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Bill Straub: The Republican Party is trying to find itself — a ‘house divided against itself cannot stand’

It was Lincoln, the pre-eminent member of a political organization formerly known as the Republican Party, who cited the synoptic gospels in declaring in 1858 that, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

That proposition, Lincoln told a friend, is “indisputably true,” adding “I want to use some universally known figure, expressed in simple language as universally known, that it may strike home to the minds of men in order to rouse them to the peril of the times.”

To Lincoln, the “peril of the times” was slavery. These days his words could be taken as a warning to the GOP, whose factional split is quickly reaching canyonesque proportions, raising stark questions about the party’s sustainability.

Positioned in the middle of this ongoing dispute are two all-too-familiar figures – Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Louisville, representing the establishment bloc of the party, and the demon he helped create, former President Donald J. Trump, aka Loser, who is leading a relatively new populist faction that deals in conspiracy theories and boldfaced lies.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

It’s not a small matter. There’s a legitimate concern that the republic can can’t withstand another four years of Trumpism. Yet a Morning Consult and Politico poll released Tuesday shows that 59 percent of Republican voters wanted Trump to continue to have a major role in the Republican Party, with 54 percent maintaining they would vote for him if he seeks the presidency again in 2024.

Remember, Trump is the man who fomented an insurrection against the United States government after failing to win a second term when he fell 7 million votes short to President Joe Biden, the Democrat. His mob gathered in Washington on Jan. 6 to convince members of Congress to reject the results of the Electoral College establishing Biden as the winner, stormed the Capitol, ransacked the joint resulting in five deaths, including a Capitol policeman, and threatened to execute lawmakers.

Only a miracle, and the general stupidity of the marauders, kept a greater tragedy from occurring. As Voltaire said, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

Trump became the only president to be impeached twice, including for his participation in the insurrection, escaping conviction on both occasions thanks to Republican senators who placed party over country, power over justice.

All that would seem to position McConnell as the moral authority, a proposition that would make a maggot gag. McConnell is the antithesis of what any normal functioning citizen would view as a statesman. He used blatantly underhanded means to steal at least one, perhaps two, Supreme Court seats that could send the nation back decades. He forced through a business tax cut that added trillions to the nation’s debt, refused to cooperate with the Obama administration when it became obvious that Russia was interfering with the 2016 presidential election, blocked Democratic initiatives just because he could, even those with broad GOP support, and has established that the only thing he’s really interested in is power, not its judicious application.

And he aided and abetted Trump throughout his four terrible years in office, refusing to confront him over his constant abuses, maintaining silence over his racism and misogyny and simply doing his bidding to the nation’s detriment. His silence stood for approval.

McConnell did more to further Trump’s antics than any other individual and, ultimately, history will hold him in contempt for it. He was the enabler. Now he’s paying the price.

This is the moral force going to combat Donald J. Trump?

Good luck with that.

Voltaire again, this time discussing Robespierre and Cardinal Richelieu: “When I think of the one, I prefer the other.”

The polls display the deep hole McConnell and his followers find themselves within. A second Morning Consult survey shows that, while Republicans hold Trump in high esteem, they’ve lost faith in McConnell. Only 41 percent of GOP voters in Kentucky approve of his performance, down from 70 percent before the November election, which he won in a landslide. Trumpsters in the state party sought to censure him after he made comments before the impeachment trial indicating that he would consider conviction, That effort failed. Now the leader of that effort, Nelson County Republican Party Chairman Don Thrasher, is demanding that McConnell step down from his Senate leadership position.

Regardless, the Republican Party over the past four years has become, for all intents and purposes, the Trump Party, with McConnell and other establishment figures applauding from the sidelines. Only after the insurrection that threatened the republic did McConnell speak up, quite correctly, citing Trump as the individual “practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day” and that the party needed to abandon Trumpism if it hoped to flourish in the near future.

That, of course, didn’t stop McConnell from voting against impeachment for inciting an insurrection by invoking a technicality – that Trump couldn’t be convicted and impeached because he no longer held the office, a claim disputed by any number of constitutional scholars.

Furthermore, the only reason Trump didn’t face trial while he still held office was because McConnell, then the leader of the Senate majority, refused to call lawmakers back to Washington during a congressional break to conduct a trial. That would have been possible under his emergency powers.

In other words, as is typical, McConnell was manipulating to have it both ways. He was seeking to split the baby – accusing Trump of numerous unforgivable acts to satisfy the GOP money people while simultaneously refusing to convict him of those unforgivable acts to assuage the Trumpsters who will be needed in the effort to return the Republican Party to the Senate majority in the 2022 off-year elections.

It’s obviously not working, at least to this point. and Trump, as is his wont, is taking no prisoners. He attacked McConnell for his impeachment comments, bashing the Senate GOP leader for a “lack of political insight, wisdom, skill, and personality.”

So round one to Trump.

What is obvious is sooner or later, as Sinatra once told us, something’s gotta give. One side will have to overwhelm the other and a politic al price likely will have to be paid. It happened in the 1960s when the Democratic Party strangely consisted of northern liberals and southern racists. When President Lyndon Johnson finally pushed through the Civil Rights Act he acknowledged he would be losing the South for a generation. It’s actually been longer than that. It also meant cost the Democrats at the polls – Republican Richard Nixon succeeded Johnson in 1968 – and multitudes of Southern Democrats switched over to the GOP.

Trump currently is the people’s choice within the Republican Party and, if things don’t go his way, he could form a third party, the Patriot Party, depriving GOP regulars of any chance at electoral success. It’s already obvious that Trumpsters will challenge incumbents in Republican primaries and seek open seats. Sen. Rob Portman, R-OH, for instance, is not seeking re-election and the two most prominent potential candidates seeking to replace him are going berserk trying to out-Trump each other.

But McConnell and establishment Republicans still have a puncher’s chance. While Trump holds popular support, McConnell still has the money men on his side and they will be willing to spend whatever it takes to crush Trumpism like a bug.

And then there is the potential for legal problems sinking our former president – and isn’t it nice to place former in front of the word president. There already are investigations into his official conduct and his questionable financial dealings before becoming president.

As noted before, it’s hard to seek the presidency from Leavenworth.

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