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Opinion Michael Steele to the Trump cult: ‘You’re complicit in your own punking’

President Trump at the Republican National Convention in Charlotte on Monday. (David T Foster Iii/Pool/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Every time I interview Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, I ask him why he’s still a Republican. And why not? His party’s complete surrender to the moral and philosophical void that is President Trump was stamped “complete” when it decided to forgo a party platform until 2024. So when I asked Steele what to expect from this week’s convention, Steele wove into his answer a withering critique of the president’s stalwart supporters and a defense of his remaining in the party.

“I’ve been a Republican for over 40 years … since 1976, I’ll be damned if I’m going to cede that ground to Donald Trump, who is not now nor has he ever been a Republican, who is not now nor has he ever been a conservative,” Steele said on MSNBC’s “AM Joy” on Sunday, using a fascinating essay in the Atlantic by Anne Applebaum on how “history will judge the complicit” as the foundation of his argument. “So, all y’all want to play this little game that Donald Trump is like you, you’re stupid. You’re being played. You’re getting punked. But what’s so bad about it is you’re complicit in your own punking. And those of us on this set and others around the country who’ve stepped out and said, ‘I’m not doing that because that’s not me’ understand why. We refuse to collaborate.”

Editorial Board: The GOP is a party without principle

Steele is taking that refusal to collaborate a giant extra step. The Lincoln Project announced Monday that Steele has joined its ranks as a senior adviser. These are those former Republicans who have made it their mission to ensure Trump’s defeat in November. As one of their famously bracing ads declares, “This is a time for choosing, America or Trump.” In short order, the Lincoln Project has become a no-holds-barred burr in the saddle of Trump and the people who enable him. Have you seen the “Evil” video? Wow.

The significance of Steele joining the group should not be lost. To have a former party chairman openly oppose the sitting president who is also a member of his party is extraordinary. But Steele isn’t just any former chairman. Not only was Steele the first African American chairman of the Republican Party, he was responsible for the tea party takeover of the House in 2010. His 117-city “Fire Pelosi” bus tour was part of an effort that led to the highest number of Republican seats in the House since 1946.

I once asked Steele if we shouldn’t blame him for the predicament we’re in now. He was proud of his accomplishment then. “That’s right, baby, I built that bad boy out of steel,” he crowed. But he was stunned by what happened after he left the chairmanship. “Now, having done that, I can’t help it if they went inside and started tearing up the floorboards and knocking out the windows, and crapping all over the house.” And now Steele is ready to wrest his party back.

Republicans are putting on two conventions this week. One of them will be sane.

“I’ve watched with great regret as Republicans have lost their voice on things that mattered and bent the arc of the party away from its founding principles and toward the whims of Donald Trump,” Steele told me Monday. “In order to fight for the future of the GOP, it starts by defeating a president who is an anathema to the very principles that were so inviting to me as a young man. Trump’s full-throated embrace of conspiracies and white nationalism; his encroachments on our constitutional values; his efforts to undermine the integrity of our voting system and the seemingly interminable fear most Republicans have of a tweet is enough.”

Upon securing the nomination for a second term, Trump emerged in Charlotte to address the delegates who gathered for the roll call of states. “They are using covid to steal the election,” the president said of his Democratic opponents. There were many other unhinged utterances like that one, but it exemplifies why Steele is emphatically choosing America over Trump.

The jockeying for the post-Trump future of the Republican Party has started, says Post columnist Max Boot. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Johnathan Newton/Danielle Kunitz/The Washington Post)

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj. Subscribe to Cape Up, Jonathan Capehart’s weekly podcast

Cape Up podcast interviews with Michael Steele:

Michael Steele: The GOP needed Trump's nomination.

Michael Steele: Donald Trump is ‘the freest president we’ve had in a generation’

‘I don't know what the hell happened’: Michael Steele on the GOP under Trump

Michael Steele to Democrats: ‘Trust Nancy’

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