Mona Charen

Is the GOP tiptoeing toward normality?

Every morning, before we open our eyes, every one of us must grapple with the excruciating possibility that Donald Trump could be reelected. It’s the nightmare from which we cannot awake, at least for now. And yet, something is stirring in the Republican Party. After eight vertiginous years of rot and decay, made no less alarming by their often buffoonish character, the GOP seems to be taking some tentative steps toward normality.

Consider the state of Texas. The Lone Star State has contributed more than its share to the degradation of American politics through the good offices of Ted Cruz, a chief instigator of the Jan. 6 insurrection through his election denialism; Greg Abbott, a conspiracy booster, immigrant exploiter and gun extremist; and state GOP chairman Allen West, a secessionist. It was Texas attorney general Ken Paxton who filed the specious 2020 lawsuit the Supreme Court to disqualify the votes of states Biden won. If the Court had taken the case, Ted Cruz would have argued it.

And yet, Texas Republicans did something we’ve only fantasized about in recent years; they impeached Ken Paxton. Paxton’s abuse of office came to light when four attorneys in his office, all reportedly Republicans and conservatives, reported him. When he fired them, they filed a whistleblower suit and won a $3.3 million settlement. 

That Paxton was so flagrantly corrupt doesn’t really explain what the legislature did. The Trumpified GOP has been willing to support a credibly accused child molester (Roy Moore), a fascist adjacent congressman (Paul Gosar), a large assortment of the QAnon-curious, a number of good old fashioned corrupt pols, the occasional Oath Keeper as chairman of a state GOP, and too many other clowns, creeps and criminals to mention. Not only did the Republicans draw an ethical line and apply it to one of their own, they did it in the face of vigorous lobbying by Donald Trump. He threatened to “fight” them if they impeached.

They defied him. 

So did the House Republicans in Washington, D.C. On May 11, at the CNN town hall, Trump advised Republicans to drive off the cliff on debt ceiling negotiations. “I say to the Republicans out there — congressmen, senators — if they (the Democrats) don’t give you massive cuts, you’re going to have to do a default.”

In light of the pyromaniac spirit in the Freedom Caucus and the perceived precariousness of Kevin McCarthy’s leadership, there was genuine fear that the party really would do it, if only to invite disaster during Biden’s presidency. Instead, the House leadership behaved more like a normal party, accepting a deal in which neither side got everything but everyone got some bragging rights. They spurned the call for chaos. It was almost as if they felt they had a stake not just in their party, but in the country.

Something else happened in the past two weeks that felt different. Trump engaged in his usual lickspittle sycophancy toward a gross despot, congratulating Kim Jong-Un on his election to the executive board of the World Health Organization (international organizations are not known for their high ethical standards). And Republican politicians, rather than 1) claiming that they didn’t see the comments, 2) suggesting that this is a media-generated controversy, 3) saying they are focusing on real issues like inflation or the crisis at the border or 4) offering that Trump really has a point when you think about it, did something else. They condemned him in clear terms. Nikki Haley responded that “Kim Jong Un is a thug and a tyrant, and he has tested ballistic missiles against our allies. He’s threatened us. There’s nothing to congratulate him about. I mean, he’s been terrible to his people. He’s been terrible to America and we need to stop being nice to countries that hate America.” 

Mike Pence said, “Whether it’s my former running mate or anyone else, nobody should be praising the dictator in North Korea.” 

Ron DeSantis noted that Kim is a “murderous dictator.” Even Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who is not running for president, tweeted that “Taking our country back from Joe Biden does not start with congratulating North Korea’s murderous dictator.” There were others as well. 

Not only do these comments reflect a reaffirmation of traditional American values, they framed their criticism of Trump in moral terms. They didn’t dodge the fitness question by saying he was a likely loser. As John Bolton put it, “No American president past, present or future, should ever utter the words ‘Congratulations to Kim Jong Un!’ It’s embarrassing for the United States and proves without question that Trump is unfit to lead. North Korea starves and tortures its people.”

Will it last? Who knows? Recent history mocks the optimist. But if not an earthquake, these developments are at least tremors that suggest something may be changing in the Republican Party.

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the “Beg to Differ” podcast.

Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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