Talking Points

The delusion of a post-Trump GOP

Sen. Susan Collins is nothing if not an optimist. A year after former President Donald Trump left the White House, the Maine Republican apparently still believes better times are ahead for her party — a moment when Trump's rabble-rousing, anti-democratic influence will recede, and the GOP will again become something like a "normal" party.

It's a nice idea, but it's probably wrong. The New York Times reports this week that Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) is considering retirement, though he stands to succeed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as the chamber's top Republican. Why? There are several reasons, but one of them is that Trump is out there, ready to be a thorn in his side: Thune rejected Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election, which puts him on the outs in today's GOP.

Even if that weren't a potential obstacle, the prospect of leading an increasingly Trumpified party apparently isn't very palatable. Trump himself still tries direct the party's legislative strategy from exile. Who could blame Thune for bowing out?

Collins, though, very much wants Thune to hang on. "We've just got to plow through this to the post-Donald Trump era, which I believe is coming," she told the Times

There is no reason — outside of pure, blind hope — to think Collins is right. It's true the Senate is somewhat insulated from Trumpian passions, or else McConnell (whom Trump openly despises) would have been forced by his colleagues to resign by now. Everywhere else, though, it's a near-requirement for GOP candidates to endorse the former president's false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him. Sooner or later, those trends will reach Congress' upper chamber. Maybe sooner: As the Times points out, retiring Republicans like Richard Shelby of Alabama, Rob Portman of Ohio, and Roy Blunt of Missouri will almost certainly be replaced by MAGA-fied candidates next year.

Since Trump won the presidency in 2016, many "mainstream" Republicans — the ones who tried to keep their political careers alive, anyway — responded by keeping their heads down, trying not to get on his bad side, and telling reporters on the record that they hadn't seen their leader's latest tweets while whispering their off-the-record complaints. They hoped the whole thing would blow over. 

Collins' latest comments are a sign that hope abides among the few remaining non-Trumpy GOP officials. But it hasn't proven true so far. It probably won't in the future, either.