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A question for the GOP in Kansas, Missouri and beyond: Are we still the Party of Trump?

November 23, 2022 at 12:00 a.m.

For many Americans, Donald Trump's decision to run for president means two more years of the mercurial former president's exhausting approach to politics: exaggerations, falsehoods, crude language and disregard for the law.

For most Republicans, on the other hand, Trump's campaign, announced Tuesday, is welcome and necessary. It's a moment of fundamental decision: Are we Trump, or are we something else?

The GOP's answer to those questions is, at this hour, unclear. "America's comeback starts right now," Trump said Tuesday, announcing his presidential campaign in a familiar blizzard of half-truths and unsubstantiated claims.

As they have since 2015, many Republicans have fallen into line. "I am proud to endorse Donald J. Trump for President in 2024," Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York said in a statement. "We shouldn't bench our star quarterback at halftime," wrote Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida (although, interestingly, Gaetz backed out of attending Trump's presidential announcement.)

Others have been more circumspect. Sens. John Thune of South Dakota and John Cornyn of Texas said they won't endorse anyone until the nominating process ends. "I want someone who is going to unite our party," GOP Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota said.

Still others have pursued the nihilist approach. Missouri's own Sen. Josh Hawley suggests the GOP should be "blown up," replaced by, er, something. "We are not a majority party," he said this week, "unless we can appeal to (working class) voters."

(We're pretty sure those voters aren't fond of raised fists and insurrection, or senators who skedaddle when the heat is on. Or senators who allegedly break the law.)

Florida Sen. Rick Scott, blamed by some for the party's failure at the polls, decided to challenge Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, blamed by some for his party's failure at the polls. The battle over a new House speaker is lining up as a Trump-no Trump affair.

All of this reflects a deep confusion in the Republican Party about the meaning of Trump, and what was learned during the chaotic four years of his presidency. Well-known conservative voices -- The Wall Street Journal, Fox News, National Review, others -- have gazed into the anti-Trump future, and like what they see. Some seem less convinced.

The party must spend the months ahead examining those years, and Trump's behavior during his time in the White House and beyond, and then make up its mind: Should we embrace Trump's shambling populist approach, or no?

Alternatives are available. Some are Trump dressed in a better suit. Other candidates are thoughtful and focused, ready to endorse mainstream Republicanism (and even some Trump policy positions) while shedding Trump's penchant for humiliation and casual deceit.

We hope these discussions include a reflection on what voters said in the midterm elections. As it now stands, Republicans will have a slight majority in the U.S. House, and remain a minority in the Senate.

That's hardly a repudiation of the Republican message, but it isn't a ringing endorsement of the party either. Trump-backed candidates who embraced the Big Lie, or who danced with QAnon kookiness, or who tried to be Trumpier than Trump largely failed, up and down the ballot.

Voters were extraordinarily clear: Candidates should focus on real problems, actual solutions, and compromise. Americans are tired of bombast and foolishness. There is no time to waste. There is no room for politicians who waste it.

Where does Donald Trump fit into all of this? Republicans must now figure that out. Every elected Republican should now state clearly whether he or she backs the former president, and why -- or why not. (Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas declined to comment, his typical posture. Sen.-elect Eric Schmitt of Missouri was equally dumbfounded.)

Speeches will be made. Debates will be held. Finally, votes will be taken. And we'll know, one way or another.

That's how it still works in this country, whether Donald Trump and his followers know it or not.

-- Kansas City Star, Nov. 15

Print Headline: A question for the GOP in Kansas, Missouri and beyond: Are we still the Party of Trump?

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