Excerpted from a longer piece by Peter Wehner for The New York Times
REPUBLICAN lawmakers have seen the Trump disaster coming for a while now. They simply have no clue what to do about it.
A couple of months ago — before we learned that Donald Trump Jr. wanted to spend quality time with people he believed represented the Russian government, before the president publicly humiliated his attorney general and was abandoned by top business executives, before he claimed “some very fine people” were marching in Charlottesville, Va., alongside neo-Nazis and white supremacists — a Republican member of Congress I spoke with called the president a “child king,” a “self-pitying fool.”
Even then, the words that came to mind when some congressional Republicans described the president were “incompetent” and “unfit.” There were concerns about his emotional stability. “There’s now a realization this isn’t going to change,” one top Republican aide on Capitol Hill said. Yet there is the simultaneous realization, as a House member told me when talking about Republicans in their home districts, that “we’re never going to have a majority of people against him.”
Maybe, but for now this presents Republican members of Congress who are privately alarmed by Mr. Trump with a predicament. Regardless of what he does, a vast majority of his core supporters are sticking with him. A recent Monmouth University poll found that of the 41 percent of Americans who currently approve of the job he’s doing, 61 percent said they cannot see Mr. Trump doing anything that would make them disapprove of him. Mr. Trump was on to something when he said in January 2016, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
The political problem facing Republicans is that Mr. Trump’s presidency is a wreck. His agenda is dead in the water. A special counsel is overseeing an investigation of his campaign. The West Wing is dysfunctional. And President Trump is deeply unpopular with most Americans.
The mental hurdle Republicans have to clear is that in important respects the interests of the Republican Party and those of Donald Trump no longer align. The party has to highlight ways in which it can separate itself from the president.
What’s required now is a comprehensive, consistent case by Republican leaders at the state and national levels that signals their opposition to the moral ugliness and intellectual incoherence of Mr. Trump. Rather than standing by the president, they should consider themselves liberated and offer a constructive, humane and appealing alternative to him. They need to think in terms of a shadow government during the Trump era, with the elevation of alternative leaders on a range of matters.
We are well past the point where equivocations are defensible, and we’re nearly past the point where a moral reconstitution is possible. The damage Mr. Trump has inflicted on the Republican Party is already enormous. If the party doesn’t make a clean break with him, it will be generational.