Back in the 1980s, which I admit now seems like referring to the good old days of steam locomotives and top hats, First Lady Nancy Reagan launched a now-famous (or infamous, depending on your viewpoint) campaign regarding illegal drugs.
The “Just Say No” campaign had, shall we say, mixed reviews. I certainly remember some buddies in college taking a gigantic bong hit and using the exhale to spout out, “Just say no!”
Personally, I never inhaled …
Hey, Nancy tried.
The campaign was simplistic but had its heart in the right place: Just say no to harmful substances.
I’d like to argue that in modern America, Donald Trump is a harmful substance. And as much as Republicans venerate Ronald and Nancy Reagan, maybe it’s time to “Just Say No” to Trump and Trumpism.
Besides spurring racism, incivility, intolerance, and hate in his one term in office, Trump crossed a hallowed American line in 2020 and 2021 by not accepting the results of a legitimate election and then attempting a coup to remain in power.
Whatever your feelings about the man, you cannot convincingly deny he has no respect for our American democracy, which has held up for more than two centuries, mainly because of the peaceful transfer of power. In my book, Jan. 6 alone is more than enough reason to completely and forever disavow the orange monster who ate the Republican Party.
‘Don’t paint Edwards too orange’
So why can’t some Republicans just repudiate the man? Completely disavow him? Say he was bad for America, and we should all move on after a tragic mistake?
I bring this up because just recently our own Congressman, Chuck Edwards (R-Hendersonville), appears to have caved to pressure from the far right — the Trumpers — to shed the office of one of his key staffers, Brittney Lofthouse. As Tom Fiedler reports for us, Lofthouse warned Edwards, a freshman congressman from Hendersonville, that she came with baggage, i.e., she’s been an advocate for gay rights, and — horrors — had become anti-Trump.
The Daily Haymaker, which bills itself as “Common Sense Commentary for the Carolinas,” blew this issue up with its Jan. 30 report titled, “US Rep. Chuck Edwards hires Trump-hating, (Cheri) Beasley-endorsing, gay rights activist onto district staff.”
Lofthouse, who was in charge of five of Edwards’s district offices, according to the Haymaker, was soon out of a job.
Here’s my take on Edwards’ move, which apparently came down to a staffer delivering the news to Lofthouse that she could resign or be canned: Edwards is not exactly going to win a “Profiles in Courage” award here, but I understand why he did it. In short, the MAGA-ites still hold a lot of sway in Republican politics, especially here in the mountains.
Even though polls show Trump’s support has eroded nationally, let’s remember that two short years ago mountain Republicans elected Madison Cawthorn to be their nominee. And a lot of them stuck with him in the last primary, well after Cawthorn emerged as one of the staunchest Trump bootlickers in the country.
I reached out to a couple of local Republicans I respect to get their takes on the Lofthouse situation, and lingering Trumpism in general. One guy, who has been heavily involved in Republican politics for over a decade, told me not to be too rough on Edwards.
“He’s just scared. Don’t paint Edwards too orange,” he said, referring to Trump’s infamous hair and facial coloring. “It’s covering his ass, that’s what he’s doing.”
Yup. That is one of the oldest strategies in politics, and — let’s be honest — in life.
This gent, who asked that I withhold his name because he had concerns about backlash from Trump fanatics (which says a lot by itself), said he has told Edwards to be his own man. But he also said flatly that if a Republican candidate disavows Trump right now, “you’re probably not going to make it through the next primary.”
“Four years from now, yes,” he said.
But not yet. Trumpism still lingers like the stench of manure spread over a hayfield.
A former sheriff weighs in
I also reached out to former Henderson County Sheriff George Erwin Jr., a longtime Republican who played a key role in backing Cawthorn, the young Republican who won election in the 11th Congressional District in 2020. Erwin quickly became severely disenchanted with Cawthorn, though, mainly because of Cawthorn’s lack of maturity and constant missteps in office.
Erwin became an unaffiliated voter in 2016, supporting Republican candidate Carly Fiorina in the GOP primary. Erwin did vote for Trump against Hillary Clinton that year, however. In 2020, when he supported Congressional candidate Matthew Burril, Erwin switched back to the GOP and remains there today. In 2022, Erwin supported Rod Honeycutt, and then Edwards after he won in the primary.
Erwin is also aware that Trumpers would likely refer to him as a “RINO,” (Republican in Name Only), which he finds humorous, and a little sad.
At any rate, Erwin points to the disappointing performance of Trump-supported candidates in last year’s midterms as exhibit A in the shift away from Trumpism.
“I think the vast majority of Republicans are ready to move on,” Erwin said. “And they better move on, and they better pick some people who appeal to the unaffiliated voters. That’s the largest bloc of voters in North Carolina, and the largest bloc of voters in Henderson County.”
The unaffiliated factor
Erwin is absolutely correct on that count. North Carolina now has 2,412,606 registered Democratic voters, 2,184,87 registered Republicans, and 2,567,734 unaffiliated.
Buncombe County, a liberal bastion in otherwise largely red western North Carolina, has 72,433 registered Democratic voters, 44,384 Republicans and 83,562 unaffiliated. Henderson County, a conservative stronghold, has 16,945 registered Democrats, 31,567 Republicans, and 37,477 unaffiliated voters.
When Erwin first ran for sheriff in Henderson County in 1994, his campaign identified and targeted the 5,000 unaffiliated voters in the county at the time.
“I knew we couldn’t win without them,” Erwin said. “And I was telling people then they’re going to grow.”
That’s because, as Erwin said, “Most of us are kind of right in the middle,” although we lean right or left. The extremes of either party tend to turn voters off.
If Republicans cling to Trump, ‘the party is toast’
The Republican mover and shaker I talked with put it more bluntly when it comes to Trumpism.
“If Republicans cling to him, the party is toast,” he said. “In some ways, it’s already gone because young people are going in droves to independent.”
We also talked about President Joe Biden’s recent state of the union address, in which the president got into an impromptu “debate” with a few Republican hecklers, including Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. She was hard to miss, wearing a white coat with what appeared to be a feather boa collar — she later said it was meant to resemble a Chinese spy balloon — and yelling, “Liar” at Biden at the top of her lungs.
The rowdiest of Republicans didn’t look real classy. Hey, neither did Biden, but my Republican source said flatly, “The Republicans just got played.”
What the polls say
I do think the Republican Party is slowly moving away from Trump, 76, who’s already declared he’s running for president in 2024. Polls back this up, although in my opinion they still show a disturbingly high amount of support for a man who incited an insurrection that claimed lives, and who continues to deny he lost the election.
The Pew Research Center reported in November that, “Republicans in the United States continue to have generally positive views of Donald Trump, but the share expressing warm feelings toward the former president in Pew Research Center surveys had fallen off by the run up to this month’s midterm elections.”
Their survey found, “Six-in-ten Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (60%) say they feel warmly toward Trump, including 41% who feel very warmly, according to a Center survey conducted in October.”
“The share of Republicans who feel warmly toward Trump is down modestly since last summer, when 67% expressed warm feelings toward him, including 48% who expressed very warm feelings. In April 2020, during Trump’s reelection bid, 79% of Republicans said they viewed him warmly.”
In December, a USA Today/Suffolk University poll found, “Republican support for Donald Trump’s presidential bid in 2024 has cratered … as the former president is beleaguered by midterm losses and courtroom setbacks.”
“By 2-1, GOP and GOP-leaning voters now say they want Trump’s policies but a different standard-bearer to carry them. While 31% want the former president to run, 61% prefer some other Republican nominee who would continue the policies Trump has pursued.”
By contrast, a Quinnipiac University poll in October 2021 found “78% of Republicans want to see Trump run for president in 2024.” That was up from 66 percent in May.
Now, why anyone would want to see the most deceitful, psychopathic person we’ve ever elected as president hold that office again boggles my mind. Republicans had the perfect opportunity to finally disavow Trump after the insurrection and his second impeachment, but they lacked the backbone to do it.
I know some of you will scream, “Democrats are just as bad. Look at so-and-so.”
But let me remind you here that one party wanted to protect our democratic election process, and the other one largely did not. In 2000, when George Bush’s disputed election went to the U.S. Supreme Court, Democrat Al Gore accepted the decision and respected our Republic enough to concede.
Today, it’s the Republicans still offering support for the man who wanted to overthrow a legitimately elected president.
Ideology in play, or just a desire to rock the boat?
I suspect at least some of the blind fealty to Trump is based on conservatives who were pleased with him enacting Republican policies and nominating Republican Supreme Court justices. That’s fine, but as I’ve said before, you can get all those conservative policies and judges without electing a horrible human being to our nation’s highest office.
But Chris Cooper, a Western Carolina University political scientist who follows local politics, said, “This has nothing to do with ideology.”
“This is more about respect for norms than ideology,” Cooper said.
In short, it’s about upsetting the apple cart, being rebellious, sticking your finger in the eye of the establishment. People like to feel like outsiders calling out the swamp dwellers in Washington.
The most significant reason it’s so hard to get rid of Trumpism, Cooper argues, is primaries.
“We all pay more attention to the general election, but 90 percent of general elections are foretold before we know the candidates,” Cooper said. “It’s all about the primary.”
One day, maybe, when Trump is long gone, it might actually be about doing what’s best for the country.
But in the meantime, a Republican staffer who disavowed a horrible president and showed tolerance for a minority group is out of a job. And that’s a shame.
Correction: An earlier version of this column misstated the party affiliation changes for former Henderson County Sheriff George Erwin Jr.
Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. John Boyle has been covering Asheville and surrounding communities since the 20th century. You can reach him at 828-337-0941, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Not sure how you can be satisfied with someone like joe Biden, look at at the crap with him and his son. Trump accomplished quite a bit , while all the dems did was try and impeach him. Also, what about all the lies about trump that are proven to be wrong. It was a short run for me, I’m done reading this kind of crap!
Not sure how anyone can defend trump? But if one opinion piece is enough for you to call it quits, you weren’t ever going to get out of your rabbit hole.
“Scared” is sadly accurate. Edwards ran on a platform of “mountain values” and promised to represent all of his constituents, regardless of party. The first time he has an opportunity to prove that, he shrivels and fades. Given his voting record in the General Assembly, we should have expected that, but I’m always hopeful for growth and change.
Nice commentary John. Keep it up.
The next time you speed dial Poli Sci wizard Cooper I’d like to know more about the dynamics of NC’s participation of Unaffiliateds in our primaries. Given the obvious history that motivated voters, an often angry majority of the minority who show up, determine primary results, why aren’t more Unaffiliateds understanding the dynamic and bothering to cast primary ballots? NC law makes it easy for them. All they have to do to vote in any party primary is request a party’s “style of ballot”, to use the BOE bureaucrat speak.
Edwards, like Trump, lacks the character to actually fire somebody himself. And so we now wait for that most Trumpian move of disparaging the person he once chose to employ and who he once touted as terrific.
Regarding the SOTU address and the “classiness” of both MTG and Biden. Granted, the scene was not what we’ve come to expect at SOTUs, i.e., until the infamous outburst during Obama’s speech. Since then, any resemblance to staid conduct is purely imaginative. But, Biden was ready for it which speaks volumes for his abilities to read an audience and to “play” the audience to his advantage. What were his options? To allow them to run rampant without objection? To become rattled, defensive, belligerent, disgusted? Pardon my bias but he handled it as only a skilled politician, demonstrating abilities that (I surmise) were both innate, learned through a modest family background and years in government. Skills that come with wisdom, a quality often found in the older population, less so in younger folks ego-driven and still trying to make their mark–such as MTG, Jim Jordan, etc., along with, certainly, some young Democrats. Plus, the scene reminded me of “debates” in the British Parliaments when the Prime Ministers, or others, are shouted down by those who object. I think it’s all kind of fun!
This has nothing to do with Congressman Edwards, but didn’t the Speaker the House show some dignity by shaking the President’s hand at the end of his speech rather than making a dramatic, disgusting public display of tearing it up.
Good summation of our modern American situation: “Donald Trump is a harmful substance.” Indeed, his totalitarian ideology – which leads someone like Edwards to fire a staffer for fear of backlash – is extremely toxic, and is a direct threat to whatever degree of democracy we still have left in the USA. When Republican congresspeople continue acting out of this fear, they are perpetuating this threat in a very real way, in addition to acknowledging their support of or acquiescence to Trumpism/autocracy.
Last night I watched a documentary about The Underground Railroad. As I was becoming enraged about The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and wondering what kind of monsters would support such a law, I thought of our current climate and the cowardly people (including Edwards) who continue to follow Trump.
“Personally, I never inhaled …” ha ha ha ha ha ha!
Well written commentary, John. I really despair for our country. Our present system is dysfunctional. Partly to blame is the stranglehold of a two party, winner take all system and the electoral college.
I have noticed that Chuck Edwards office always replies to my messages with a polite, ‘thank you for writing’ which certainly differs from our previous ‘representative.’ But, he doesn’t ‘defend’ his point of view when it differs from mine or even take my viewpoint or concern into consideration. His views are set. We have yet another ‘representative’ without an open mind or sense of being willing to work with, much less talk to those who have other views. The cowardly firing of someone that appears to have a brain and a heart is another example of how far our society has sunk. Those of us who see MAGA Republicanism as a threat to a government of, by and for the people, have lost a staffer who might have been willing to talk/listen to us.
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