Don't make Paul Mitchell a political hero just yet

On Monday, in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, retiring Michigan Rep. Paul Mitchell announced he was leaving the Republican Party.

“This party has to stand up for democracy first, for our Constitution first, and not political considerations,” Mitchell told Tapper. “Not to protect a candidate. Not simply for raw political power, and that’s what I feel is going on and I’ve had enough.”
That decision was immediately greeted with a burst of positive attention for Mitchell, who was touted as the rare breed of Republican (or, I suppose, former Republican) willing to stand up and speak truth to power — to acknowledge publicly what so many GOP elected officials think privately: That Donald Trump is not only a disaster for the Republican Party but a danger to the country.
And to be clear, Mitchell’s decision isn’t without bravery. He could have simply served out the remaining days of his term and quietly gone back to the life he had before being elected to a strongly pro-Trump district in 2016. (Mitchell is a very successful businessman and is ranked as the 15th richest member of Congress.) His decision to speak out means that he will be savaged by the Trump base — and maybe even the President himself. There’s no question, then, that Mitchell took a harder path than he needed to in his final days ion Congress.
    But let’s not overstate things here. The most important detail of Mitchell’s announcement on Monday is that he had announced his retirement way back in July 2019. Come January, Mitchell isn’t going to be walking the halls of Congress or running for reelection.
    Which means that he doesn’t need to worry that crossing Trump publicly could endanger his political career — a la fellow Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, who left the GOP in 2019, citing his differences with Trump, only to be forced into retirement after a full-frontal assault by the President.

    Nor does Mitchell need to rely on Trump or more general good feelings toward him in the Republican Party for any future jobs. Mitchell, given his considerable personal wealth, could easily self-finance another bid for office if he so chose — although, given his unhappiness with the state of politics (and the Republican Party, specifically), that seems unlikely.
    The simple fact is that Mitchell joins a lengthening line of Republicans who have gained courage to speak out against Trump when it was no longer politically detrimental (or as politically detrimental) for them to do so. And the reality is that rabbit-punching the President on your way out the door isn’t the same thing as standing up to him when you actually have something to lose.
    Consider Mitchell’s actions in 2016 — while he was battling it out with four other Republicans for the GOP nomination to replace retiring Rep. Candice Miller (R).
    In a debate in July of that year, according to MLive.com, the moderator “asked for a show of hands on whether they would support Donald Trump as their party’s presumptive presidential nominee, all five hoisted their hands high.”
    In that same debate, Mitchell compared himself favorably to Trump — saying that Trump, like himself, had “stood up to the club, funded his own primary and he kicked their backside.”
    And according to calculations made by the 538 website, Mitchell voted with the Trump’s preferred positions on issues 95.5% of the time — not exactly evidence of a full-scale rebellion.
    To Mitchell’s credit, he did condemn Trump’s tweet urging four freshmen Democratic women to “go back” to where they came from in July 2019. “We must be better than comments like these,” he tweeted. “These comments are beneath leaders.”
      But he did so just days before he announced his retirement. And he had some safety in numbers, as more than three dozen GOP lawmakers criticized Trump’s comments.
      None of this is to dismiss entirely Mitchell’s decision to a) leave the Republican Party and b) announce it publicly before his term is over. It is, however, to suggest that Mitchell’s willingness to criticize Trump and his former party is directly tied to the fact that he has nothing, politically speaking, to lose at this point.

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