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Here’s how Biden can counter damage by Trump

Jules Witcover, syndicated columnist

WASHINGTON — As President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office on January 20, he is likely to rely on his desire for working across the partisan divide in Congress. In the process, he might encourage Republicans there to abandon their support of Donald Trump and focus on rebuilding their shattered party.

Biden mainly has sought to ignore Trump’s foolhardy effort to reverse the result of the election and to gum up Biden’s plan to turn the page on the coronavirus pandemic, whose neglect by Trump contributed to his failure to win a second term. But his patience appears to be wearing thin. On Monday, he accused the Trump team of “nothing short of … irresponsibility” in its lack of cooperation in the transfer of power.

Most of Trump’s support in the party appears so far to have survived his defeat. But a few notable Republicans in Congress, including Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Ben Sasse of Nebraska, have shown signs of looking ahead to a revived GOP future based on more traditional conservative themes.

In agreeing to cooperate with Biden in his goal to work with Congress as of yore, such Republicans in the fashion of the departed John McCain of Arizona and Howard Baker of Tennessee could make a start toward restoring the Grand Old Party as a full partner in the legislative process.

With the obdurate Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky still in control of Senate, such an undertaking has been futile. But if the Democrats can pick up one or both of two Senate seats in January 5 runoffs in Georgia, the prospect would brighten, giving them majorities in both chambers.

Trump and Biden have campaigned there for their party nominees, amid the alarm of many Republicans that the continued disruptive antics of their lame-duck leader may finally have begun to wear thin with them. Meanwhile, Biden speaks hopefully of a return to the old Senate days of interparty comity that he enjoyed in his 36 years of a more accommodating time and political climate there.

Trump for his part seems to be on an increasingly harsh scorched-earth rampage, marked in recent days with an avalanche of presidential pardons of an assorted bunch of personal and business cronies, felons and assorted hangers-on who have bought into the Trumpian abuse of the Constitution in bucking its specific instructions for the transfer of presidential power.

His appeals to the judicial branch to reverse the election, where he has appointed three of the six Republicans to the Supreme Court majority, have nevertheless been abruptly rejected, to the credit of that majority.

But those same election results brought a split decision in strengthening the GOP majority in the House, giving Republicans there some rationale to stick with Trump, at least for the present time. Democrats must hope that as Trump’s rebellious conduct drags on, enough Republicans in Congress may see in Biden’s limited olive branch an opportunity to restore their party to respectability after the Trump nightmare.

Along with many angry and disillusioned working-class families who have accepted Trump’s view of racial and cultural divisions as stacked against them, these Republicans need to take stock of the price they and their party collectively are paying for following him over the cliff of political irrelevance, unless they rejoin the debate in a much more positive way.

Doing so right now is probably a long shot, given the temper of the times. But if Biden’s personal style and willingness to go halfway to find common ground can yet steer the country out of the Trump detour from good government, the Grand Old Party may yet manage to survive.

But right now, there appears to be no obvious savior waiting in the wings.

Editor’s note: 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 juleswitcovercomcast.net.

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