As I See It – Is the Republican Party still the Grand Old Party (GOP) we used to know?

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By Elpidio R. Estioko

Since Donald Trump became the US president in 2016, the Republican Party, otherwise known as the Grand Old Party (GOP), had gone through many transformations. The party now revolves around Trump since party decisions are done by him and party members must tow the line, so they will not suffer the consequences. 

More than a month since the November 3 election, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) recognized President-elect Biden’s victory saying we must move on, and a few more Republican leaders/governors are recognizing him too. Are GOP members slowly jumping the ship? 

The other day, President Trump criticized the Supreme Court’s decision on Friday throwing out a case brought by Texas against four states won by Joe Biden. Trump also vented his anger on Twitter at Attorney General William Barr over his handling of cases related to the election attesting to the fact that there was no voter fraud. 

Then on Monday, the Electoral College voted and affirmed Biden’s 306-232 electoral vote victory official. Former Governor of New Jersey and a former GOP presidential candidate Christie also recognized Biden as president-elect and advocated to wear mask. He said it was a mistake on his part not wearing a mask in the White which eventually got him positive of the virus.  The latest who recognized Biden was Utah senator and a former presidential candidate Mitt Romney. 

This morning, alarmed by the many setbacks in the courts and in the election, GOP leaders met with Trump in the White House to discuss the possibility of declaring Martial Law to overturn the election. Democrats and some Republicans consider this absurd and scary.

Majority of the senators and representatives still support Trump. They are sticking with him because he is still the president and they know his capabilities of doing things against those opposing him. They are afraid that he will retaliate and make their lives miserable. As a lame duck president up to January 20, 2021, he can still do a lot of things to put down his enemies. In fact, he is considering the idea of pardoning himself and his children including son-in-law Jared Kushner and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. As to whether the constitution will or will not allow him to do that, he will find a way to do it. While the presidential pardon is so powerful, it has its limitations, according to legal luminaries/constitutionalists. 

The latest action he made to lure his followers from disintegrating, Trump pardoned several convicted former GOP congressmen and others who have been long Republican allies of the president.

Trump pardoned former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, best known for “playing a key role in the lengthy investigation into Russian election interference. Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser on Trump’s 2016 campaign, told an Australian diplomat while they were having drinks at a London wine bar that he had heard that Russia had thousands of emails that would embarrass Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton. Papadopoulos was charged with lying to investigators in connection with special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation,” according to writer Dartunorro Clark.  Trump granted him a full pardon.

Others who were granted clemency were Republican former Reps. Duncan Hunter of California, who “was sentenced for 11 months in prison for misusing campaign funds, and who pleaded guilty to a corruption charge; and Chris Collins of New York.  Collins, a former GOP House member from New York, pleaded guilty in 2019 to conspiring to commit securities fraud and making false statements to the FBI. He was sentenced to 26 months in prison.” Trump granted him a full pardon.

All these acts of Trump pardoning convicted criminals was characterized as “abuse of public trust.” 

In an interview, Romney, when asked what will happen to the GOP, he said there is really a big change in the old GOP from today with Trump at the helm, but he thinks he will remain a GOP as a minority voice because the party still needs him hoping for a change going back to its old principles when the party was conceived. 

Jesse Naranjo, in his article published in Politico (12/20/2020) wrote on Romney saying, GOP “has strayed” from he once knew. “As I look at the 2024 contenders most of them are trying to become as much like Donald Trump as they can be,” the Utah Republican said. 

Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,” the Utah Republican and past GOP presidential nominee said his party has taken a “different course” from its embrace of free trade, concerns about government spending and hawkishness on Russia. Instead, he said, it has pivoted toward emulating President Donald Trump.

“The party that I knew is one that was very concerned about Russia and Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un and North Korea, and we pushed back aggressively against them,” Romney said. “We were a party concerned about balancing the budget.”

Asked by host Jake Tapper whether he is considered leaving the party in protest, as retiring Michigan GOP Rep. Paul Mitchell did this month, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee said he planned to remain and affect change from within.

“I think, ultimately, the Republican Party will return to the roots that have been formed over — well, the century,” he said. “So, we’ll get back at some point and, hopefully, people will recognize we need to take a different course than the one we are on right now.”

Also, in Politico (12/14/2020) by Matthew Choi reported a Michigan GOP congressman quit GOP over Trump’s election fights. “I’ve had enough,” said Rep. Paul Mitchell, who is becoming an independent in the final weeks of his legislative career.

Mitchell revealed his decision during an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, in which he said he had asked the clerk of the House to change his party affiliation to “Independent.” 

“It became clear to me I could no longer be associated with a Republican Party that the leadership does not stand up and say the process, the election is over. It’s over today,” Mitchell said. “This party has to stand up for democracy first, for our Constitution first and not political considerations. It is not about a candidate. It’s not simply for raw political power and that’s what I feel is going on, and I’ve had enough.”

During his CNN interview, Mitchell also dismissed legal challenges to the election by Trump’s allies as “ridiculous,” particularly a lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton aiming to flip key states that went to Biden. Supreme Court dismissed the suit.

In USA Today article, Former NH GOP chair Jennifer Horn wrote: “Texas lawsuit was the last straw. I am leaving the Republican Party. The GOP has ransacked our Constitution and attempted a coup. The Republican Party of Lincoln is no more. I am switching my registration to independent.”

In another development, New York Times (12/14/2020) Nicholas Fandos, wrote Michigan Representative Paul Mitchell leaves Republican Party over its refusal to accept Trump’s loss.”

In a letter announcing his decision, Representative Mitchell warned that by continuing to align themselves with President Trump, top Republicans would do “long-term harm to our democracy” by continuing to accommodate and amplify baseless claims of widespread voter fraud. 

“It is unacceptable for political candidates to treat our election system as though we are a third-world nation and incite distrust of something so basic as the sanctity of our vote,” he wrote just after his state cast its 16 electoral votes for Biden on Monday.

Though other Republicans, like Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, have chastised the president and his enablers, Mr. Mitchell is the first elected member of Congress to leave the party over the issue since the election. His fellow Michigan Republican, Representative Justin Amash, left the party last year over concerns about Trump.

Can the Republican Party envisioned by Abraham Lincoln, return to the roots that have been formed over the century?

ELPIDIO R. ESTIOKO was a veteran journalist in the Philippines and an award-winning journalist in the US. For feedbacks, comments… please email the author @ estiokoelpidio@gmail.com.

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