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Ghostface Trump Lives and Susan Collins Keeps Letting Him

The Good Republican won’t rule out Trump 2024.
January 31, 2022
Ghostface Trump Lives and Susan Collins Keeps Letting Him
(Photos: GettyImages / Shutterstock)

Donald Trump can’t be killed because the rest of the Republican party is unwilling to take on the political pain required to kill him.

This has been the fundamental, painfully obvious political reality for nearly seven years now. And yet some Republicans and conservatives who claim to be professional politicos remain willfully ignorant of it.

The “no pain, no gain” maxim was on display this weekend when Sen. Susan Collins (R-Concerned) was asked on ABC’s This Week whether she would support Donald Trump if he ran in 2024. She demurred, leaving the door open to the possibility of having faith in a Trump resurrection, while providing some perfunctory lip service to the notion that there were other people she might prefer, but whom she—of course—did not name. She was rewarded a few hours later with the former president attacking her for not having given his coup attempt a full-throated endorsement.

Now keep in mind a few things about Susan Collins:

  • Less than a year ago Collins voted to convict Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial, putting her support behind an article of impeachment that would have barred him from ever again holding federal office.
  • She’s not up for election again until 2026.
  • She has possibly the most independent brand of anyone in the Republican caucus.
  • She won her last election in a surprisingly comfortable fashion.

And despite all of that, the good senator still isn’t willing to endure whatever political blowback might come from simply saying that she won’t support Trump in a hypothetical 2024 run.

If someone as politically safe as Collins won’t stick her neck out, what hope is there that a meaningful group of others will find the mettle not just to privately hope for an alternative but to wage a vigorous, scorched-earth campaign on behalf of the alternative?

Collins’s political caution in the face of Trump is just the latest example in six years of the Republican Groundhog Day. These establishment politicians have, at certain times, been willing to stick a toe in the water of Trumpian criticism or even try to offer him a nudge off the dais. But when the opportunity presented itself, rather than shoot ghostface in the head and risk blood splattering back on their face, these Republicans let him live to spook another day.

This was true in 2015 and 2016 when Trump’s Republican primary opponents—aside from Jeb, who was the least suited of them all to level an effective attack—were too scared to criticize him until they were on the brink of elimination. And some of them not even then. (Hi Chrissy!)

It was true in the 2016 general election, when the party wasn’t willing to suffer the down-ballot losses that would have ensued if they had stuck with the initial post-Access Hollywood opposition to having him as the standard bearer.

It was true in the first impeachment when every Senate Republican except Mitt Romney knew exactly how bad the Ukrainian drug deal was but passed the buck to voters anyway, hoping the people would send Trump packing.

It was true in the second impeachment, when 17 Republican senators had the ability to banish him from federal office permanently but instead made a calculation that the party couldn’t survive the voter backlash. So they made sternly worded speeches while letting Trump off the hook.

It was true when Lindsey Graham was getting shouted down for his Trump apostasy in an airport terminal and then tucked his tail and returned to his dominant’s golf cart.

And it was true this weekend when Good Republican Dan Crenshaw showed up to Trump’s pro-insurrection rally in Texas on Saturday and Double Plus Good Republican Susan Collins sat down with George Stephanopoulos on Sunday.

Amid all those moments of choosing there have been sporadic bouts of courage from a handful of Republicans who really were willing to risk their careers. But they have been the exceptions that proved the rule.

Unless and until the gods of the actuarial tables intervene, excising Trump from the GOP was always going to require political pain. Cancer doesn’t get removed without surgery and chemo and the treatment sucks. And when push comes to shove, the craven Republicans who know better have never been willing to face the red devil. They just keep hoping that the Trumpian storm will blow over and they can go back to 2012 without any unpleasantness.

Maybe Republicans like Collins are in the seventh year of a wishcasting jag that would shame Pollyanna. Or maybe they’re so stupid that they really don’t understand the facts of life. But the most likely answer is that they’re actually fine with the status quo and prefer the pain of dealing with Trump to the pain of losing power.

But no matter the reasoning, the reality is the same for the rest of us: Waking up every morning hearing Sonny & Cher sing about the love they have for each other and being reminded by a grating radio DJ that we shouldn’t forget our booties, because it’s going to be a cold one out there in Trump’s GOP.

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large and the author of the best-selling book Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump and communications director for Jeb Bush 2016.