OPINION: End doesn’t justify the means on Trump

Former Ga. Lt. Gov.: Trump’s incapable of leading in the right way.
Former President Donald Trump pointed toward the crowd after speaking during his first 2024 campaign rally on March 25, 2023, at Waco Regional Airport in Waco. (Shafkat Anowar/The Dallas Morning News/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Former President Donald Trump pointed toward the crowd after speaking during his first 2024 campaign rally on March 25, 2023, at Waco Regional Airport in Waco. (Shafkat Anowar/The Dallas Morning News/TNS)

From the baseball diamond to the political arena, I’ve had a front row seat for bad behavior justified by saying that the “ends justify the means.” With enough time and distance, this logic falls apart and a course correction takes place. It’s a question of “when,” not “if.”

Across minor league baseball clubhouses in the 1990s, I watched friends experiment with steroids. The lure of inflated statistics, lucrative contracts and brand name endorsements paved the on-ramp to performance enhancing drugs. Today, this decision is viewed as the ultimate blemish for an athlete. Some of the league’s best players are on the outside looking in at the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, their eye-popping statistics marked with an asterisk.

Geoff Duncan

Credit: contributed

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Credit: contributed

A few decades and a wardrobe change later, I experienced this phenomenon as the Republican lieutenant governor of Georgia during the 2020 presidential election. When President Donald Trump and his allies started spreading falsehoods and conspiracy theories, many of my fellow Republicans went along for the ride. It was tough to watch.

Their reasons spanned the spectrum. For some, it was the appeal of a presidential praise or an enticing fundraising email. Others were drawn to a potential endorsement or Cabinet appointment. Some were afraid of the blowback.

Regardless of the cause, most would privately admit it was all a farce. They knew the voting machines were not rigged nor under the influence of dead Venezuelan dictators.

Three years later, few would have imagined the consequences for such preposterous claims. Nineteen individuals have been indicted and marched into the Fulton County jail. Some are facing humiliation and even jail time. Two decades removed from his status as “America’s Mayor,” Rudy Giuliani has filed for bankruptcy and faces $148 million dollars in defamation charges. The horrifying events at U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 were unimaginable until they weren’t.

Let’s be clear: the lion’s share of Georgia Republicans are not guilty of making up the 2020 election lies, but too many are guilty of believing them. Most of their trusted elected leaders decided the “ends justified the means.” Conspiracy theories, lies, half-truths, personal attacks, mischievously spliced videos and other organized criminal efforts were all justified means to send Trump back to the White House.

Unlike steroids in baseball, the Trump chaos has not receded from GOP politics. Far from it. He won the Iowa caucuses with more than 50 percent of the vote and a 30-point margin. Both numbers set new records. He has endorsements from nearly 100 members of the House of Representatives, compared to only 5 for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who previously served in the chamber. After one Republican member of the House, whose bid for the speakership had been kneecapped by a Truth Social missive, threw his support behind the former president, Trump was said to privately remark, “They always bend the knee.”

On this point, Trump is, sadly, correct. Vanquished opponents like DeSantis and senators Tim Scott, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are falling quickly into line. Time and distance do not seem to be correcting the error of the GOP as fast as subpoenaed facts, flipped witnesses and bipartisan grand juries are highlighting their errors.

Meanwhile, our country remains on a collision course for the sequel no one wants. An increasingly frail President Joe Biden versus an increasingly unhinged Trump, who could be a convicted felon before Election Day 2024. No wonder an Associated Press/NORC poll found 56 percent of adults dissatisfied with Biden as the Democratic nominee, while 58 percent of adults feel the same about Trump as the Republican nominee.

Just as the seeds of chaos were planted in Georgia in 2020, our state can lead the healing process. It starts with a unified and full-throated rebuke of conspiracy theories and half-truths from Republicans from Brunswick to Dalton to Augusta to Blakely and under the Gold Dome. The effort must be genuine to move on from the asterisk era.

For skeptics, look no further than Gov. Brian Kemp and his crushing defeat of Trump’s handpicked candidate, David Perdue, in the 2022 primary. GOP voters rightfully realized they cared more about Kemp’s conservative leadership style than Perdue’s parroting skills. For a moment, Georgia Republicans reminded the country that our party extends beyond the personality of Trump. Our policy ideas are better than the other team.

So now the uncomfortable part: admitting to your neighbors the ends don’t justify the means any longer. Trump has become incapable of leading in a respectable or mature way. Until more of us are willing to acknowledge that hard truth, we will be on the outside looking in. Our fate will be similar to some of the most famous baseball sluggers of the 1990s still waiting for their invitation to Cooperstown.

To quote the late, great Georgian Kenny Rogers, “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, Know when to fold ‘em, Know when to walk away, And know when to run.”

A CNN contributor, Geoff Duncan served as Georgia’s lieutenant governor from 2019 to 2023. He is a former professional baseball player and author of “GOP 2.0: How the 2020 Election Can Lead to a Better Way Forward for America’s Conservative Party.”