We elect presidents, not kings

David W. Marshall

Today’s conservatives have a major identity crisis. With all the power associated with the U.S. presidency, in the time of national crisis, it becomes vital that we have messengers who are willing to speak truth to power. 

I have never been a fan of former Sen. Barry Goldwater due to his part in the Southern strategy.

Still, he rightfully stood up at a critical moment during the Watergate crisis when the nation needed a true elder statesman. As Nixon insisted he had nothing to do with the Watergate cover-up, the tapes proved he lied. Goldwater and other GOP leaders met with Nixon, giving him the clear message that he no longer had the political cover and support from Republicans to prevent his impeachment, conviction, and removal. Two days later, Nixon resigned.

While many Americans believed the former president was guilty and should not remain in office, roughly a quarter of the people defended Nixon. A Gallop poll conducted after Nixon’s resignation found that 22 percent of Americans did not think Nixon’s “actions regarding Watergate” were serious enough to warrant his resignation. While Nixon maintained a degree of public support, the Republican leadership in the House and Senate understood we do not elect kings. We elect presidents who are not above the law. 

Nixon was not a king, and neither is former President Donald Trump.

Conservatives have a major identity crisis because there are no longer GOP elder statesmen willing to stand up against their party’s standard bearer while protecting the nation’s interest. The role of the wise and respected elder statesman cannot be taken for granted. An elder statesman knows the critical moments when it’s necessary to put aside partisan games and respect the institution of Congress while prioritizing what benefits the nation. The elder statesman rises above the fray. They are the adults among the kids, and the kids know it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was the perfect example of an elder stateswoman.

Her members did not always agree with her, but they respected her leadership and followed it in critical moments when it was the right thing to do. Kevin McCarthy will never be such a leader. As House Speaker, he is being led rather than leading. Sen. Mitt Romney has his moments but skims the surface and is inconsistent. Sen. Mitch McConnell leads and keeps his members in line, but his motives are usually self-serving and unjust.

McConnell is too afraid of Trump politically to have a Barry Goldwater moment. With the latest Trump federal indictment being met with silence and denials from Republican leaders, scholars of authoritarian history warn it is a classic example of an eroding democracy.

The late Sen. John McCain was the last true GOP elder statesman in Congress, which is why he drew Trump’s ire. McCain wasn’t weak and was not afraid of the former president, so Trump’s disrespect toward McCain was unsurprising. Is it possible for American voters to elect a candidate as president who is corrupt to the core and criminally charged with conspiracy to defraud the U.S.? Former President Barack Obama thinks so, and he is sounding the alarm. In a recent meeting between President Joe Biden and the former president, Obama warned that Trump is a formidable candidate who should not be taken likely. Nixon’s Republican support at the time of his resignation doesn’t compare to the deep, intense loyalty Trump maintains with the Republican electorate.

We should all heed Obama’s warning. It is not just for Biden. White denial and Black apathy can have the same consequences even with the nation being extremely polarized—a Trump victory. We cannot expect the mounting Trump indictments to make much difference to MAGA voters. The indictments should be a wake-up call for independents and undecided voters. Let us not forget that Trump was charged with a conspiracy extending from the Enforcement Acts, also known as the Ku Klux Klan Acts, which was meant to protect the rights of newly enfranchised Blacks.

Trump’s legal assault to invalidate ballots and overturn election results centered on counties with large populations of Black and Latino voters. If Black and Brown voters were the targets in 2020, they will be targets again in 2024. Next year has lots of questions. As we see how much the Republican Party has changed, can it be salvaged? Will a 1974 Barry Goldwater arise from nowhere and stand up to the 2024 Donald Trump? Will Black voters ignore Barack Obama’s warning and stay home? Next year will be interesting with a presidential candidate campaigning while making criminal court appearances. It will definitely be our defining moment.

David W. Marshall is the founder of the faith-based organization, TRB: The Reconciled Body, and author of the book, God Bless Our Divided America. He can be reached at www.davidwmarshallauthor.com.

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