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Republicans now forced to support Trump — or face the consequences

The enemy was already inside the Capitol before the January 6 riot — and the right-wing purges against the saner US conservatives beyond those walls are just beginning, warns LINDA PENTZ GUNTER

IN THE February 20 edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Georgia’s largest daily newspaper, an editorial cartoon depicted a giant Superman proclaiming: “I’m for truth, justice and the American way!” From a nearby window an elephant, the symbol of the Republican Party, retorts: “OK, you’re out of the Republican Party!”

The attempted purges have indeed begun. Any statement, or worse still, a vote, against former US president Donald Trump is now grounds for censure. But whereas before, such an action prompted threats hurled by members of far-right militia-style hate groups, now the menace is coming from the Republican Party itself. This is an ominous change.

Thus US Representative Liz Cheney, daughter of the scheming former George W Bush administration vice-president Dick Cheney and hardly a progressive Republican, was censured by the Wyoming Republican Party, the state she represents, for voting in the US House to move forward with the Trump Senate impeachment trial.

Earlier, Cheney had survived a vote called by her own party to remove her from her GOP leadership position.

GOP stands for Grand Old Party, but the grandeur is long gone, and the old Republican Party has vanished in the dust kicked up by the bulldozing four years of the Trump presidency.

Consequently, when seven Senate Republicans summoned their integrity and voted to impeach Trump, they faced immediate retribution, including public criticism and, for some, censure by their home-state parties.

This has a familiar ring, reminiscent of the fate that befell members of the Labour Party who dared to express anger at the party’s suspension of Jeremy Corbyn. They, too, were suspended.

The grounds for the suspensions were justified by a directive issued last November by Labour Party general secretary David Evans, which banned MPs and party members from even discussing the Corbyn suspension, let alone voicing support for the ousted former leader.

The Republicans may not yet have reached such a level of free-speech suppression. But it is likely coming. There is a clear unspoken directive within the GOP now: show complete loyalty to Trump or face the consequences. Never mind that Trump is gone from public office and about to be hounded by a cascade of law suits.

The Corbyn witch-hunt prompted droves to leave the Labour Party — at a rate of 250 a day for months — with membership now languishing below 500,000, the lowest since Corbyn’s 2015 election as party leader.

Anti-Trump Republicans are also fleeing, with close to 140,000 people in 25 states quitting the party in the month following the January 6 insurrection.

Undeterred, the pro-Trump Republicans are banking on polls that, astonishingly, show almost nine in 10 Republicans still approve of Trump’s job performance, even after the Capitol riot.

Those statistics encompass not only regular voters but top Republican brass, including members of the Senate — most notably the cravenly obsequious Lindsey Graham and the conspiracy-theory-spouting Josh Hawley. The pair, along with 41 of their Senate Republican colleagues, all of whom voted against Trump’s impeachment, have tied their sails firmly to the Trump mast, a strategic calculation for political survival, no matter what they might actually believe.

The assault on the US Capitol was considered a breach; an invasion. But that criminal mob was not the first to get inside. As subsequent events have made all too clear, the enemy was already in the building.

Linda Pentz Gunter is a writer based in Takoma Park, Maryland, near Washington DC.

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