In our imagination, we picture Sen. Richard Burr, older and grayer, sitting by a campfire, holding forth to a young audience.
“Back in my day, we had a thing called the Republican Party. It stood for fiscal restraint, due deliberation and adherence to tradition, and local control of small government, allowing people to make decisions about their own lives.
“But then came Trump. And everything changed.”
That fanciful vision is an oversimplification, of course, but perhaps not by a great deal. It’s hard to argue that the party as a whole isn’t motivated today by blind allegiance to former President Trump, now impeached for a second time for his role in trying to overthrow the will of the American people as expressed in a free and fair election. Why else are state parties across the country censuring Republicans who stood and said, “No more”?
The North Carolina Republican Party did so to Burr Monday night via unanimous approval of a censure resolution. It’s a symbolic gesture, for sure — it will have no effect other than to say it was done — but it may one day be seen as another steppingstone along the path to the dissolution of the once mighty and influential party.
If it does dissolve, as some suggest is inevitable, it won’t be because of Burr. He stood, as they say, on the right side of history, following the dictates of conscience and integrity.
We can’t help but join others in praising Burr for his vote. We’ve not always agreed with Burr — though we’ve often praised his support of wise environmental stewardship — but in this matter, his view is right. As his colleague, Republican Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, said, “I voted to convict Trump because he is guilty.”
Cassidy was also censured by his state’s GOP.
In Pennsylvania, as we write, Sen. Pat Toomey also faces the possibility of censure.
“He urged the mob to march on the Capitol for the explicit purpose of preventing Congress and the vice president from formally certifying the results of the presidential election,” Toomey said.
A Pennsylvania GOP official explained to the press on Monday, “We did not send (Toomey) there to vote his conscience. We did not send him there to ‘do the right thing’ or whatever.”
It’s a telling statement, but not in the way the speaker intended.
For Burr, Cassidy, Toomey and their colleagues, the censure will be a badge of honor.
Burr did initially vote against the constitutionality of the impeachment trial, citing the fact that Trump was no longer in office.
But then he accepted the majority vote, as well as the judgment of many legal professionals, that the Constitution allowed putting Trump on trial. That’s not worth holding against him.
Nor should he be punished for his vote to hold Trump accountable — that’s part of his job.
What’s really happening is that Republican officials are scrambling to retain the voters Trump brought to the party — the voters they might have dismissed as readily as the fringe John Birch Society followers in the 1970s, if they didn’t need them, along with methods of voter suppression, to hold power.
Former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker of Greensboro, who’s running for Burr’s seat in the 2022 election, is hoping to make bank by fundraising on Burr’s vote.
“Wrong vote, Sen. Burr. I am running to replace Richard Burr because North Carolina needs a true conservative champion as their next senator,” Walker tweeted Monday.
He illustrates that Republicans have moved a long way from President Ronald Reagan’s famous 11th Commandment — “Thou shalt not speak ill of thy fellow Republican” — to a new dictum: “Thou shalt not speak ill of Trump.”
But it’s a shortsighted tactic that has already cost the party support.
There’s a parable with which most Republicans will be familiar, about a man who built his house on shifting sands, and when the rains came, the house collapsed. Another man built his house on a rock, which stood firm in the storm.
Trumpism — supporting whatever warped fantasy this charismatic former-TV star pushes at the moment — is shifting sand. It won’t hold.
The bedrock principles by which the party once stood still stand, waiting to be reclaimed.
There’s not much to be done about the party’s direction until Republicans en masse begin to reject Trumpism. Unfortunately, that’s not likely to happen until the party suffers enough losses.
Burr has done his part to reclaim his party’s legacy. Who’s next?