During the presidential primaries in 2016, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham made a now-infamous prediction for his party: “If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed … and we will deserve it.”
The senior senator from South Carolina seemed to be referring to the general election that fall, and if so, he was wrong. Donald Trump, a real-estate mogul turned reality TV star, won that election as the GOP candidate.
But in a larger sense, Graham may have been right along, at least according to some experts who now say the Republican Party is in a precarious position.
“They’re caught between a rock and a hard place,” Jonathan Krasno, a professor of political science at Binghamton University in New York, told Insider in the wake of the deadly riot at the US Capitol. He described it as a “no-win situation” for the GOP.
Do they appease die-hard Trump supporters at the risk of alienating moderate Republicans? Or do they distance themselves from Trump and risk losing the most enthusiastic segment of the party’s base?
Experts told Insider the GOP made a short-term calculation based on how popular Trump was among the party’s voters, but now, especially after the Capitol siege, only time will tell how that calculation ultimately plays out.
Trump’s Grand Old Party
Trump, perhaps unlike any politician before him, dominated his party.
“For the first time, in the 2020 presidential election, the platform of the GOP was whatever that guy in the White House says,” Kevin Kosar, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and co-editor of the book “Congress Overwhelmed,” told Insider.
Trump basically set the agenda for the party the entire time he held power, even when that agenda contradicted traditional Republicanism, and even though many lawmakers were initially critical of him. Graham, for instance, went on to become one of Trump’s most enthusiastic defenders.
And while lawmakers may have had different reasons for warming up to Trump, the simplest explanation is that he was popular with voters while being highly critical of any form of dissent. “Republicans felt they had to line up,” Kosar said.