Commentary

If they’ve been tainted by Trump, they shouldn’t be president

January 3, 2024 5:00 am
WAUKESHA, WISCONSIN - AUGUST 05: Former President Donald Trump greets supporters during a rally on August 05, 2022 in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Former President Trump endorsed Republican candidate Tim Michels in the governor's race against candidate Rebecca Kleefisch, who is supported by former Vice President Mike Pence. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump at a rally in Waukesha, Wisconsin in 2022. Most of the field of GOP presidential primary contenders and Wisconsin's Republican members of Congress have all failed to denounce Trump's attempted coup. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

“What did you do in the war, Daddy?” 

There was a film with that name in 1966 but it was also a common enough question immediately after World War II, asked of daddies and non-daddies alike. 

It was a chance for someone of that era to explain what part they played in saving the world from the existential threats posed by fascists and sneak-attack imperialists.  

Another kind of war should prompt the same sort of question. 

What did you do during the Trump years, Daddy? Or Mommy, or … anyone. 

Asked another way: “What did you do to save democracy from those who sought to undermine it from within?” 

Instead of a truthful answer, here is the increasingly popular political response:  We need to quit saying bad things about supporters of former President Donald Trump, lest they be further alienated. No matter that they supported a lying, corrupt sympathizer with white nationalists and racists who attempted to subvert the results of a U.S. election. 

The inability of either of our major political parties to satisfy Trump supporters that all their grievances have been heard has somehow become a justification for their failure to stand up to a guy who wants to burn it all down. 

A  truthful answer from most Republicans to the question  “What did you do in the war?” would go something like: “I voted for the lying liar who blamed people who didn’t look like me for all our problems. Yeah, you know, I voted for the guy who then tried to stage a coup to stay in power.” 

Instead of losing support  as his legal woes multiplied, criminal prosecution has only increased the ardor for Trump  from the most committed  MAGAites.

But Trump’s troubles have created  openings for Republican presidential hopefuls not named Trump.  

All the remaining GOP presidential contenders rooted for Trump when he was the party nominee and when he gained the real power to wreak havoc with our laws, norms and institutions. 

Many Republican voters in 2024 will cast ballots in the primaries for people who are not named Trump. But the chances are also good that they will vote for politicians who once did their level best to honor, support and enable Trump.

That these candidates are now running against Trump – or gone suddenly silent or evasive about Trump’s actions – does not mitigate their previous cowardice and their betrayal of the nation.

This includes even former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the only one on the winnowed list of GOP presidential hopefuls who is actively criticizing Trump. He endorsed Trump for the presidency in 2016.

The other three main candidates – Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy and Ron DeSantis have been to varying degrees active Trump apologists and supporters. And they are still sounding those dog whistles that make MAGA folks’ ears perk up. 

Wannabe Trump successors should not be allowed to tiptoe through this what-did-you-do-during-the-war question. It is a perfectly legitimate question for 2024 candidates, from the top of the ballot on down. 

The test we should apply: Did they abet, actively participate in or excuse (or still excuse) Trump’s undermining of democracy, including the Jan. 6 insurrection and buying into, promoting or simply averting their eyes from the Big Lie that Democrats stole the 2020 election? Do they claim that his prosecutions represent the weaponization and politicization of the criminal justice system? And totally disqualifying: If they advocate or promise a pardon for Trump if he is convicted of any of the felonies he faces.

Only one of Wisconsin’s Republican members of Congress, Rep. Mike Gallagher, has criticized Trump, saying he will not support him for president  — but that’s just because of Trump’s age. The rest of the bunch, including Sen. Ron Johnson and Reps Derrick Van Orden, Bryan Steil, Glenn Grothman, Tom Tiffany and Scott Fitzgerald have not condemned Trump’s attempted coup. Van Orden actually traveled to Washington to join the pro-Trump crowd at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Johnson tried to transmit the fake Electoral College ballots for Trump cast by Wisconsin’s fake electors after Trump lost the election. 

Trump will likely be the GOP presidential nominee again in 2024 if the early polls can be trusted. He has proven himself unworthy of that office, but also in that category are those in his own party who have been complicit.

Please, ask the question, apply the test.

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O. Ricardo Pimentel
O. Ricardo Pimentel

O. Ricardo Pimentel has been a journalist for about 40 years. He was most recently the managing editor at Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, was editorial page editor for the San Antonio Express-News in Texas and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel before that. He has also worked in various editing and reporting positions in newspapers in California, Arizona, Texas and Washington D.C., where he covered Congress, federal agencies and the Supreme Court for McClatchy Newspapers. He is the author of two novels and lives in Wisconsin.

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