Opinion

The best we can expect from Kansas Republicans: ignoring a doomed Trump

September 2, 2022 3:33 am
Pages from the government’s released version of the F.B.I. search warrant affidavit for former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate on August 27, 2022 in California are arrayed together. The affidavit was redacted for the protection of witnesses and law enforcement and to ensure the ‘integrity of the ongoing investigation’. (Illustration by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Pages from the government’s released version of the F.B.I. search warrant affidavit for former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate on August 27, 2022 in California are arrayed together. The affidavit was redacted for the protection of witnesses and law enforcement and to ensure the ‘integrity of the ongoing investigation’. (Illustration by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association and teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the University of Kansas.

It will be a good day when most of the Republican Party has turned its back on President Trump. 

GOP candidates will stop flying down to West Palm Beach to court his endorsement for their upcoming elections. Conservative operatives will seek out other candidates to support. Voters will pull down the Trump flags draped against their fences, barns and front porches. The Fox News scroll at the bottom of the screen will stop manufacturing excuses for the latest Trump misdeed.

And elected Republicans from Kansas will stop defending Trump.

How will that process happen? How will a political party expel the elected president and the cult of personality that motivated it through these past seven years?

Not since President Nixon climbed into a helicopter to leave the White House has a president complicated his party’s fortunes as Trump does now.

Republicans could simply avert their eyes and pretend to not hear the screeching tires from the slow-motion Trump car crashes: the Top Secret documents in Mar-a-Lago, the local election investigation in Georgia, the perilous business practices in New York, plus whatever legal jeopardies lurk around the corner.

Or — much less likely — our Kansas Republicans might repudiate Trump. But, let’s be honest. We are much more likely to hear their silence than listen to their earnest apologies from behind Congressional lecterns.  

The reaction of local Republicans to the Aug. 8 raid on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort home and the legal developments since then hint at how this is most likely to play out. The increasingly arms-length reaction predicts a more isolated Trump. 

To survey the reactions of the most prominent Republicans in the state, I scanned their Twitter accounts (the most prolific platform for many politicians) and websites.

On Aug. 8, a few Kansas Republicans responded to the initial news of the raid by FBI agents to recover Secret and Top Secret documents from the seaside club that doubles as Trump’s home.

Sen. Roger Marshall posted on Twitter: “The FBI just raided Trump’s Mar-a-Lago. Is this equal application of the law? Or is this a political hit job? #HillaryClinton #WheresHunter” 

The tweet scored political points by digging up Hunter Biden and Clinton’s email server, but was also restrained. It was simply asking questions.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the beginning of a news conference with members of the coronavirus task force, including Vice President Mike Pence, on Feb. 26, 2020. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

During an appearance on the conservative news outlet Newsmax on Aug. 9, Marshall said the head of the FBI and Department of Justice needed to hold a news conference for “real reporters” and answer questions, “as does our president.”

“We need to know why they aren’t equally applying justice,” Marshal said. 

Derek Schmidt, the Republican candidate for Kansas governor, tweeted this on the day of the raid: “In America, the criminal law must never be politicized, so these events on their face present serious questions and concerns. These actions must be intently scrutinized in the days and weeks ahead.”

Notably absent from the rhetoric of these firebrand Republicans was a direct defense of Trump. Perhaps Republicans feel burned by repeatedly defending Trump, only to find that their speculative denials weren’t supported by facts. Or perhaps Republicans are reacting to polling that shows Trump at one of his least favorable points since he left the White House.

Speaking of absent, according the Kansas City Star, Sen. Jerry Moran joined Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri in not responding when asked to comment on the raid.

Amanda Adkins, who is challenging Democratic congressional Rep. Sharice Davids, used her Twitter account to oppose her opponent’s Wall Street investments, tout an endorsement and link Davids to inflation. There was no mention — much less opposition — of the raid as Adkins angles for moderate voters in a tight race.

To be clear, this is progress. The further that these Kansas candidates and politicians shuffle away from Trump, the better. Whether they are retreating to avoid the rain cloud hovering over his affairs, to avoid being associated with him or because they are forecasting his guilt, we should be relieved.

The further that these Kansas candidates and politicians shuffle away from Trump, the better.

– Eric Thomas

As the New York Times reported last week, Republicans nationwide have muted their defenses of Trump as more details emerge. None of the Kansas Republicans tweeted or created news releases to respond to more recent developments: the redacted affidavit being released and Trump’s statement on his social media platform Wednesday attacking the FBI.

After all, so much of what Trump injected into the Republican party doesn’t reflect its pre-2016 values. Trump’s coziness with Russia reversed the previous adversarial stance that candidates like Mitt Romney expressed. The genteel  postures of President George W. Bush and his father contrasted with Trump’s bombastic self-promotion. Let’s remember how many establishment Republicans opposed a Trump presidency: conservative columnists, former presidents, senators and political operatives.

For those reasons, expelling Trump should be easy, if not for the electoral consequences. Can Republicans win in the midterms without the ferocity that Trump brings to the party? Can Republicans who won primaries with Trump’s endorsement wash off the stench associated with the FBI raid and possible hoarding of sensitive information?

“People might rally around Trump but they might forget to rally around Donald Trump’s candidate when it comes around to November,” CBS political journalist John Dickerson said this week on the Slate Political Gabfest.

Self-interest might drive Republicans away from Trump rather than the moral objections that many of us have held since he descended down the escalator as a presidential contender. The president they once enabled might be doomed — not just legally, but also politically.

And it might need to be enough for them to ignore him and to look away.

Denouncing him would demand the political strength that Trump Republicans  shed long ago.

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Eric Thomas
Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association, a nonprofit that supports student journalism throughout the state. He also teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He lives in Leawood with his wife and two children.

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