Robert Reich: The Party’s Over – OpEd


Last Sunday, on ABC’s “This Week,” host George Stephanopoulos asked New Hampshire’s Republican governor Chris Sununu about his recent switch from supporting former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley for the Republican presidential nomination to supporting former president Trump. 

“Your words were very, very clear on January 11, 2021,” Stephanopoulos reminded Sununu. “You said that President Trump’s rhetoric and actions contributed to the insurrection. No other president in history has contributed to an insurrection. So, please explain.”

Sununu responded, “For me, it’s not about him as much as it is having a Republican administration.”

Near the end of the interview, Stephanopoulos said: “Just to sum up, you would support him for president even if he is convicted in classified documents. You would support him for president even though you believe he contributed to an insurrection. You would support him for president even though you believe he’s lying about the last election. You would support him for president even if he’s convicted in the Manhattan case. I just want to say, the answer to that is yes, correct?”

Sununu replied, “Yeah, me and 51 percent of America.”

Stephanpoulos: “I’m asking you about right and wrong. You’re comfortable with the idea of supporting someone who’s convicted of a federal crime as president?”

Sununu: “No, I don’t think any American is comfortable with any of this. They don’t like any of this, of course, but I mean, when it comes to actually looking at each of these trials as they kind of take place whether it’s this year or next year or as they kind of line up. Right now this is about an election. This is about politics.”

Hello? Politics is not about right and wrong? 

I haven’t seen or heard a clearer indictment of the Trump Republican Party. 

Friends, the Republican Party is over. 

That’s tragic, because American needs two parties capable of governing. It needs two parties with a sense of the common good, even if their interpretations of it differ. It needs principled people in government. Even if politics is sometimes dirty and often frustrating, a functioning democracy depends on it. 

It’s tragic to me personally, too. I got my first job in government in the Ford administration (for those of you too young to remember, Gerald Ford was a Republican). I argued Supreme Court cases in Ford’s Department of Justice. Years later, as secretary of labor under Bill Clinton, I worked closely with several Republicans in the House and Senate to enact the Family and Medical Leave Act, raise the minimum wage, and protect worker’s pensions. 

My father was a Republican who voted for Dwight Eisenhower for president in 1952 and 1956. His father, my grandfather, was a Republican who voted for Alf Landon for president in 1936 and Wendell Willkie in 1940. 

The Republican Party once stood for limited government, active opposition to Soviet aggression, and a balanced budget. 

Now it stands only for Trump and his authoritarian neofascism. It demands total loyalty to Trump. It has turned his big lie about the 2020 election being stolen into a litmus test of that loyalty. It has no principled core — no sense of right and wrong. 

Gerald Ford, the first president I served, is as far from the current Republican Party as was or is any Democratic president. 

Sad to say, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation recently declined to present the Gerald R. Ford Medal for Distinguished Public Service to former Wyoming representative Liz Cheney out of fear that a future President Trump would retaliate against the organization by taking away its tax-exempt status. 

In response, Pulitzer Prize–winning photographer David Hume Kennerly resigned from the foundation’s board. In his resignation letter, he reminded the board that “Gerald Ford became president, in part, because Richard Nixon had ordered the development of an enemies list and demanded his underlings use the IRS against those listed. That’s exactly what the executive committee fears will happen if there’s a second coming of Donald Trump.” 

Kennerly added: 

“Did [Lieutenant] Gerald Ford meet the enemy head-on [in World War II] because he thought he wouldn’t get killed? No. He did it despite that possibility. This executive committee, on the other hand, bolted before any shots were fired. You aren’t alone. Many foundations, organizations, corporations, and other entities are caught up in this tidal wave of timidity and fear that’s sweeping this country. I mistakenly thought we were better than that. This is the kind of acquiescent behavior that leads to authoritarianism. President Ford most likely would have come out even tougher and said that it leads directly to fascism.”

Gerald Ford’s biggest mistake as president was to pardon Richard Nixon. At the time, Ford believed that America had to be shielded from the pain and disruption of a president put on criminal trial and possibly imprisoned. Yet to many Americans, the fact that Nixon would not be held accountable felt like another assault on the common good.

To make matters worse, Nixon continued to insist he had not participated in any crimes. In his 1977 television interviews with British journalist David Frost, he conceded he had “let the American people down” but refused to admit to any wrongdoing. 

He said, “If the president does it, that means it is not illegal.” Those words continue to haunt America.

In the end, Nixon pulled off an extraordinary political heist. He persuaded millions of working-class Americans that the Republican Party was their home. Beginning in 1968, Republicans won five of the next six presidential elections. All used Nixon’s playbook, relying on a coalition of corporate America and the white working class, and using racial dog-whistles like “law and order” and “welfare queens.”

Nixon infected the modern Republican Party with a sickness that would ultimately kill it. Donald Trump has finished the job. 

Governor Sununu’s willingness to destroy American democracy so his party could stay in power is shared by most Republican office holders today. It is a rejection of American democracy — an abrogation of the self-government that generations of Americans have fought for and died for. 

The death of the Republican Party is not to be celebrated. It is a tragedy. It is testament to how fragile our democracy has become. It illustrates what happens when presidents are not held accountable. It is evidence of what occurs when decades of economic gains go mainly to the top. It shows that many Americans have lost sight of our history and ideals, or have become so cynical and hopeless that they are willing to chuck it all in favor of an atrocious human being who claims to be on their side.

This article was published at Robert Reich’s Substack

Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, and writes at Reich served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fifteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good," which is available in bookstores now. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

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