'The warning signs are all there': Ex-Reagan aide fears Trump is leading the party to more political violence
Donald Trump speaking with supporters at an event hosted by Students for Trump and Turning Point Action at Dream City Church in Phoenix, Arizona in 2020. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

During Donald Trump's presidency, long-time conservative activist Peter Wehner wrote a series of anti-Trump articles for The Atlantic. And although Trump has been gone from the White House for four months, Wehner remains a vehement critic of the GOP's current direction. A former speechwriter under three Republican presidents — Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush — he discusses Trump's unending stranglehold on the GOP in an article published by The Atlantic this week. And he warns that the potential for more political violence continues as long as so many Republicans maintain their unwavering devotion to Trump.

"The GOP remains fully in Trump's thrall, with its leadership more committed than ever to spreading his foundational lies and conspiracy theories," the 60-year-old Wehner laments. "Under Trump's sway, the Republican Party is becoming more fanatical, venturing even further into a world of illusion…. No former president, and certainly no president defeated after only one term, has so dominated his party after he left office."

The Never Trump conservative points to Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming as an example of a prominent GOP conservative who lost a leadership position for being openly critical of Trump and refusing to indulge his false claim of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election. Cheney formerly served as House Republican Conference chair, making her the third highest-ranking Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives. But Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, lost that position, Wehner notes, for her "fireable offense" of "refusing to remain silent in the face of Trump's ongoing efforts to undermine our constitutional system."

"Trump's words matter," Wehner writes. "They mattered in the lead-up to, and on the day of, the deadly attack on the Capitol on January 6. They still matter. And if the Republican Party doesn't counteract these lies rather than indulge them, political violence will become more acceptable and more prevalent on the American right."

Wehner adds, "This assessment isn't based on mere speculation. We know that many of the people who participated in the violent assault on the Capitol believed that they were acting patriotically — foot soldiers in the 21-Century version of the American Revolution, doing what they understood their leader was asking of them."

The Never Trump conservative points out that according to Cheney, some Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives feared being targeted for violence if they voted to impeach Trump. Cheney told CNN, "If you look at the vote to impeach, for example, there were members who told me that they were afraid for their own security — afraid, in some instances, for their lives. And that tells you something about where we are as a country, that members of Congress aren't able to cast votes, or feel that they can't, because of their own security."

Wehner writes that Stephen Richer, a Republican election official in Maricopa County, Arizona, recently told him he has received death threats for saying that President Joe Biden won that county fair and square in 2020.

"The violence we have seen is likely a preview of coming attractions," Wehner warns. "Hear me, Republicans, when I say that many on the American right are growing more and more comfortable with violence as an instrument of politics, as a means to achieve their goals, as a way to defeat their perceived enemies. The warning signs are all there. For the sake of their own integrity and for the good of the country, Republicans who know better — and a lot do — need to speak out, resist the manipulation, stop living within the lie."