Bi-partisan effort to break Donald Trump stranglehold

Jules Witcover, syndicated columnist

WASHINGTON — After a year of the post-Donald Trump presidency, each major party is finally acting to put him in the rear-view mirror of American politics.

President Joe Biden, largely silent on the subject until now, is leading the Democratic effort with scorching attacks on Trump’s assault on our system of self-government. Biden is taking the lead by repeatedly labeling Trump “the defeated former president,” while doubling down on his own Build Back Better domestic agenda to recover from the Trump Oval Office years.

In personally castigating Trump, Biden is inviting a repetition of their 2020 confrontation that amounted to a referendum on the polarizing political novice. This time around, Biden can hope Trump’s chaotic behavior as president will induce voters to repeat their preference for the former U.S. senator of 36 years and eight more as vice president to President Barack Obama.

At the same time, Biden can focus on familiarizing voters with his ambitious and very costly social-welfare proposals reminiscent of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, which built a protective floor under nation’s neediest working-class families. He also continues to pursue his trademark effort to reach across the partisan divide in Congress, to achieve a more conciliatory and mutually beneficial atmosphere there.

In that regard, a glimmer of optimism can be seen in a new willingness of a few influential old Republican legislators to break with Trump, by joining with Democrats to oppose him within his adopted party. Leading the way is Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, daughter of former Vice President Richard Cheney. Dick Cheney joined her in meeting with leading House Democrats honoring police and other individuals lost in the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

Also lending moral support to renewed bipartisanship is the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, a moderate whose current influence in the party has waned. But any internal criticism at all of Trump feeds hope that the Grand Old Party may finally be awakening from the hangover of his presidency, though no credible alternative candidate has yet emerged.

Right now, Trump’s dominance remains evident in his huge support in key Midwestern and Southern states that foster or tolerate right-wing extremism. These tendencies were on display a year ago at the Capitol insurrection in the ugly calls to “Hang Mike Pence” for his refusal to bow to Trump’s demand that he reverse the Electoral College vote and refuse to certify Biden’s election.

Trump allies such as flamboyant Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri continue to look to “the defeated former president,” as Biden has mischievously chosen to call Trump, rather than rid the party of his divisive ways.

It seems most Republicans have not yet realized they must free themselves of the Donald Trump yoke if they are to restore their old party to the constructive role it used to play in the days of such conciliators as the departed Sens. John McCain and Bob Dole. A functioning and revered two-party system depends on Republicans doing so.

One fierce Democratic critic of Trump, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, in a new book, “Midnight in Washington,” warns that the Trump presidency “destroyed the Republican party — once devoted to robust alliances, a healthy mistrust of executive power, and the expansion of democracy around the world, and turned it into something else, something unrecognizable, an anti-democratic party, a party willing to tear down the institutions of its own government, a party willing to give aid and comfort to a malign foreign power that wishes to destroy us, a party hostile to the truth.”

Schiff concluded on the imperative of barring Trump running for president ever again: “He has not changed. He will not change. He has made that clear himself without self-awareness or hesitation. A man without character or ethical compass will never find the way. … What are the odds, if left in office, that he will continue trying o cheat? I will tell you: one hundred percent.”

That was a mouthful, even coming from an avowed political foe. But it conveys how far the party of Lincoln, TR, Ike and Reagan as moved beyond the boundaries of civil discourse in the era of Donald Trump.

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 juleswitcover@comcast.net.


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