Under political cover from polls and a pandemic, Republicans finally break ranks with Trump | COMMENTARY

“It’s not going to magically disappear,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, left, said of coronavirus this month during a visit to a hospital in his Kentucky home state to thank front-line workers.

James Naylor, a Marine veteran and self-described “gun-owning Republican” from Annapolis, looks earnestly into the camera and, for nearly five minutes, explains why voting for Donald Trump is one of his life’s “biggest regrets.”

Through his viral video, posted as part of a Republican Voters Against Trump campaign, Mr. Naylor joins a growing chorus of Republicans, including Maryland’s governor, beginning to break ranks with the more dangerous aspects of the Trump administration now that the polls and the pandemic have given them political cover. But their relative silence for the past four years has come with a cost to both the health of the nation and the party. The question now is whether they’ll be able to contain the damage to the country and themselves.


An ABC/Washington Post poll released Sunday shows Americans overall find President Trump to be more divisive, less representative of their personal values, less understanding of American ideals and everyday problems, less trustworthy, and simply less likable than presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. And his handling of the pandemic — or failure to handle it, more precisely — is being blamed for the country’s current surge in COVID-19 cases, with Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and other states that followed President Trump’s lead in dismissing precautionary measures, such as mask wearing and social distancing, among the hardest hit. In the six months since coronavirus was detected in the United States, more than 3.7 million cases have been diagnosed and nearly 140,000 people have died from it. And it’s getting worse, with weekly averages of new cases increasing every day for the past six weeks.

That’s a very easy environment for more moderate Republicans to come out against their party’s leader, especially those trying to raise their national profiles. We’ve seen it from Gov. Larry Hogan almost daily in the past week. On Thursday, he published an op-ed in The Washington Post criticizing President Trump’s pandemic response. On Friday, he told “Good Morning America” that President Trump is “his own worst enemy by coming out and just tweeting something that doesn’t make sense.” And Monday, in USA Today, he stressed the importance of listening to public health experts regarding coronavirus, and pointed out that President Trump downplayed the threat.


Of course, Governor Hogan’s motives might be more about boosting his 2024 political prospects than about protecting the population, given that he’s on a media tour ahead of the release of his new memoir touting himself as the voice of reason in myriad areas, including how to run Baltimore City — a joke if we’ve ever heard one. But that doesn’t mean the Trump message still doesn’t need to be delivered.

Governor Hogan is joined by Republican governors in Utah and Arkansas, and Republican senators in Missouri and Nebraska in promoting coronavirus safety measures that contradict the president’s pronouncements. And even Sen. Mitch McConnell — dubbed Donald Trump’s “biggest enabler” by Robert Reich, who served in the administrations of Presidents Ford, Carter and Clinton — has strayed from the Trump line. In appearances throughout his home state of Kentucky this month, the Senate majority leader has repeatedly countered President Trump. Mr. McConnell expressed “total” confidence in infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci, emphasized the significance of mask wearing to guard against COVID-19, said there was “no question” that Centers for Disease Control guidelines for reopening schools should be followed and warned that the virus “is not going away until we get a vaccine.” Compare that to the president who’s worked to undercut Dr. Fauci, frame mask-wearing as emasculating, weaken CDC guidance and lessen coronavirus concerns on the whole, saying recently that it would one day “just disappear.”

We’re glad to see this new appreciation within the Republican Party for certain realities, but desperately wish it hadn’t taken four years of fake news from the administration and tens of thousands of deaths to get here.

Mr. Naylor summed up a key problem on both sides of the aisle in his online video. “People have by and large treated our party — or treated parties — like sports teams,” he said, “and they want to win no matter what they see.”

Democrats are guilty of this, sometimes turning a blind-eye to #MeToo misconduct within their own party, while calling it out in others. And Republicans have clearly let Donald Trump push the party toward right-wing extremism, while elevating misogynists, white supremacists and conspiracy theorists in the process. In many ways, the president is as big a threat to our republic as the pandemic.

Whether the GOP recovers from the damage President Trump has wrought will depend largely on whether they’re willing to speak out on difficult issues other than coronavirus, including racial equity and police accountability, and to do it when they don’t have the numbers — either through polls or, grimly, body counts — to shield them.

The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels, writer Peter Jensen and summer intern Anjali DasSarma — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.