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Witcover: Stop the world; the Republican Party wants to get off

By Jules Witcover - | Sep 20, 2021

Witcover

WASHINGTON — As public demand cries out for sensible governmental solutions to cope with a changing world, the confused Republican Party’s response is to head for the hills.

The current ills imperiling the country, from the COVID-19 pandemic to climate change, are being rejected or ignored by a once-proud and revered Republican Party.

Still under the hypnotic spell of former President Donald Trump, it staggers toward a possible 2024 rerun of his candidacy, with no other plausible political leadership in view of the Grand Old Party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.

As Trump continues to send signals of intending a rerun two years hence, the faithful along with accommodating others in the mesmerized party go along. A measure of the drift and political impotence came in California on Tuesday in the futile attempt of GOP conservatives to recall progressive Gov. Gavin Newsom.

They foolishly put their bet on a right-wing extremist, Larry Elder, a radio talk-show host who was no match for Newsom, whose candidacy brought an avalanche in campaign funds and the personal intervention of President Joe Biden. At the same time, no prominent Democrat sought to replace Newsom.

Newsom joined Biden in rallying California voters to fight the coronavirus with widespread vaccination and mask-wearing. Newsom will now serve out his term and is expected to seek another four years next year.

As for Biden, who won the state by nearly 30 percentage points in 2020, the prospect of seeking reelection in 2024 against Trump would seem to be an added inducement. A huge anti-Trump vote is probable again, as the defeated former president’s frantic efforts to remain in the public spotlight are marked by the continued “Big Lie” of unfounded 2020 election fraud.

As long as Trump maintains the threat of a second presidential bid, no other Republican alternative appears to be emerging. The party’s 2012 nominee, Mitt Romney, now a Utah senator, is an unlikely rallying source within it. Freshman Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, a flashy ultraconservative more in the mold of the late, unlamented Sen. Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin, seems to represent more a throwback than a new political force.

More than the absence of an obvious new and popular Republican face in the crowd is the image of the party as having lost its way as a counterbalance to the increasingly progressive Democrats.

While their most identifiable current leadership is in the hands of self-designated Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont at age 80, looking beyond Biden at 78, there seems plenty of room for new Democratic political energy to emerge, as the future of the two-party remains uncertain.

Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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