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Can Republicans handle the aftermath of Donald Trump?

In the wake of the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, and the financial crisis, President Bush was historically unpopular. American troops were coming home in body bags from a war with no end in sight and no way to measure victory. American citizens were being called “refugees” in their own country, while dying from the White House’s failed response to a national disaster. And the economy was on the verge of collapse as a result of awful economic policies and a failure to adequately respond to market conditions.

Heading into an election year, Republicans were not only worried about losing the White House, they were worried about being completely run out of Washington. After suffering historic losses in the midterm elections and losing the House to Democrats for the first time in generations, the question commonly asked among reporters and politicos inside the Beltway was, “how do Republicans stop the hemorrhaging”? History’s answer was clear, they couldn’t. Democrats picked up more seats in the House, won the Senate, and recaptured the White House.

Fast forward 12 years later and Republicans find themselves in a similar conundrum. International conflict costing American lives: the president’s response to Russia, Ukraine, North Korea, and Iran have that covered. A failed response to a national disaster, or even worse, international disaster: look no further than the 130,000 Americans dead from the coronavirus with cases continuing to spike across the country. An economy in shambles: 11 percent unemployment with no clear path forward certainly doesn’t sound like “the greatest economy ever.”

So before even adding in external factors like the mass protests occurring around the country, Republicans are already dealing with a historic drag at the top of the ticket. A drag with a history of burning down the proverbial house on his way out the door. So once again, reporters and politicos are left asking, “How do Republicans stop the hemorrhaging”?

Under normal circumstances the answer would be to run away from the incumbent and put as much distance as possible between the national party and the elected officials they know and tolerate. That won’t work this cycle, Republicans in Congress and the White House are inextricably tied together, which is exactly how President TrumpDonald John TrumpSecret Service members who helped organize Pence Arizona trip test positive for COVID-19: report Trump administration planning pandemic office at the State Department: report Iran releases photo of damaged nuclear fuel production site: report MORE intended it. As he goes, so do they. For almost four years, he has humiliated his detractors, thereby purging them from the Republican Party, while sending a message to any members of his party showing a semblance of independence.

Trump is the Republican Party. He came in like the corporate raiders of the 1980s in a hostile takeover and remade the party in his own image. He employed his sycophants, destroyed anyone who showed an ounce of political courage, and empowered those who pledged allegiance to him and him alone.

If Republicans run from Trump in their primaries, he’s proven time and time again that he will risk sinking their race to settle the score. If Republicans deny protecting him and defending his repeated outbursts, it can be devastating for their political careers. If Republicans can’t run from Trump because he’ll crush them, and can’t deny him because it will disqualify them, their only option is to stick with him and suffer the consequences.

Trump’s sole philosophy has been political arson and self preservation if Republicans were students of history, they would have known that. So now their election chances are tied to his odds and, without a foil as polarizing as Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCarville repeats prediction that Trump will drop out of race What's behind Trump's slump? Americans are exhausted, for one thing Trump campaign reserves air time in New Mexico MORE, it becomes much harder for the president to use the same “boogeyman” tactics that worked in 2016.

Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden chips away at Trump's fundraising advantage The Memo: Trump grows weak as clock ticks down Nina Turner addresses Biden's search for a running mate MORE, for a chorus of reasons that can be debated over for the next two decades, doesn’t have the same vulnerabilities that Hillary Clinton had. He is trusted and liked by both sides of the aisle. He doesn’t constantly have to answer questions about his spouse’s behavior and is shielded from much of the typical Trump playbook as a result of being an older white male.

Most importantly, however, Biden isn’t Trump. Trump didn’t win because people wanted to see him be president, Trump won because they didn’t want to see Clinton become president. That won’t work this time around. He’s not not an unknown commodity and won’t get the same benefit of the doubt from voters. “How do Republicans stop the hemorrhaging?”

They can’t. They created him, they enabled him, and now all they can do is hope and pray that he doesn’t torch the entire party and take his base with him on his way out of Washington. As Trump goes, so goes the Republican Party. And it looks like they’re both going down in flames.

Michael Starr Hopkins is the founder of Northern Starr Strategies and the host of “The Starr Report” podcast. Follow his updates @TheOnlyHonest.

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