CARMEL – It is always a perilous thing to predict the demise of a politician or a political party. History is chock full of examples where a premature death notice has been embarrassingly retracted. With this historical fact in mind, I gingerly look to the future and speculate on the systemic risk to the Republican Party of an out-of-control former president Donald Trump and his rising legion of legislative and state-wide candidates who appear to have no allegiance to their party, but only to the messianic message of The Donald.

I’m not too old to remember when the Republican Party had a cogent, cohesive message about where we stood as a political party. We were a pro-growth, pro-equal opportunity party that championed fiscal discipline, low taxes, a strong national defense, law and order and personal freedom. I believe that the vast majority of Republicans still believe in these things. However, it appears to me that the Republican Party has been hijacked, manipulated and twisted to advocate for the personal and political interests of Donald Trump, his family and many self-serving candidates willing to ride to their own victories by pretending to ride the Trump train.

I know many office holders and party leaders who are personally disgusted by the continued intrusion of Donald Trump in the machinations of the Republican Party. They wish he would keep his mouth shut and stay away from candidate endorsements and party operations.  

That being said, they are terrified to speak their minds publicly on the subject for fear of Trump retaliation and retribution. I am loath to criticize these Republicans because to speak out against anything said by Trump or against any action of the former President is a virtual political death sentence. The sad, but true, fact is that Donald Trump has a death grip on the Republican Party, for better or worse.

Republicans will be forced to deal with Trump’s significant impact on both the 2022 mid-term elections and the 2024 presidential election. Trump seems to be content at this time to devote his time and energy to personally selecting candidates who unquestionably back the Trump agenda, whatever that seems to be. This process often involves endorsing a neophyte Trumpster candidate at the expense of an experienced congressman, senator, governor, attorney general or secretary of state. I happen to be from the Ronald Reagan school where someone who agrees with you 80% of the time is an ally and not a 20% traitor. Unfortunately, with Donald Trump, if you don’t want the ire of his eminence, you had better be in line on 100% of his litmus issues.

I believe that if the 2022 mid-term elections become a contest between “I like Trump” and “I hate Trump” philosophies, the Republican Party may just find itself snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. We have plenty of issues that are championed by a majority of the American people.

My sense from speaking with both Republicans and independents is that they are sickened by many of the actions of the Biden Administration that have moved the United States toward a socialist nanny state and away from a nation of personal responsibility and equal opportunity. They are concerned about the seeming lawlessness of the Democrat Party and the anti-American sentiment that freely oozes from its leaders. 

Their natural inclination is to vote against Democrat senators and representatives as a counterbalance against a political party and government run amok. And then, with lowered voices and whispers, they declare, “I don’t know if I can support anyone who has sworn their allegiance to Donald Trump.”

Even if the Republican Party survives and thrives at the mid-term elections, we still must endure an uncertain 2024 presidential election that may very well see Donald Trump running for president at the same time that he battles an array of local, state and federal criminal charges involving himself, his family or close associates. I simply would hate to see a rematch of Joe Biden hiding in his basement, talking from cue cards as the major media controls the messaging of the campaign against the boorish, blustering and abusive candidate Trump. I believe that such a rematch would have a similar outcome to 2020. This result might very well signal the end to the significance of the Republican Party.  

I would far rather see a 2024 presidential election where Donald Trump sits out the primaries and allows a new generational leader to emerge. There are plenty of top-quality Republican conservatives who are well-qualified to be president and who have not been branded as a complete Trump toady. These are the men and women who carry the hopes of the Republican Party for the future.

Water inevitably runs down hill and takes the path of least resistance bypassing obstacles that are in its way. Along its race to the bottom of the hill, it gathers dirt and detritus that may never be cleansed. So too is the course of a political party in decline. Let all freedom loving Republicans come together to return our party to the ideals of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. We have three short years to secure our future.

Dunn is the former chairman of the Howard County Republican Party.