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What’s to Become of the Republican Party

“To be or not to be: that is the question:”

– William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1

It looks as if congressional Republicans have become the party of Trump disciple Marjorie Taylor Greene, not Lincoln.

And the conspiracist freshman Georgia Republican congresswoman, stripped of two committee assignments by Democrats incensed at her extremist statements, says she will push the GOP further to the right.

How far right can one go without becoming a fascist or an oft-mentioned avatar of the rightwing, Attila the Hun? That cruel, non-Christian leader ruled in the 5th century A.D. from the central plains of what is now Hungary.

Establishment Senate Republicans, the few who are left, should vote with their Democratic colleagues to convict Donald Trump at his impeachment trial on charges of “incitement of insurrection.” It’s a unique opportunity to get rid of him before their party plunges irretrievably into Trumpism.

Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, once a chief Trump enabler, apparently now looks at him, in mafia parlance, as “dead to me” (my interpretation). He has said he won’t speak with Trump, saying the bloody siege of the Capitol was “provoked by him.”

What McConnell hasn’t said is whether he will vote to convict, only that he will make up his mind when he hears the facts at trial. Trump refused an invitation to testify at his trial, charging that it’s unconstitutional. That’s the defense his lawyers are proposing. Pretty weak.

If Senate Republicans fail to convict, if the madman former president is not held accountable for four years of incalculable damage to the country and much of what it stands for, they and the rest of America may be dealing with Trump and Trumpism for many years.

The problem: the far right probably outnumbers the moderates and others who would like to see Trump dumped. So hopes for conviction may go the way of the House’s first impeachment of Trump more than a year ago – acquittal in the Senate.

Trump has mused about forming his own Patriot Party, which surely would draw the Greenes of this world. But he may not chance it. Americans don’t seem to like third parties.

More than 370 congressional staffers from more than 100 House and 15 Senate offices wrote an open letter to senators calling on them to consider what terror they experienced during the attack on the Capitol and to convict Trump, according to CNN.

“. . . For our sake and the sake of the country, we ask that they [senators] vote to convict the former president and bar him from ever holding office again,” the staffers wrote.

In what was an unprecedented move in modern times, House Democrats did the work of establishment Republicans for them by voting overwhelmingly to remove Greene from the Budget Committee and the Education and Labor Committee. The vote was 230-199, with 11 Republicans joining the Democrats.

“You would think that the Republican leadership in the Congress would have some sense of responsibility to this institution,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said. “For some reason, they’ve chosen not to go down that path.”

There are several reasons for that. One is fear of the vindictive Trump and the number of votes he can muster and his threat of primarying his detractors. Also, Trump has praised Greene more than once. Another is House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, who did virtually nothing to punish Greene for her outrageousness.

In comments on the House floor before the vote, Greene said she no longer believes the 9/11 attacks and school shootings in Florida and Connecticut were staged. But she did not withdraw past statements against Muslims and Jews. She has said Jews fired lasers from space to start wildfires in California.

Greene sounded relieved to be off committee duty.

“I’ve been freed,” she told a news conference Friday. “I have a lot of free time on my hands, which means I can talk to a whole lot more people all over this country and . . . build a huge amount of support that I’ve already got started with.”

The Georgian said she would vote “very conservative” and, according to The Washington Post, “use her influence to cement Trump’s imprint on the GOP.”

“I’m going to be holding the Republican Party accountable and pushing them to the right,” Greene said.

I think that would depend on how much influence she’ll have. And that could depend on Trump.

“It’s really time now to start pushing back” against the Trump wing of the party, former Republican Sen. John Danforth of Missouri told the PBS NewsHour.

“Is he going to define the Republican Party going forward or is he not?” he asked. “It’s time to get back on track.”

It’s up to the Republicans to decide what they want their party to represent: to “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” by hosting an autocratic, irresponsible, incorrigible societal misfit or returning to its roots as an internationally respected political force.

Richard C. Gross, a correspondent, bureau chief and foreign editor for United Press International, retired as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.

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