Mauren: GOP missed their stop on the Trump train

Columnist Jacob Mauren analyzes why the Republican Party needs a new political face for the 2024 election and why their reasons to keep Trump is a mistake. 

Jacob Mauren

This week, die-hard conservatives flocked to Orlando, Florida, to attend the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to set agendas, meet with leadership and signal the direction of the Republican Party. This year’s conference was closely observed as the party sits divided after an incredibly eventful election season.

The biggest question to be answered: “What do we do with Donald Trump?” Despite leaving office with a record-low approval rating and a second impeachment being added to his legacy, all signs pointed to the party sticking with Trump as the face of Republicans.

A secret ballot straw-poll conducted at the conference revealed the former president still had the support of 55 percent of attendees in a hypothetical primary, a large lead over second place Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who gathered 21 percent of the attendees’ votes. Trump embraced the support, eluding to a 2024 run multiple times during his first public appearance since he departed the White House. This could very well be the Republican Party holding itself back for years. The party must step off the Trump train if it wishes to remain relevant.  

There is a reason you have not heard much from Al Gore, John Kerry or Mitt Romney since their respective presidential campaigns ended in defeat. You do not get second chances on the national stage in modern politics. They may get a cabinet position if they buddy up to a hopeful presidential candidate, but they will never face the judgement of the national public again because the masses have made up their minds about that person. Alongside that, they now have “loser” attached to their name. As much as he may want to fight it, Trump is no different. He had his chances to be judged, and he lost by over 7 million votes.That is more than double his popular vote loss in 2016. Simply put, outside of the deep right, people do not like Donald Trump. 

It would be ridiculous to act like the former president rode out of the White House and into a sunset, defeated but poised for a comeback. He escaped D.C. with the lowest approval rating he had ever received, an embarrassing 34 percent. Alongside that, he finished with a record-low average approval rating and managed to be the first president to never hit the 50 percent approval mark. And I am sure you remember, the Capitol was raided on national TV by rioters covered in his name, a conflict for which most Americans blame Trump.

This made him the only president to ever be impeached twice, another thing forever attached to his name. Republican leadership should also take a look at the success, or lack thereof, that the party has seen since his rise to the presidency. They have lost the House, they have lost the Senate and they have lost the presidency. Now, all they have to show for it is a rabid base that they can no longer control. 

You would think the party would do the normal thing. Lick their wounds, clean slate, find the rising stars that they can begin promoting. Instead, they see this historically unpopular, twice-impeached, recently defeated incumbent as their best path forward. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the House minority leader, pivoted from condemning Trump on the House floor to meeting with him and committing to campaign for Republicans across the country.

McCarthy was recently involved in an awkward moment with Liz Cheney (R-WY), a high-ranking House Republican who directly contradicted McCarthy’s commitment to Trump. Being a Republican, however, is not a guarantee for a Trump endorsement. More accurately, you must be a Trump loyalist. This has been made very clear to Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH), an incumbent who recently voted in favor of impeachment. The former president has chosen to endorse Gonzalez’s primary challenger, Max Miller.

Trump wants to send a clear message: Get out of my way or I will move you. 

The gamble is: Will swing voters still respond to a man with so much baggage? Where it matters, I bet not. In deep red states and districts, the Republicans will continue to sweep races, and Trump will happily take credit. They can literally run an old football coach in Alabama and win easily, but that is not where the Republican Party needs to make up ground.

In purple areas, I do not believe his name is a magnet for independents and swing votes any longer. He had them in 2016 running as a new face; now, he’s a face we know all too well. Attached to the name “Trump” is divisiveness, images of mobs in the Capitol and a denial of reality. This is not a setup for getting crucial undecided people in your camp. The GOP will sabotage their own chances of being competitive in close races if they do not un-board the Trump Train.