The boldest of them have formed Republican-branded dissident groups like Stand Up Republic and Republicans for the Rule of Law. One might defend this as necessary to garner the approval of the party faithful, who theoretically recoil at criticism of Trump that comes from sources whose loyalty is suspect. But Trump has had no compunction about labeling anybody who gets in his way as an agent of Hillary Clinton. That the FBI is filled to the brim with Republicans has not stopped Fox News from painting the agency as part of a left-wing conspiracy. If Trump is going to call anyone who criticizes him a Democrat and if his base is going to believe him, why not go along with it?
Certainly, the half-measures adopted to date by Republican dissidents have failed completely. The GOP is systematically purging dissent and has made anti-Trumpism impossible for anyone who sees a future in Republican politics. In places where Republicans have had contested primaries, the central issue has been which candidate can demonstrate the purest loyalty to the president. Recently, National Review editor Rich Lowry, whose magazine published an “Against Trump” special issue during the primaries, conceded that, while “most of the fears of how Trump would conduct himself in office have been realized,” Trump’s conservative critics “sound like they are in denial.” Republicans in Congress who have criticized Trump’s unfitness for office, like Senators Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, have noncoincidentally announced their retirement from office. (And even now, as lame ducks, they serve Mitch McConnell.)