The Gop’s Secret Weapon Under Trump’s Leadership


Republicans who are against Donald Trump are aware that they are in the midst of a critical period in which they must avoid the former president’s electoral return. However, for some, the high cost of opposing Trump frequently drives them to remain silent.

“If you go against Trump, you’re done,” Kyle Clare, 20, of the University of Iowa’s College Republicans, said.

“I don’t talk about Donald Trump a lot because I’m afraid of the backlash,” Jody Sears, 66, a registered Republican from Grimes, Iowa, said.

“If you said anything negative about Trump, we had one person who would just go bang for your throat,” said Barbra Spencer, 83, a former Trump voter, recounting her experience living in Spillville, Iowa, senior housing.

Trump continues to have widespread support inside the Republican Party, which is fueling his polling leads among Republicans in Iowa, New Hampshire, and every other state ahead of the 2024 primary. However, he has also exploited his fame to compel togetherness.

The same instinct that has driven Republican officeholders to avoid criticizing Trump due to possible dangers to their safety and careers is also preventing rank-and-file voters from publicly rejecting Trump with the full force of their personal views.

NBC News spoke with more than a half-dozen Iowa voters who were put off by Trump, but several were hesitant to go on the record for fear of being shunned by friends or family. One Iowan told NBC News that they plan to tell people they caucus for Trump when asked, but they will caucus for Vivek Ramaswamy.

That means fewer signs on front yards, fewer chats with friends and family about alternative candidates, and fewer opportunities for resistance to Trump to take hold in various Republican neighborhoods.

Clare was initially interviewed by NBC News in an auditorium at the University of Iowa on August 23, the night of the first Republican presidential debate. Fellow College Republicans reacted to the debate by expressing unwavering support for the GOP candidate who wasn’t on stage: Trump.

Clare elected to express his opinions at the end of the night after the rest of his classmates had departed the auditorium.

“I’m just so scared of doing this right now,” Clare replied, her eyes welling up with tears. “I want to be able to have my opinions on our politicians, and I want to be able to speak freely about them and people still understand I’m a conservative.”

Clare criticized Trump, specifically his behavior on January 6, 2021, claiming that “the end of his administration was un-American.” Clare also said that Trump supporters are delusory about their chances of winning the 2020 election.

“They refuse to believe he lost the election.” It’s difficult to swallow. It’s difficult to accept defeat. “However, it’s critical that when we lose, we recognize that we lost and ask ourselves, ‘What can we do better next time to win over Americans?'” Clare added.

Clare was correct to anticipate retaliation for speaking out against Trump. Following the publication of Clare’s interview on NBC News’ “Meet The Press” social media account, hostile and homophobic comments came in. Clare subsequently stated that a student approached him at a university event, stuck a phone in his face, and asked him why he was “scared of Trump but not scared of getting AIDS from having gay sex.”

“Say something they disagree with, and they go after your sexuality,” Clare said, adding that he doesn’t regret making the NBC News interview. Many of the comments questioned if Clare, who is a member of the University of Iowa’s College Republican group, interned for a Republican on Capitol Hill, and is active in the Johnson County Republican Party, was genuinely a Republican.

“I think it shouldn’t be a bad thing for me to say I am conservative and that I think there are other options, and I don’t think that this person is good for our country,” she added. But he is concerned that those views may stymie his long-term political goals.

“If people as powerful and as prominent as members of Congress can be taken down because of their criticisms of one man, what’s stopping that from happening to me?” Clare made the point, referring to the Republicans who were booted out of Congress after voting to impeach Trump.

During Trump’s first years in office, his criticism pushed some senators and House members to retire or face primary loss. Following the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, four House Republicans who voted to initiate impeachment proceedings against Trump resigned before facing voters in 2022, and another four lost their next primary. Only two members of the House remain.

Three of the seven Republicans who voted to convict Trump in the Senate have already retired or resigned, and Sen. Mitt Romney will retire next year.

Romney told author McKay Coppins that Republican members of Congress told him they wanted Trump impeached and convicted but would vote against the charges because they feared for their families’ safety.

Former Rep. Liz Cheney, who lost a 2022 race after supporting to impeach Trump, recalled similar encounters in her new biography.

Cheney said of one colleague, “absolutely understood his fear” of what would happen if he voted to impeach Trump. “However,” she went on, “I also thought, ‘Perhaps you need to be in another job.'”

It was simpler to keep quiet about it

Rank-and-file voters are less visible and hence less likely to be harassed or threatened, but they share some of the same concerns and experiences. Sears, a Republican from Grimes, Iowa, believes Trump’s ideals do not mirror her own. But she kept that idea to herself until lately, out of fear of being rejected by family and friends.

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