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GOP will do fine — with or without Donald Trump

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GOP will do fine — with or without Donald Trump

When you’ve been consuming and producing political commentary for many years, you get used to certain recurring themes. One is the imminent disappearance or relegation to permanent minority status of the Republican Party.

This was widely predicted after the Barry Goldwater defeat in 1964, after Watergate in the 1970s, after the elections of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama in 1992 and 2008, respectively, with considerably larger Democratic congressional majorities (a 57-43 Senate majority and 259-176 House majority for Clinton, and 58-41 and 257-178 majorities for Obama) than President Joe Biden now enjoys (51-50 and 222-213).

Those predictions didn’t pan out then, and I suspect they won’t pan out now.

The Republicans do face some difficulties. Donald Trump gave them a presidential victory they didn’t expect, and some policy victories and new support from modest-income constituencies such as those in Appalachia and Hispanics.

But nothing is free in politics; there is only some question about when you pay the price. Trump’s idiosyncratic approach to COVID-19 and his refusal to propitiate hostile constituencies produced defeat by an even narrower margin (42,918 votes in three states) than his victory in 2016 (77,736 votes in three states).

His delusional insistence that he had won by a “landslide” and his recklessness in urging supporters to march to the Capitol on Jan. 6, plus the subsequent disruption of the constitutional process of reporting the Electoral College results, produced his second impeachment by the House, this one on nonfrivolous grounds.

Democrats hope impeachment will split Republicans and provoke continuing fights between pro- and anti-Trump factions that will undercut Republican nominees and discourage Republican turnout, as in the two Georgia Senate races on Jan. 5.

Maybe, maybe not. Only 10 House Republicans voted for impeachment. But attempts to oust one of them, Rep. Liz Cheney, from her leadership position was rejected by a 145-61 vote. And freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene was persuaded to renounce her bizarre conspiracy-minded tweets in the process.

The Senate trial looks likely to be desultory. Trump can’t be removed from office, because he’s not in office, and the votes aren’t there to disqualify him from office in the future. The Constitution is ambiguous on whether former officeholders can be impeached, and there are good arguments on both sides. That gives Democrats a reasonable basis to vote for conviction and Republicans a reasonable basis to vote against, as apparently all but five or six will do.

Similarly, there were plausible arguments for convicting Bill Clinton (he lied in federal court and thus didn’t faithfully execute the laws) and against (the lie was about personal, not professional, misconduct). Then all but a few members voted with their party and impeachment had no perceptible electoral effect in 1998 or 2000. I don’t expect it to have much effect in 2022 or 2024.

But heavy majorities of Republican members against impeachment and conviction as he was leaving or had just left office don’t mean that Republican politicians and voters will remain as unanimously supportive of him as they were when he was in office.

There are signs already that that support is diminishing. Polls conducted for the Republican consulting firm Echelon Insights in October, during the campaign, showed 59 percent of Republican voters supporting Trump primarily and only 30 percent supporting the Republican Party. After the election, November and December polls showed them evenly split. In January, after the assault on the Capitol, only 38 percent primarily supported Trump, and 48 percent primarily supported the party.

That polling showed the share voting for Trump in 2024 falling from 65 percent in December to 45 percent in January, with 21 percent of Republicans saying the Senate should vote for conviction and 30 percent saying he should be barred from federal office. Those findings are corroborated by a January Pew poll showing Trump job approval declining significantly among Republicans.

Perhaps they had noticed that Trump’s delusional claims that his “landslide” was “stolen” by crooked voting machinery cost the party the two Georgia Senate elections and its Senate majority.

That’s in line with historic perspective. Democrats, perhaps because their party has always been a coalition of out-groups, have tended to celebrate their presidents as philosopher-kings. Republicans, confident that their party is centered on a core constituency of people regarded by themselves and others as typical Americans, have tended to be less starry-eyed. They have regarded their presidents as utilitarian appliances, to be disposed of or upgraded as necessary. Or, as columnist Joseph Alsop said during the Watergate years, “Politicians are like toilet fixtures: they need only serve the intended purpose; they need not be beautiful.”

In that spirit, 2020s Republicans may decide that Donald Trump has served his purpose and focus on emerging issues and new leaders, as they did with considerable success after 1964, 1976, 1992 and 2008. 

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Opinion

‘Fiscally conservative’ war hawks are trying to defraud GOP voters — again

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‘Fiscally conservative’ war hawks are trying to defraud GOP voters — again

With the Republican loss in the 2020 election, there is a great deal of debate on where the party and the wider conservative movement are headed. According to betting markets, the 2024 field is wide open. The odds-on favorite is former President Donald Trump, but even he only has around a 20 percent chance as of this writing. In second place is Nikki Haley.

The former South Carolina governor and UN ambassador is an object of Beltway fascination, as can be seen in a recent feature profile in Politico. But what would a candidate or President Haley stand for? Would her views jibe with those of the working-class voters who propelled her ex-boss’ unlikely journey to the Oval Office?

If her new organization, Stand for America, is any indication, the answer is no. Instead, it looks Haley will offer the old and tired combination that GOP primary voters decisively rejected in 2016: fiscal conservatism married with a hawkish foreign policy. Whether or not this fusion has a chance politically, basic arithmetic shows that what are likely to be the two pillars of the Haley 2024 campaign are in contradiction.

Not long ago, Haley complained about Democrats wanting to bring back earmarks, highlighting a $50 million project for an indoor rainforest in Iowa. But Americans who believe that Washington should live within its means must see through what is a transparent fraud: Haley frets about a $50 million indoor rainforest — while supporting a foreign policy that costs trillions.

Fact is, pork-barrel projects are a drop in the feds’ sea of red ink. In 2019, the US government spent $4.4 trillion. While tens of millions of dollars may seem like a lot of money, projects in that range shouldn’t be the focus of true budget hawks.

Where does most of the budget go? About half to entitlements, which are politically untouchable. The next category, however, is the military, which amounted to 3.4 percent of gross domestic product in 2019. At the height of the War on Terror, the numbers were higher; in 2010, the armed forces consumed 4.5 percent of GDP, and we could easily return to such numbers under the budgets preferred by many Republicans.

To see how meaningless pork-barrel projects are in the grand scheme of things, we should return to the indoor rainforest that so upset Haley. According to the Costs of War Project at Brown University, as of 2019, the post-9/11 wars had a long-term cost to the United States of around $6.4 trillion. About $2 trillion of that was wasted on Afghanistan alone, with the Taliban now controlling more land than it did in the years immediately after the 2001 invasion.

If the price of an indoor rainforest is $50 million, then the Afghan War has cost taxpayers 40,000 times as much. No, that isn’t a typo: For the price of being in Afghanistan, the federal government could have built an indoor rainforest every 80 square miles across the entire continental United States, or, if it preferred, 13 in each US county.

Perhaps that wouldn’t be the best use of government money. But the point is this: It’s undeniable that foreign wars have been a massive drain on the nation’s resources. Trumpian Populists and progressives would like to see the government invest money at home. But even those who think budgetary restraint is important shouldn’t be manipulated by mathematically ignorant arguments made by those who seek power.

War hawks can’t honestly claim the mantle of fiscal conservatism while only attacking relatively minuscule pork-barrel projects. If American dollars are better spent in places like Afghanistan and the South China Sea than at home, fine. But politicians should make that case directly to the American voter, not try to burnish their fiscal reputations by attacking puny projects while leaving untouched far heftier expenditures.

Republican strategists and activists beware: The combination of opposition to indoor rainforests and support for more pointless war isn’t the path to either electoral success or fiscal responsibility.

Richard Hanania is president of the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology and a research fellow at Defense Priorities.

Twitter: @RichardHanania

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NY parents desperate for more school choice: Lift the charter cap!

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NY parents desperate for more school choice: Lift the charter cap!

Parents fed up with the city Department of Education’s disastrous performance this last year are desperate for better choices. Better-off families can pay for alternatives such as private and parochial schools. To give low-income New Yorkers the same opportunity, state lawmakers have a clear duty to lift the cap on public charter schools.

In the city, charter-school enrollment was 138,000 across 267 schools in the 2019-2020 school year. Expansion of existing schools will let that grow some, but not enough.

The DOE’s timidity in reopening schools, its open-close-and-repeat approach to those that aren’t shuttered and its utter failure to make remote learning more than a sad joke frustrate parents across the city. A major exodus from public schools is inevitable — unless the state allows for more high-quality, well-managed charters.

As the pandemic raged, Mayor de Blasio and outgoing Chancellor Richard Carranza took no break from their war on charters. Recently, a state judge ordered the DOE to include charters in the same weekly COVID-19 testing program used at regular schools — and the city is appealing the decision.

Some charters, such as Success Academy, were forced to go all-remote because the DOE wouldn’t let them reopen classes in spaces shared with traditional public schools — lest they make those schools look bad. Yet Success and others at least made remote classes work. KIPP Infinity in Harlem recorded 98 percent attendance because every kid received devices and those with connectivity issues got hotspots.

The flexibility enjoyed by charters allows for out-of-the-box thinking not just in responding to challenges like a pandemic, but also in providing a quality public education for mostly low-income, minority student bodies. They’ve proved to be the laboratories of innovation and achievement that then-Gov. George Pataki envisioned when he pushed charter-school legislation through the Legislature over two decades ago.

In that time, a total of 397 charters have been issued statewide, with 325 schools now serving students, plus 26 approved but not yet open. The 2015 law that raised the state charter cap to 460 allowed only a few dozen more for the city — all which have now been used.

There remain about 25 so-called “zombie” charters — ones that were revoked or approved but never opened. Those licenses should be re-assigned, but it still wouldn’t be enough to satisfy the huge demand for charter seats, grades K-12.

Families need new legislation to lift or eliminate the cap. The progressive lawmakers who now dominate the Legislature should ignore the teachers unions, which despise charters, and do right by inner-city kids. It’s a matter of fundamental fairness to give low-income children the same chance to escape bad schools that the wealthy enjoy.  

A million city kids have essentially lost over a year of education. Public charters can lead the way in bringing thousands back up to speed via a quality, rigorous instruction.

Save public education and increase basic equity: Raise the cap!

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Alzheimer’s took my mom, but her dignity and love shone to the end

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Alzheimer's took my mom, but her dignity and love shone to the end

There are a hundred things I could tell you about my late mother that are more important than the disease that caught her in its grip the last few years of her life.

I could tell you about her relationship with my older bother, who has autism, and her deep, lifelong friendship with him. 

I could tell you how she took her experience fighting the schools to educate and treat my brother decently and went into social work as a career, helping countless other disabled and mentally ill people. 

I could tell you about her accomplished painting, her love of cats or her civic involvement. 

After losing her last week, though, I want to share something about the worst, about the end, about the Alzheimer’s disease that took this vibrant woman, who made friends and plans wherever she went, and confined her to a wheelchair and rendered her nearly mute and inert. 

Because I’ve come to believe that this crushing disease doesn’t, during almost all its progression, achieve as complete a victory as it might seem. It takes away so much. The ability to live independently. The ability to talk. And in the end, the ability, or will, to eat. There are no heartening stories of Alzheimer’s survivors. 

But our personhood is so strong that the disease, even in its late stages, can’t fully extinguish the human personality. No, the spark is still there, flickering, very difficult to detect at times, but there. 

I acknowledge that some families have worse experiences than mine, wrenching though it was, and Alzheimer’s forces you constantly to ratchet your expectations downward. First, you’re glad of conversation, even if it doesn’t make much sense. Then, you’re glad of any words. Finally, you are glad of, well, anything. 

Still, there are little gems of surprises. Once, I was wheeling my mom from the cafeteria area in her nursing home, hoping to get her from Point A to Point B without incident, when she reached out and got a death grip on the chair of another resident. 

This other resident was a notably stately woman. “Hello, gorgeous!” said my Mom. Where did that come from?

Toward the end, when things were bleakest, my Mom would still shine through the shroud of the disease. If she talked, it was always incoherently, but I could see her making points the way she always had. She might chuckle softly at a mention of my brother. Even when I couldn’t get anything else out of her, she’d hum, to patriotic songs, to hymns, to “Ode to Joy.” 

No matter how bad it got, you’d see grace notes in the incredible love showered on her and others by the staff of the facility caring for her. Or another resident would do something amusing or touching. 

I remember an otherwise despairing visit, when another lady sat down randomly besides us. I said I liked the stuffed dog she had in a basket on her walker. She said he was a good boy, began to pet him and then kissed him a couple times lovingly on the snout. It was so sweet, I was moved to tears. 

The last time I visited my Mom, days before she took to her death bed, I badgered her, as I often did, to try to get a reaction out of her: “Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?”

Sometimes she wouldn’t say anything. Sometimes you might notice her trying to reply. This time, she got out an unmistakable, “Yep.” 

I played the “1812 Overture” on my phone, loud. Again, to get a reaction, I swung my arms in exaggerated, mock conductor movements, especially toward the finale, with Tchaikovsky’s chimes ringing and the cannons firing in a crashing crescendo of victory and resolve. 

And right at the end, my Mom briefly raised and twisted her hand in a conductor motion of her own. 

Take that, you merciless, godawful disease. 

Twitter: @RichLowry

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