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OpinionColumnistsWilliam F. B. O'Reilly

Can the GOP be saved?

Trump supporters flood the grounds of the Capitol

Trump supporters flood the grounds of the Capitol on Wednesday. Credit: The Washington Post/Matt McClain

In May 2016, I quit the Republican Party after 35 years when it became clear that Donald Trump had become its leader.

My opinions didn’t change; I just couldn’t belong to an organization led by someone I consider a swindler. I also knew what Trump would do to a GOP I loved and long served.

"The true collapse of the Republican Party won’t come from Trump," I wrote at the time. "It will come as Republican leaders succumb to him and his angry populist wave. They think they can harness it. They think they can feed the crocodile. But it will strip them of their dignity, then devour them whole. Crocodiles can’t be tamed."

Little did I know then that Trumpism would ultimately (one prays) lead to Wednesday’s deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. But Trump is no longer the core problem. The crocodiles bred over these past four years, and the GOP is now rife with leaders, and confederates in the crazy-right-wing news media, almost as amoral as the disgraced president. They cast aside intellectual honesty, decency, accountability, and, in supporting Trump’s attempt to subvert the 2020 election, democracy itself and think nothing of it.

Four Republican members of Congress from New York — Lee Zeldin of Shirley, Elise Stefanik of Schuylerville, Nicole Malliotakis of Staten Island and Chris Jacobs of Orchard Park — voted to block the peaceful transfer of power Wednesday, even after the Capitol was sacked.

Each will say they challenged certified state ballots out of principle, but it’s a lie. They voted to subvert a fair and legal election because they’re afraid of their "base." Therein lies the crisis.

They, and thousands of Republican elected officials across the country, know if they step out of line — if they challenge the revolutionary orthodoxies of the profoundly misinformed — they could face political extinction in the next primary. So, one after another, they choose the coward’s path, as if there’s redemption in numbers. There is not.

These Republicans have failed to do the one thing they were elected for — lead. Instead they’ve been led with a ring through their noses by an angry rabble that desperately needs to be told "no!"

To this GOP, issues no longer matter; party platforms are passe. National debt? The Democrats did it, too. Science? Fake news. Military and economic allies? Globalists. Traditional values? God chose Trump, ask Jerry Falwell Jr. Elections? Corrupt — when Democrats win. Republicans who take issue with any of this? RINOs.

As long as one "owns the libs" and is willing to look the other way when a GOPer transgresses, one is a rock-ribbed Republican, according to the new rules.

Over the past four years, I’ve received hundreds of notes from friends within the party who’ve been sickened by what’s happened to the Party of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan. Many stayed silent because of the investment they’ve made in conservative politics. Some became independents. Others looked at the increasingly radicalized Democratic Party and asked, "what’s the alternative?"

The notes arrive more quickly now, with one recurring question: Is the GOP worth saving?

Probably not, is the honest answer. The brand is forever tarnished. But, for now — emphasis on "for now" — what’s the alternative?

With what happened at the Capitol Wednesday, the GOP has a final chance to decide its trajectory, political nihilism or a party of solutions. That’s a fight worth having.

The moment Joe Biden is sworn into office — the moment Trump is no longer president — I’ll be re-registering with my old party, ready for the conflict ahead.

The GOP I remember deserves one last try.

William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.