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Trump’s unyielding grip on his party: past is prologue

Early in the morning of Joe Biden’s inauguration, I watched Donald and Melania Trump board Air Force One and depart for parts south. As the plane vanished into the distant haze I naively thought that the Donald would take refuge at his resort, wander the links, and try to absorb what had to be an unexpected and stunning defeat. He, of course, had believed that the adulation evidenced during the pre-election MAGA rallies represented the majority of the electorate. How could it be otherwise?

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I also assumed, after the political train wreck of the last four years, that the Republicans would now take this opportunity to do a forensic analysis of the election and conclude that it was time to abandon Trumpism and find new leadership and policies. And I was happy to follow Twitter and Facebook and purge the Donald from my angst-filled thoughts and column.

I did not anticipate — could not have imagined — what was to follow. I mean, after all, in the hours and days following the Jan. 6 insurrection and the last impeachment, McConnell and Graham et al. had righteously placed the Capitol riot squarely at Trump’s feet. Until they didn’t.

Suddenly the man who turned the Oval Office into a perpetual grift, who damaged the presidency and our democracy, would not slip into post-presidential obscurity, but would remain the titular head of the Republican Party. And the party leadership would make sycophantic pilgrimages to Mar-a-Lago and voice their support and loyalty not only to the man, but to his oft-repeated Big Lie.

For reasons I still find inexplicable, I cannot understand why the Republicans would continue to worship at the altar of Trump. And I don’t mean just the party leadership, but the 74 million Americans who voted for him. I still find surreal the 70 percent of the GOP who believe that Biden did not win what was indisputably a free and fair election. In other words, Trump, who lost Georgia and the White House, continues to maintain an unyielding grip on what was once the party of Lincoln.

A recent example of Trump’s hold on the GOP would be the decision by House Republicans to strip Rep. Liz Cheney of her leadership position. Their rationale had nothing to do with her impeccable conservative bona fides. She is a scion of a prominent Republican family, supported the invasion of Iraq (even when no WMDs were found), staunchly defended torture, believes that leaving Afghanistan is “reckless,” and referred to Obama’s foreign policy as a reluctance to “defend the nation overseas.” She has also resisted marriage equality. In so many words, Cheney is a Republican’s Republican.

So why, given all of the above, would her party not count Cheney as one of their own? For one reason only: She has refused to endorse Trump’s Big Lie, condemning his efforts to undermine the 2020 election, and his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. She has suggested that the Republican Party steer away from Trump, who, she unabashedly says, is both anti-democratic and represents a “cult of personality.”

In an op-ed prior to the House vote to remove her from her leadership role, she accused Trump of “seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that make democracy work — confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law. History is watching.”

Without even a semblance of irony, Republicans, who have railed against what they identify as lefty “cancel culture,” cancelled Liz Cheney’s opinions, counsel and position, denying her the House Republican conference chair on an expedited voice vote. When Trump learned of her loss, he gloatingly called her a “bitter and horrible human being.”

Apparently the majority of Republicans, once again bending a knee, agreed.

Chris Honoré is an Ashland Tidings columnist.