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A Roiling Republican Party Is Ready For Its Close-Up

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A Roiling Republican Party Is Ready For Its Close-Up


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

Jill Lawrence

Award-winning journalist Jill Lawrence is a nationally syndicated columnist and a contributing editor to U.S. News & World Report. She also contributed to The Surge: 2014's Big GOP Win and What It Means for the Next Presidential Race (2015). Lawrence has discussed political and policy developments on television, radio, and many other media outlets. She was an adjunct professorial lecturer at American University in 2014, teaching on the relationship between politics and the media.

Lawrence has covered every presidential campaign since 1988, as well as historic events such as the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress, the Clinton impeachment, the Florida recount, and the 1993 and 2009 battles over health reform.

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  1. Eleanore Whitaker July 30, 2015

    It is going to be such fun watching these GOP Gestapos trying to goose step on stage and take each other down. You know what will happen. What Rand Paul wants for the Confederacy, the WI Cheese Doodle, Walker, won’t want for his Corn Belt. What Christie wants for his Americans for Prosperity and Adelson backers, Huckabee, Jindal and Cruz will see as Yankee autocracy. Forget Cruz, his only speech is so well “oiled,” it will slide off his Texas tongue like nitro cars on ice.

    And this, this, is what the GOP Gestapos call a campaign? Wouldn’t it be simpler for their “backers” to just admit these are their stable of political prostitutes?

    1. Bosda July 30, 2015


      1. Eleanore Whitaker July 30, 2015

        OMG…toooooo funny and tooooo true!

      2. GraceAdams830 July 30, 2015

        Geese can be as effective as dogs at guarding property and cheaper to feed. I wouldn’t want a goose as a body guard though. Too apt to peck me.

        1. ralphkr July 30, 2015

          Not always, Grace. There was a base that had double fencing about 15 feet apart and an officer had the brilliant idea of letting a flock of geese loose to roam area between the fences because they raise such a racket whenever anything approaches. He would save money because the geese would forage for their food and he would not need to post as many sentries. It worked like a charm except at night when ALL the geese would flock together in one corner and leave the majority of the perimeter unguarded.

          1. GraceAdams830 July 31, 2015

            Maybe cross-fencing to divide the flock into many smaller flocks (as small as a goose/gander pair each). Then any intruder would be much more likely to meet up with a pair of geese.

  2. latebloomingrandma July 30, 2015

    This morning we find that the Donald has a 25% approval rating with a focus group in NH. They defend him from all put-downs and declare he would be a “classy” Reaganesque President. He is one of them, they say.
    This is getting pretty scary. A billionaire born into wealth, going through several bankruptcies, and on his 3rd trophy wife is one of us? A complete narcissist, blabbermouth, bully is now classy? Are we all down the rabbit hole? His theme song should be” Where have all the brains gone”, to the tune of
    Where have all the Flowers Gone. I couldn’t be more disgusted.
    It give me nostalgia for Howard Dean’s exuberant “yee-haw” several years ago, when he was considered too crazy to be President.

    1. RED July 30, 2015

      It’s disgusting and sickening! But you’ve got to understand the ignorant Con mind and that sickness to comprehend Trump’s polling. First the Cons are morons who subscribed to the unbelievably stupid mythology that if someone is wealthy, it’s because they worked harder and are smarter even though all the evidence suggests the most likely path to wealth starts in a hospital delivery room at birth. But it’s just a part of the Con game to sell that idea and mythology to their ignorant Con followers, makes them think they can become wealthy cause their too stupid to confront reality.

  3. Bren Frowick July 30, 2015

    Bush isn’t exactly THOUGHTFUL on the Iran issue: he merely said that he would wait until Day TWO to repeal the deal. That sort of wingnutism is what passes for “statesmanship” in today’s hopelessly dysfunctional GOP.

  4. Independent1 July 30, 2015

    And the GOP Clown Show continues!!

    What is America coming to as the GOP works to degrade our country even further???

    Can these GOP Clowns make America an even bigger laughing stock in the world than they have already made it??

    I can only live on the hope that there will be enough INTELLIGENT VOTERS in America in 2016 TO SAY NO!!!

  5. Paul Bass July 30, 2015

    What has to be going on here is that any politician can wake up any day and say “this is the crop of Presidential candidates? I’m better than all of them, why shouldn’t I run?”

  6. jiro tanaka July 30, 2015

    This is the party of lunatic greedy hateful Christians. The end is near. Repent

    1. Independent1 July 30, 2015

      Lunatic, greedy, hateful, FAKE Christians!!

  7. ErnestineBass July 30, 2015

    Given the GOP’s current slate of candidates, coulrophobia is the only normal response.

  8. Dominick Vila July 30, 2015

    Both parties will be present during the first debate, the real question is which party will survive the slaughter and show up for the second debate.

    Considering Trump’s and Walker’s popularity, it may be time to start writing the GOP establishment’s eulogy.


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