Commentary: How to deal with the Trump dilemma. Ignore him

Donald Trump continues to vilify Congresswoman Liz Cheney, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, and even his former vice president, Mike Pence.

In a recent message, Trump called Cheney a warmonger, said McConnell is “gutless and clueless” and blamed Pence for not referring 2020 state election certifications back to state legislators. He also enjoys calling Romney a variety of creative names.

Most of the ridicule has to do with those four leaders’ lack of support for Trump’s claim of massive election fraud that he says cost him the 2020 election. Cheney, in particular, has been vocal in her criticism of Trump and those who refuse to accept the election outcome. It’s probably going to cost Cheney her position as House GOP conference chair, the No. 3 leadership position in the House.

This is all bad news for Republicans, of course. It divides the party into Trump/anti-Trump factions. A party at war with itself will struggle to win close elections, especially the presidency in 2024.

I’ve written previously that I wish Trump would back off, announce he won’t run in 2024, support conservative candidates and causes, and stop belittling fellow Republicans. Of course, Trump, being Trump, won’t follow my erudite advice.

No matter what anyone thinks about the 2020 election outcome, “They stole the election” is not a great campaign motto either for 2022 or 2024. The election has been over for six months and Trump’s anguished grievance is getting old. Most Americans, including most Republicans, have moved on.

Democrats are vulnerable on myriad issues, many of which reflect well on Trump and his presidency. Trump and Republicans would do far better focusing on low taxes, less regulation, energy independence, sensible border control, less victimhood and identity politics, more respect for police, a muscular foreign policy, strong law enforcement, and so forth. Trump has a positive story to tell on those issues and many more. Those issues, not wailing about election fraud, will win upcoming elections.

Trump’s singular focus on himself and his election loss, and his disparagement of anyone who doesn’t follow him down this pointless path, puts sensible Republicans in a difficult predicament. Trump still enjoys a tremendous following. Thus, as I’ve written before, Republicans can’t win with Trump as the party kingpin, but they can’t win without him (or at least without his followers).

McConnell has shown the best way to deal with Trump. Just ignore his taunts and insults while pressing forward on conservative issues and keeping your caucus unified. McConnell is in no danger of losing his job, despite Trump’s verbal abuse.

By contrast, Cheney can’t restrain herself from going head-to-head with Trump, trading barbs, and offending his followers. Despite her conservative record, Cheney has alienated herself from many House Republicans who aren’t interested in distancing themselves from Trump. Yes, a leader has to lead. Give Cheney credit for trying. But a leader  also can’t diverge too far from followers.

So, it’s an unfortunate little mess. Cheney may die on her sword, her honor and integrity intact. But Trump loves the attention. He thrives on contention. Meanwhile, Cheney’s dustup with Trump divides and hurts her party.

I’d like to think Trump will slowly fade into the background. But no one can count on that.

So, for now, Republicans don’t need to fully embrace Trump. But openly picking fights with him makes no sense. The best path forward at this point is the McConnell model – ignore Trump and focus on the job ahead.