Republicans should have stopped Trump in 2016 when WE had the chance

By Jennifer Horn / USA Today

I write this in the hope that Americans who still call themselves Republicans, and plan on voting for Donald Trump, will consider carefully the cost of another Trump presidency to our nation and to our children. As a former Republican state party chair, I understand well how difficult it is to even imagine voting outside the party, and I understand the sense of loyalty to party that decades of activism engenders.

But to pledge allegiance to a political party, void of principle or honor, is an empty oath that will not serve country or conscience. Where once we stood together to advocate for responsible governance, individual liberty, equal justice and opportunity for all, today’s GOP platform is nothing more than a vow to support, protect, defend and defer to Donald Trump.

 As chairman of the New Hampshire GOP, I spoke passionately of my belief that “the party” was not the leaders at headquarters or the politicians in Washington, but rather, the millions of people across America who shared the same values, the same hopes, and stood together to make their voices heard. You are the party, I would say, each one of you.

But now, after years of destruction at the hands of this president, I have to ask my fellow Republicans, is this your party?

All that we have lost

When America elected Donald Trump in 2016, there was no shortage of naysayers. Millions of Americans were certain, even before he took office, that our country was headed down a perilous path. Few of us, however, anticipated the overwhelming sorrow and grief that this president would inflict upon the people.

The loss we have suffered is nearly unbearable. COVID-19 has claimed over 217,000 American lives. Over 217,000 families grieving; hearts broken, dreams lost, hopes destroyed. That a president of our great nation would make such a cold calculation — to downplay what he knew to be a devastating disease and place every American in grave danger for his own political benefit — is nearly beyond belief.

But Trump’s presidency has cost us even more. In a country where racial inequity has long caused division, discord and destruction, he has used the bigotry of the few to divide an entire nation.

He wantonly tears at the fabric of our democracy without care or concern for the destruction he causes. Cultural divides, racial unrest, economic disparity and constitutional abuses are just tools to be used to feed his narcissism, advance his political ambitions and line his pockets.

Our country is suffering under the daily abuses of our own president, and yet, there are still Republicans protecting and enabling him.

Republicans could have stopped him 

It is disingenuous for Republicans to suggest they did not recognize how dangerous Trump could be. Republican leaders knew when they nominated him that he was a threat to the norms of self-governance. They knew he was a merciless narcissist, without empathy or compassion. They knew he was corrupt and dishonest.

They chose him anyway.

In 2016 there were conversations among the 168 members of the Republican National Committee, of which I was one, about withdrawing support from the party’s nominee. Throughout the general election, concern grew about the political and ethical costs of allowing Trump to forever tag our party with his gross incompetence and rank indecency. It came to a head with the release of the “Access Hollywood” video, in which Trump said unapologetically that as a celebrity, he felt entitled to grab women anywhere he pleased, whenever he pleased.

I called RNC Chairman Reince Priebus that evening and shared my very strong opinion that we must withdraw our support from Trump. He told me others in the organization had already called with similar messages. The women who worked in the RNC offices also expressed their beliefs that our party must separate itself from Trump.

Priebus was frustrated and torn. “What do you want me to do? There’s nothing I can do!” Yes, there is, I told him. You can call the committee together, in person or by phone, and have a vote. Then, even if the majority of RNC members voted to continue support, the country would know that at least some in the party reject this guy.

But Priebus wasn’t convinced. He wanted to wait until after the next debate, which was just two days away, before making any decisions. Withdrawing party support from the nominee would be unprecedented, and he understood the cost could be substantial, potentially leading to an electoral wipeout for the GOP. His decisions were led entirely by party concerns. And while I understood that was his responsibility, I was deeply disappointed that he could not see the damage to the country that would come as a result of the party-first mentality.

Trump was never an advocate for Republican principles, never a voice for the strengths of Republican leadership, but even before he was elected, too many party leaders were all in. They loved his combative nature and his take-it-to-the streets approach to politics, in spite of the bigoted, divisive, misogynistic foundation upon which it was built.

The RNC could have voted to withdraw support from Trump at any point, but we were a divided body and it never happened. As we look back at the destructive Trump presidency, one thing above all is clear: In the best interest of the party, but more importantly, the nation, we should have done it when we had the chance.

Donald Trump is not a conservative  

The Republican Party nearly sold its soul in the effort to elect Trump, and their deal with the devil is now sealed. Party leaders have abandoned their principles, and congressional Republicans their constitutional oaths of office, in deference to Trump.

After decades of inciting fear among the party faithful at what would happen to America should we abandon our fight for conservatism, the GOP has sold out to a president who is in no way conservative. Trump has grown the deficit to record highs and put the national debt on the same path.

His assaults on equality and liberty are innumerable, including rolling back housing and employment protections for LGBTQ Americans, attacking the free press, denying science and medical facts in the face of a pandemic, and making the corruption of Richard Nixon look like penny poker.

He welcomes and solicits help from foreign leaders to influence American elections, cozies up to dictators and tyrants, and has used the Oval Office to enrich himself and his family.

Trump has destroyed the foundations of traditional conservatism and the American institutions upon which our democracy is built. He does not deserve your loyalty, and neither does the party that has allowed it to happen. The only way we can reclaim our principles and build a conservative future is to first defeat him.

Donald Trump is not pro-life

Early in 2020, Trump made an informed, strategic, amoral choice to protect his reelection efforts rather than confront the COVID-19 pandemic. He has admitted on recordings that he understood the contagion and deadly consequences of the disease, but decided to mislead the American people about it.

Still, many Republican leaders in Congress and at the RNC have played along, making foolish anti-science arguments about masks rather than demanding accountability from a president who traded lives for power.

After decades of trumpeting themselves as the party of life, Republicans in Congress embraced policies that separate children them from their families. There is no excuse — NONE — for doing this. It is unconscionable, diametrically opposed to every Christian teaching on the dignity of life and families, and contradicts foundational principles of conservatism.

To be pro-life means to care for life — all life, at all stages, in all conditions. Trump’s assaults on life are egregious and daily. He demeans and degrades minorities, women, the elderly, immigrants and the disabled. The concepts of empathy, sanctity and dignity are foreign to him. Under this president, the weakest and most vulnerable among us are at risk, and a culture of disregard for life is on the rise.

Donald Trump does not love our troops

The greatness of America is in her promise to every child that in this country, opportunity is unlimited; justice is blind, and liberty is equal and for all. That promise is kept by the very few who volunteer to protect and defend those liberties with their lives. In their strength, courage, honor and heroism, America’s sons and daughters who serve represent the best of who we are.

But Trump does not value what they are willing to sacrifice. The Atlantic reported that he privately called them suckers, losers, and idiots. He publicly demeaned John McCain for getting captured in combat. He can’t understand why anyone would sacrifice their own life for others. He attacked a Gold Star mother who stood in silent dignity as her husband told the story of their hero son. He dismisses the knowledge and experience of our generals and treats them like junior staffers and bag carriers.

Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen and marines are people of honor, integrity and valor. Yet the president of the United States, who is supposed to be their commander in chief, denigrates and demeans them. They are everything he could never be.

His derision for these men and women disqualifies him from the office he holds, and every American should be able to see that.

Donald Trump does not respect women 

My parents had 10 children, including eight daughters. We were raised in the 1970s, when feminism was coming of age. While I was oblivious to the political battles of the day, I have often said that my father was the first feminist I ever knew. He taught me that there were no limits to what I could do, and that I should never allow anyone — professionally or personally — to determine the trajectory of my life. This was not a political lesson from my Dad, it was simply his way of making sure his daughters were prepared to make their own way in the world.

While I am loathe to admit it, after the past four years, it is impossible to ignore that many in our party revel in this president’s misogyny.  After the vice-presidential debate, Trump referred to Sen. Kamala Harris, the first woman of color to be nominated to national office, as a “monster.” No one in party leadership condemned his  abusive language, not even the RNC chairwoman, Ronna Romney Mc Daniel. I know Ronna. I know these remarks do not reflect her heart, making her silence all the more damning.

Too many in the Republican Party have cheered Trump on as he has assaulted the intelligence and service of women in Congress, repeatedly insulted women journalists, calling their questions stupid, racist and nasty, and has publicly called women fat, ugly, pig, dog, horse face, lowlife, and crazed. He said it was “disgusting” that Hillary Clinton used the restroom during a debate break and said Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of…wherever” while acting as debate moderator.

If you are a parent trying to teach your daughter that she is beautiful from the inside out, that she is smart, powerful and equal, this president is telling her otherwise. If you are a young girl who dreams of reaching beyond boundaries, who has aspirations beyond what even we can imagine for you, this president wants you to be silent and still.

A president who humiliates and denigrates women cannot lead, and a party that celebrates or ignores his misogynistic assaults on our mothers and sisters and daughters does not deserve our vote. The days of Republican women trying to excuse and defend the bad behavior of elected men and remaining silent in face of their demeaning attacks on women must end now.

It is on us — mothers, fathers, and grandparents — to put an end to the abuse that our daughters are subject to, and use our vote to send a clear a message to our fellow Republicans that we will remain silent no more.

Donald Trump is not concerned about Black lives

Trump has spent a lifetime engaging in racist business practices, making racist assumptions, and refusing to denounce bigotry of any kind. His 2016 campaign was built on a cornerstone of anti-Mexican racism and as president he has called violent white nationalist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, “very fine people.” Just a few weeks ago, on a presidential debate stage, he refused to condemn the Proud Boys, instead saying they should “stand back and stand by.” And he has repeatedly referred to African Americans as “the Blacks.”

Our nation’s great shame is our history of slavery and then over a century of struggle for the civil rights of black Americans. In the 1960s, civil rights laws were passed with the support of northern Republicans and over the protests of southern Democrats. For decades, the Republican Party has tried to use that history to protect itself from the growing bigotry of the fringe right, where white nationalism has found fertile ground for growth.

Whereas past Republican presidents have sought to purge from the party this destructive and hateful influence, Trump has embraced it, and in doing so, he has divided our nation, incited violence, and put our very republic at risk.

Many Republicans stand silent as this president foments racial unrest. In doing so they have abandoned the moral obligation of every American speak loudly against hate, and to stand firmly in defense of liberty and justice for all.

If we, as Republicans, cannot even make the argument against bigotry and systemic racism in America, how can we possibly make the case that Republicans should be trusted to lead our nation into the next decade? If we are not a voice for equality and equal protections, for protecting the dignity of every American, then our party deserves to be silenced.

Republican leaders knew it all along

I have lost track of how many times during the last election that other state chairs and RNC members came to me, the party chair in the first primary state, for reassurance that Trump couldn’t really win the nomination. “You guys will stop him in New Hampshire, right?” they would say to me at meetings. “What is happening to our party that voters are actually choosing this guy?” they would lament.

But they never recognized their own responsibility for the decline of our party, simply unwilling to consider the possibility that their pursuit of power above principle, and their loyalty to party over country, was fueling Trump’s takeover of the GOP.

I remember well an animated conversation among several of us as the primary season was coming to a close, and it was increasingly evident that Trump would be the nominee. Half were appalled by his transparent opportunism, citing his faux faith, his flip-flopping on being pro-life, his perpetual dishonesty, and the gross, racial undertones of his campaign.

The other half, however, were already all in for Trump, excusing his bigotry as being tough on illegal immigration, declaring that the only way to win was to “take it to the streets,” and planning how they would spend the fundraising treasure trove they were sure he would produce.

I knew that Trump had become a threat to the integrity and character of our party, but at this point, it became clear that “the party” lacked the strength and character to stand up to him.

This I know is true

I believe that most people who voted for Trump in 2016 are not bigots, and they likely reject abuses of power and assaults on America’s constitutional pillars. The ugly, destructive and hateful among us who have been empowered by the president are surely a minority in our country.

But this I know in my heart to be true: If we do not stand together, cast aside our partisan differences and defeat a hateful dangerous president, we will live forever with the shame of having abandoned our principles, our democracy and generations to come.

History will not judge kindly those who cower in silence. When America’s children study the Trump era, they will ask us where we stood, and what we did, to help right what was wrong in our time.

I do not argue that Joe Biden will be a conservative president, but I do suggest that he will return decency to the Oval Office, that he will right many of the most egregious wrongs of this administration, and that he will put the safety and well-being of the American people above himself.

This election poses a unique challenge. It will test not Republican vs. Democrat or Trump vs. Biden, but rather, “We the People.” It is our role in this constitutional republic, our leadership, and our dedication to the promise of America that is being tested.

Trump or America. We cannot have both.

Jennifer Horn, former chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party, is a co-founder of The Lincoln Project.