This is a tough time to be a Republican politician who is known to be on Donald Trump’s long list of people he regards as disloyal to his continued domination of the GOP. Those on the outs with the 45th president have adopted different strategies for survival. This past weekend, former House Speaker Paul Ryan — who may or may not try to return to the spotlight, perhaps even as a presidential candidate — told the Associated Press that the debate over fealty to Trump “is going to fade,” adding, “I think circumstances, ideas, and new candidates are going to … overshadow that whole conversation.” Ryan, never a MAGA favorite, is echoing the dismissive attitude of GOP types that Trump has repeatedly refuted since he first decided to run for president in 2015.
Utah senator and 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney might beg to differ after he was “lustily booed” by delegates at his state’s GOP convention:
Responding to shouts of “traitor” and “communist” being audibly hurled at him on his home turf, Romney asked, “Aren’t you embarrassed?” He did narrowly survive a censure resolution offered a bit later, which attacked him for supporting “two illegitimate impeachment trials” that “hurt the Constitution and hurt the party.”
This wasn’t Romney’s first collision with a Republican state convention, an event that is always dominated by hard-core conservative ideologues (this year’s delegates cheered Romney’s Senate colleague Mike Lee just as “lustily” as they booed Romney). When he ran for the Senate in 2018, Romney failed to win the state convention’s endorsement for the GOP nomination. Trump wasn’t much of a factor in that insult to the former Massachusetts governor; the two men were in a temporary period of détente at the time. Romney’s perceived ideological heresies were aggravated by anger at him for supporting an alternative path to nominations not controlled by conventions. But he wasn’t booed then or nearly censured. And Romney went on to win 73 percent of the vote in the subsequent primary, earning congratulations from Trump.
The current preference among many Utah Republicans for Trump over Romney (Romney’s tepid approval ratings in Utah now are mostly attributable to Democratic support for him) is remarkable given the senator’s iconic status in the state, some of it going back to his leading role in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and then his fame as the first Mormon presidential nominee. He won 73 percent of Utah’s vote in the 2012 general election, as compared to Trump’s 46 percent in 2016 and 58 percent in 2020. But at this point, Romney is probably lucky he’s not up for reelection until 2024.
Another target of Trumpian loathing, Georgia governor Brian Kemp, doesn’t have the bright stain of votes for removing Trump from office but has committed the equally grave sin of obstructing the former president’s attempted election coup and, worse yet, not believing he was robbed. Unlike Romney’s defiant pose and appeal to Republican and conservative orthodoxy, Kemp has pursued a strategy of Trumpism without Trump, embracing MAGA priorities in order to cut down the temperature of his dispute with his party’s dark lord. He has shrewdly made himself the chief apologist for Georgia’s new vote-suppressing election law, whose entire rationale is based on Trump’s lies about 2020. And more recently, he made an entirely gratuitous daylong trip to visit Georgia National Guardsmen serving on the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas, identifying himself with an even more obvious Trump cause.
It’s too early to tell if Kemp’s gambit will work, but so far the only Trump-encouraged 2022 primary challenger he faces is the underwhelming ex-Democrat-with-baggage Vernon Jones. Perhaps Trump’s thirst for Peach State revenge can be slaked by purging Kemp’s partner-in-sin, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who is dealing with multiple and far more formidable 2022 primary opponents. But in any event, it’s looking more and more like Ryan’s assumption that the Trump Factor in Republican politics is just going to fade without some serious idol-propitiation is plain wrong.