America’s democratic values and promoted conservative principles like smaller government and lower spending. Republicans like McCain had reasonable policy disagreements with Democrats, but they were always firm advocates of the American people, and were respected on both sides of the aisle.

President Trump surely had positive accomplishments during his term, like signing the First Step Act, a bipartisan initiative focusing on much-needed criminal justice reform. But by and large, it’s become readily apparent that Trump lacks the qualities Americans need in their president. After he lost the election in 2020 to Biden, Trump launched an unprecedented effort to discredit the election results and overturn the will of the people so he could stay in power. Those efforts thankfully failed, but if not for the loyal Americans who stood in Trump’s way, we could have experienced a serious constitutional crisis. Nevertheless, Trump’s election lies continue to persist to this day. A poll from last November found only a third of Republicans believe American elections are fair. Over 70% of Republicans said in a shocking December poll that they doubted the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election. Trump’s election rhetoric is completely false as well as dangerous.

In the end, it’s astonishing that one of America’s two major political parties is so supportive of a figure who tried to subvert the Constitution and overturn fair, democratic processes. This country is built on democratic values that have guided it for hundreds of years. Russia’s blatant assault on freedom and democracy in Ukraine exhibits just how fragile democracy truly is, even in 2022. Trump’s attack on democracy here at home should drive every American — Republican, Democrat or independent — to support people up and down the ticket who believe in democracy and support it wholeheartedly, even when it’s not in their own political interest to do so.

With time running out before 2024, it’s imperative the GOP does a hard reset, and fast. Republicans must return to promoting American values and firmly reject misinformation and propaganda. Rather than vote for a candidate who has done much to undermine American democracy, it’s time Republicans throw their support behind people with proven track records of defending and celebrating our precious democracy.

Evan Stern is an Opinion Columnist & can be reached at