USA Today reporter Jill Lawrence recalled what it was like, more than 20 years ago, to wander around Iowa with Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN). In 2020, however, she hardly recognizes him and other Republicans who've sacrificed their dignity and principles to President Donald Trump.
"What I remember most from that day was a dramatic back story that, to my puzzlement, he did not mention in his pitch to voters," Lawrence wrote in a USA Today column. "President Bill Clinton had been impeached by the House and tried in the Senate in a consuming saga of sex, lies and investigations. Voters seemed ready for someone of, as they say, unimpeachable character. Enter Alexander, at least theoretically."
Alexander previously took over Tennessee after a pardon-selling scandal tore through the governor's office. It was so bad he was sworn in three days early in a 1979 ceremony, Lawrence recalled. Alexander was supposed to be the expert in restoring trust in government.
How times have changed.
"Alexander never became president, but in 2002, he was elected to his first of three terms in the Senate," she wrote. "He was known in Washington for pragmatic bipartisanship — a senator who quit leadership in 2011 so he could work across the aisle more often, and who made good on that most recently in partnership with Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), on education and health policy."
Twenty years later, Alexander is nothing more than a shell of his former self. He has become "just another Republican cowering at the prospect of crossing President Donald Trump, one of the many people I don’t recognize despite having covered and followed them for years or even decades," wrote Lawrence.
Another, she cited, was Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who was once a dedicated friend to the late Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). Lawrence met Graham during McCain's first presidential run in 2000. They were part of a "rebellious" and "independent" group of "mavericks" willing to cross party lines to do what was right. Even formerly rational Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) worked with Graham to build a landmark bipartisan immigration law that managed to make it through the U.S. Senate in 2013.
"Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, whose primary loss to a Tea Party candidate in 2010, and subsequent win as a write-in candidate, should have meant she’d never owe her party anything, and who played key roles in bipartisan negotiations I wrote about in The Art of the Political Deal," Lawrence recalled. "There’s even Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who with her moderate Maine colleague Sen. Olympia Snowe was so notorious in conservative circles for occasionally going her own way, she evinced disgust from an Arizonan fed up with both McCain and 'those two women who vote with the Democrats all the time.'"
Today, "these politicians are now strangers to me," wrote Lawrence. "Their whole party is untethered — not just from reality and its own history, but also from the Constitution itself."
Lawrence isn't the only one to mourn the downfall of the GOP. This week, a longtime GOP precinct official in Indiana resigned, saying that too barely recognizes his party anymore. Calling it "cultish."
“After watching the impeachment process transpire, it has become patently obvious that nothing remains of the party I knew and faithfully served,” wrote Ed Adams. “It has become the party of Donald Trump with cultish enthusiasm.”
GOP officials like Rep. Justin Amash (I-MN) fled the party, a top Republican Party committee lawyer left, a former California GOP Assembly Minority Leader left, pundits like Rick Wilson also walked out the party door, lifelong GOP voters, a Republican judge in Ohio abandoned the party, a Republican economist left, an there are many more.
"For the 40 years I have written about politics, there has been something to like or respect about nearly every politician I've encountered," Lawrence closed. "Even when I passionately disagreed with someone on tax or gun or war policy, there was always at least one thing: They welcomed immigrants, wanted to save the planet or were willing to defy elements of their own party to seek a 'grand bargain' on taxes and spending. Maybe they were dishonest and had to resign in disgrace, but not before creating the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration."
In 2020, those days are done. "Let's hope the union the framers envisioned doesn't fail, as well," she said.