Regular readers of this column know that my home in the U.S. is South Dakota, where President Donald Trump happened to give a provocative Fourth of July speech at Mount Rushmore. While Trump’s visit to my beloved state surely called for reflection on my part, I struggled to find the right balance of ideas. I know people who attended what amounted to a campaign rally that blatantly exploited iconic American imagery and incited cultural and race divisions for personal electoral gain. This fact made me wonder, what would it take for my fellow South Dakotans, who attended the event, to reject Trump and his chauvinist-racist ploys to win a second term?
Misunderstanding, malice and vindictiveness
Since the Senate Republicans’ acquittal of the impeachment process, an emboldened President Trump has been on a tear to dismantle or ignore the institutions of accountability in the American federal governing system. For example, in April and May Trump dismissed the inspectors general (IGs) of five cabinet departments in the space of six weeks, including, the intelligence community Inspector General, and those at the State, Defense, Health and Human Services and Transportation Departments. The IGs are the federal government’s internal watchdogs, tasked with conducting oversight of their respective agencies and executive bureaucracies.
More recently, Trump has shown that he has no respect for the basic American principle the rule of law, when he disregarded the outcome of a jury trial because it convicted a friend. As students in my Introduction to Political Science course know, the rule of law means no favoritism in applying laws. It is also clear that Trump has no regard for historical truth. Trump’s third National Security Advisor, John Bolton, in his recently released book The Room Where it Happened, wrote scathingly about Trump’s habit of misunderstanding historical facts and then mixing them with malice and a dose of vindictiveness whenever he felt slighted.
Trump’s emphasis on personal grudge matches, in turn, pervades the White House’s culture. Similar to revelations made in Bob Woodward’s book Fear, Bolton makes a detailed account of the back-stabbing and chaos of the Trump White House that includes malice by the First Lady’s staff. Bolton also quotes Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as describing the madness and egocentrism of the administration as “the Donald, Ivanka and Jared show.”
Bolton, of course, is not your average Trump critic. As I wrote in June 2018, Bolton’s Republican roots are deep. He was a frequent pundit on Fox News and a darling of the more Hawkish wing of the Republican Party. This means that much of Bolton’s critique of Trump’s foreign policy also reflects deep concerns within the Republican party. This is certainly the case with Bolton’s censure of Trump’s spurning of America’s allies while at the same time fawning over dictators that preside over states hostile to U.S.’ interests.
If you add Bolton’s voice with a number of other discontented conservatives, it is not impossible to see an anti-Trump momentum taking hold more firmly in the Republican Party between now and November’s election. The anti-Trump movement includes: the Lincoln Project, a super PAC founded by Never-Trump Republican strategists (and led by George Conway, the husband of key Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway); a group called 43 Alumni for Biden, which consists of former George W. Bush staff members (Bush was the 43rd president) who are actively raising money for Biden’s campaign; the Right Side PAC, which has a stated purpose to reach out to the growing number of disaffected Republican voters; a group called Republican Voters Against Trump, which launched a $10 million ad campaign against the president; and, various alumni of Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, who are also organizing efforts to support Biden’s run for the presidency. Many of these anti-Trump Republicans are targeting dissatisfied Republican-leaning voters in key swing states, such as Wisconsin and Florida.
Four Faces on a Mountain
While plenty supporters at Mt Rushmore embraced coarse populism and gave to Trump the campaign-rally adulation that he thrives on, others in the state were taking a stand against the direction that Trump is taking the Republican Party. In the words of one such lifelong South Dakotan Republican, “We felt it was necessary to have a presence and to make a statement and say, ‘Look, Joe Biden seems to be a reasonable guy. He’s got decades of experience in government. He’s stable. He’s forthright and he’s clear. If you look at the last four years of the presidency, you will see anything but those traits.”
Trump himself often says that he likes winners. But, since being elected as the head of his party, Trump has only led it to electoral defeat. In fact, Trump’s defeatist coat-tails may be so long in November that a Democratic Senate majority looks increasingly possible.
To be sure, I am on a Sisyphean task to convince my fellow South Dakotans who went to Mt Rushmore on the Fourth of July that voting for Trump is against their own interests, even the interests of those who are long-time registered Republicans. But, in 2016 Trump won the Electoral College by very few votes. Republicans who want to see him exit the White House only need to convince a small number of voters in a few swing states. Today, given Trump’s self-centered, deceitful, panglossian leadership, their prospects of doing just that look profoundly good.