MAGA movement will continue its GOP dominance


Despite his legal troubles, MAGA Republicans aren’t ready to quit Donald Trump

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You could call him “The MAGA Whisperer.”

“They should start fathoming,” he wrote, observing that Trump’s outsider, anti-establishment approach and “open contempt for all things politically correct” were energizing people who had been disaffected by traditional politics.

For the past eight years, Gary Abernathy traced the rise of the Donald Trump base of supporters that became known as the MAGA (Make America Great Again) movement. As editor-publisher of the Hillsboro Times-Gazette in the heart of Ohio’s Trump Country in the southern part of the state, Abernathy, who earlier had spent years in Republican Party politics, wrote in January 2016 that many of his friends in professional GOP politics could not fathom a presidential ticket headed by Trump.

His newspaper became one of the first in the nation to endorse Trump for president. That led to a role for him with The Washington Post as a columnist offering a voice from Trump Country, helping bring a different perspective to The Post’s readership.

He’s put together his Trump-era columns into a new book: “MAGA Republicans Are Already Normal … And Other Shocking Notions.” He defends MAGA partisans as “honest, hard-working, patriotic citizens” who get disparaged in the broader news media as cultish threats to democracy.

We got together recently at a Bob Evans Restaurant (that seemed like a calm location to talk about divisive politics) to discuss Trump’s surprising comeback from the 2020 election loss Trump still disputes to emerge as the presumptive Republican nominee for a rematch with President Joe Biden.

“I always felt strongly that the MAGA movement was going to be dominant in the Republican Party for the foreseeable future, but I thought people would turn to someone else,” Abernathy said. “What’s clear is that as long people still have ‘Real Coke’ they’re not interested in a ‘New Coke.'”

Abernathy, who’s now working for a conservative marketing firm, personally broke with Trump over January 2021. He said that’s not as much for the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, which he doesn’t think Trump can be held legally liable for, as for Trump’s boycott of Biden’s inauguration and rejection of the U.S. tradition of the peaceful transfer of power.

“What a strong position, not just with his base but with people outside his base, this guy could be in if he had done the right thing. It would be a slam dunk for him,” Abernathy said, saying Trump’s actions often make him “his own worst enemy” and not the party’s strongest candidate in November.

In a 2021 column, he expected to see “Trumpism without Trump” in the party, defining that as emphasis on individual freedoms, energy independence, border security, “America First” foreign policy, anti-“wokeness,” and “unapologetic embrace of ‘God and Country’ values.”

He thought Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was a potential 2024 heir and that former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley could also have been a good general election candidate.

But MAGA wasn’t ready to quit Trump.

“On the other hand, there’s no other candidate who the Republican base feels is not just another establishment candidate, and that’s not what they want,” Abernathy said. Even Trump’s mounting legal problems seem to rally his fans to his defense, he noted.

Elitist-sounding dismissals of his MAGA supporters have only made them more determined.

“Trump supporters aren’t going away, and those who continue to paint them as the lowest forms of life reveal themselves to be more interested in perpetrating stereotypes and nurturing divisions than in what’s needed for our nation to survive − reaching across our political chasm, respecting our differences and finding common ground where we can,” Abernathy wrote in late 2021 in one of the columns in his book, available on Amazon.com.

Abernathy has written often about the need for what he called in a 2023 column “rediscovering the lost art of tolerance.” He urges an end to name-calling, accusations and stereotypes and acceptance by Americans of our disparity in a respectful, peaceful and fruitful way.

However, I don’t see that happening anytime soon as long as MAGA is led by someone who mocks the current president’s stutter, refers to migrants as “vermin,” talks of being “dictator for a day,” and calls the humble practitioners of journalism “criminals.”

MAGA people might already be normal, as Abernathy contends, but their leader isn’t.

EXTRA POINTS

UK hoops great not looking to jump into politics

Rex Chapman was a University of Kentucky basketball great who went on to the NBA, was brought down by drug and gambling addiction, then bounced back to become a social media star and now, bestselling author.

But he’s not been interested in political office.

“A buddy of mine from Kentucky who’s a big political operative asks if I want to run against (Sen.) Rand Paul (R-Kentucky). The idea of making fun of Rand every day appeals to me, but I tell him no,” Chapman recounted in “It’s Hard for Me to Live With Me.”

“It’s not because I am afraid of losing,” Chapman wrote. “I am afraid of winning. If that happens, I’ll have to have a real job for the first time in my life. Sorry, no interest.”

Chapman has held various front office and broadcasting positions since his playing career ended. Injuries led to painkiller addiction and that with gambling led to squandering millions of dollars and eventually his arrest for shoplifting. He turned his life around and became an entertaining mainstay on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, with 1.2 million followers, and also hosts a podcast.

He delivers political takes at times; he’s not a fan of Donald Trump, Paul, or his home state’s other U.S. Republican senator, Mitch McConnell. Chapman wrote that such politicians have done little about the opioid epidemic that has touched nearly everyone in Kentucky.

“The worst offender is Mitch McConnell, who has consistently fought any kind of positive change to the health care system while taking a whole bunch of money from Big Pharma.”

However, politics is only a small part of Chapman’s memoir, co-written with CBS Sports analyst Seth Davis. It’s an unvarnished, intensely revealing story of a life in basketball that was nearly ruined completely, followed by a long struggle for recovery and redemption.

The primary is over, general election begins

By the time you read this, the November general election field will be set after Ohio’s March 19 primary. There’s a chance coming up now to take a break for fun, with the March 28 Opening Day parade and the Reds’ 2024 season inaugural game.

Let’s hope they’re still playing when the general election campaign reaches its final weeks. That should be something we can all get behind.

Dan Sewell is a regular Opinion contributor. Contact him at his personal email, dsewellrojos@gmail.com.


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