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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

You’ve got to stay alert these days if you want to keep up with the Republican Party. Actually, make that Republican parties.

The GOP is proceeding along two tracks — the headline track and the governing track. Which party will show up Aug. 6 for the first presidential debate? Or will both of them be onstage?

The headline track is driven largely by Donald Trump and the 2016 contestants trying to escape his shadow. It’s not pretty but from their standpoint it is necessary. They can’t afford to be subtle when there are 17 candidates (the tally as of Wednesday, when former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore filed his paperwork) and Fox News has decreed the first debate will be limited to the top 10 in national polls.

There’s also a Capitol Hill contingent on the headline track, and it’s more than just senators who are running for president. In fact, I was so riveted by a House conservative’s surprise attempt to oust Speaker John Boehner from his job that I nearly missed Trump calling former Alaska governor Sarah Palin “really a special person” — a ” tough and smart” special person — who might well turn up in his administration.

“Everybody loves her,” Trump said on Mama Grizzly Radio (“Sarah Palin news 24-7”). Well, maybe not everybody, he amended. “Like me, she’s got people that don’t exactly love us and we understand who they are and sort of forget about that.” To be precise, 58 percent of Americans don’t “exactly love” either of them. That was Palin’s unfavorable rating in a 2013 CNN poll and Trump’s in a CNN poll last week.

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee has also been riveting lately, starting with his claim that President Obama, via his nuclear deal with Iran, “will take the Israelis and basically march them to the door of the oven.” Ditto Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who said at a recent rally that “without exaggeration, the Obama administration will become the world’s leading state sponsor and financier of radical Islamic terrorism” as a result of the Iran deal.

Obama, asked about Huckabee’s comments at a news conference in Ethiopia, accused both Huckabee and Cruz of trying to steal headlines from Trump. To which Trump retorted, on Breitbart News, “He’s over in Africa and he’s talking about Trump. I think it sends a very weak and a very bad signal to the people he’s trying to impress.”

All of this came after videos in which Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul set the tax code on fire and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham tried to destroy his cellphone with a bat, a golf club and a blender after Trump gave out his number live on TV. Which was after Graham called him a jackass. Which was after Trump said Arizona Sen. John McCain — Graham’s close friend — was not a war hero. After which former Texas governor Rick Perry called Trump “a cancer on conservatism.”

The theatrics disguise the real divide in the GOP. That’s the one between people aiming for a functional system and other people who give no quarter on their ideology, despite the realities of operating under divided government in a divided nation. The motion to oust Boehner, filed by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) is the latest reflection of tensions between mainstream, business-oriented Republicans and the populist Tea Party wing of the GOP.

Cruz, who embodies the latter brand, reinforced his bona fides recently by calling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a liar. He also tried (but failed) to kill Obamacare, the Iran deal, and funding for Planned Parenthood in amendments to a highway bill. Some of this was going on the same day Ohio governor John Kasich said on NBC’s Meet the Press that U.S. troops should be “on the ground fighting” the Islamic State in the Middle East, and he would send them. That is a key fact to know about the 16th GOP candidate to enter the presidential race, but it barely registered amid the din.

Some in the Republican gaggle are displaying the “sense of seriousness and decorum and honesty” that Obama says he would like to see in his successor. They are proposing policy initiatives, reaching out to minorities and discussing their stands on major issues. At least one, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, confessed to a Carson City, Nevada, audience that he would not reverse an Iran nuclear deal on day one — before he has consulted with allies, named a secretary of state or received intelligence briefings. “I think it’s important to be mature and thoughtful about this,” he said.

Mature and thoughtful are not the words that come to mind as the first GOP debate nears. Wild, crazy, and off-the-charts are some that do. The candidates have delicate choices to make. Should they engage Trump or ignore him? Compete with him or contrast themselves with him? Their decisions will define the nomination race and could reshape it.

Follow Jill Lawrence on Twitter @JillDLawrence. To find out more about Jill Lawrence and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Image: DonkeyHotey via Flickr

Poll: Most Parents Oppose Rapid School Reopening

Numerous local school systems around the country are plowing ahead with plans to resume in-person instruction despite growing evidence that children are just as capable of spreading the coronavirus as adults.

Classes were set to begin on Monday in Baker County, Florida. Masks for students will be optional, not required. "It looks like it's back to normal this morning, honestly," a local television reporter observed as parents dropped their kids off in the morning. Many students wore no face coverings.

The Trump administration and the GOP have pushed for full reopening of schools for months."Schools in our country should be opened ASAP," Donald Trump tweeted in May. "Much very good information now available."

"SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!" he reiterated on July 6.

"The science and data is clear: children can be safe in schools this fall, and they must be in school this fall," demanded Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) on Aug. 1.

"I believe our schools can, and should rise to the occasion of re-opening for in-person education this fall," agreed Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) two days later.

"The CDC and Academy of Pediatrics agree: We can safely get students back in classrooms," tweeted House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) last Tuesday.

But while Scalise, Mike Pence, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have all cited the American Academy of Pediatrics in their arguments for reopening, a new study by the group and the Children's Hospital Association raises red flags about how safe that will be.

Their report found 338,982 reported coronavirus cases in children as of July 30 in the United States. Between July 16 and July 30, the nation saw a 40% increase — 97,078 new infected children.

Last week, a high school student in an Atlanta suburb posted a photo online showing few students wearing masks in a crowded school hallway. Since that time, at least six students and three adult employees in the school have reportedly contracted the coronavirus, and the school temporarily has switched to online classes.

Another Georgia school district has already seen at least 13 students and staff members test positive since reopening a week ago.

A recent study in South Korea found that children aged ten and older spread the coronavirus at the same rates adults do. A separate study in Chicago suggested young kids might also be effective spreaders.

These contradict the false claims made by Trump and his administration that kids have an "amazing" near immunity to COVID-19.

"If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely, but almost immune from this disease, so few. They've got stronger, hard to believe, and I don't know how you feel about it, but they have much stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this," Trump told Fox News on Wednesday.

"You got to open the schools. They have a stronger immune system even than you have or I have," he told Barstool Sports on July 23. "It's amazing. You look at the percentage, it's a tiny percentage of one percent. And in that one case, I mean, I looked at a couple of cases. If you have diabetes, if you have, you know, problems with something, but the kids are in great shape." Children have made up nearly nine percent of all cases, even with schools mostly closed.

And DeVos incorrectly said in a July 16 interview, "More and more studies show that kids are actually stoppers of the disease and they don't get it and transmit it themselves."

In early July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines for how schools could operate more safely during the pandemic.

Trump publicly ridiculed the guidelines, dismissing them as "very tough & expensive" and "very impractical."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.