Opinion » Viewpoint

Why Republicans are Afraid to Challenge Trump



Last week, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley broke the Republican cone of critical silence on President Trump by tweeting, "This can't continue ..." as the federal budget deficit raced past $1 trillion. 

Juan Williams
  • Juan Williams

Fear of a larger jail-break from the cult of enforced silence among Republicans about Trump's failures is the big reason the president's campaign officials have pushed state party officials to cancel Republican presidential primaries in Arizona, Kansas, Nevada, and South Carolina. And that fear explains why the Republican National Committee is withholding polling data on the president from GOP candidates for state and local offices.

"Republican consultants say the Trump information is being withheld for two reasons: to discourage candidates from distancing themselves from the president, and to avoid embarrassing him with poor results that might leak," according to the investigative news site ProPublica. 

It is no secret that Trump's approval rating has been sagging all summer. As of last week, 53 percent of voters disapproved of him, according to the RealClear Politics average of polls. Who knows how high that number might go if Republicans begin calling out Trump for never building that wall. And what happens if Republicans begin to ask about the missing health-care plan that was going to be better than ObamaCare?

Trump has already thinned the ranks of high-profile Republican voices willing to challenge him on his lack of results and his impulsive, autocratic behavior. GOP critics are shut down by the threat of being targeted by one of Trump's angry tweets or worse — having Trump endorse a far-right opponent.

Then there is this odd political dynamic at play: After losing 41 seats in the midterms and watching the rush of current House Republicans into retirement, the remaining party faithful have concluded that despite Trump's negatives, their only chance to hold on to power is to stick with Trump.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan turned down requests from Republicans who asked him to consider a challenge to Trump. He said it would have amounted to a "kamikaze mission."

Why the talk of political death in launching a primary challenge against Trump? Here's the answer, from a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll in June. Self-identified Republicans and Republican-leaning adults were asked if they are "more a supporter of Donald Trump or more of a supporter of the Republican Party?" Fifty-two percent said they are loyal to Trump. How many held a higher allegiance to the party than to Trump? Only 38 percent.

Top Republicans believe they need Trump to hold on to those Republicans who identify with Trump more than with the party. The party can't afford the loss of any voters because already 60 percent of all voters, according to a CNN-SSRS poll released last week, do not think Trump deserves a second term.

That's why Trump is fighting to keep up the mirage of total GOP voter fealty to him. He keeps hammering the phony message that he has set the all-time record for support within the party for any Republican president. Yes, Trump does have strong support from Republicans — 82 percent, according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll. But former President George W. Bush set the record in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Trump's fixation with this very disprovable lie is revealing about his anxiety about facing a challenge in the primaries, even from fellow Republicans he has demeaned as the "three stooges." He is referring to three men who have announced they will run against him in the Republican primary: former Representative Joe Walsh, former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, and former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld.

"I'm running because he's unfit," Walsh said in a recent interview with ABC News. "Somebody needs to step up, and there needs to be an alternative. The country is sick of this guy's tantrums. He's — he's a child."

"I think we have to have a conversation about what it means to be a Republican," Sanford said on Fox News Sunday, adding that today's GOP "has lost [its] way." The Trump campaign's ongoing effort to stop Republican primaries from taking place next year, Walsh said on CNN, is an effort to "disenfranchise voters."

No president in my lifetime has ever short-circuited their party's presidential primary process. It is contrary to the basic principles of democracy.

Juan Williams is an author and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.

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