Friday, November 26, 2021
Nov. 26, 2021

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Estrich: Powell was exemplary leader

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Confession: I used to be a Republican. I briefly became one years ago while living amongst the ultrawoke on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Their authoritarian diktats drove me crazy. And their narrow definition of economic interests as the rich versus the poor — with the middle class almost invisible — underscored their political naivete.

But another reason I became a Republican was that the party included exemplary leaders like Colin Powell, John McCain and George H.W. Bush. These men, true patriots, rejected the cheap moralizing of the increasingly strident right.

Powell’s death has produced an outpouring of sadness reminiscent of the passing of McCain and Bush. They represented a Republican Party of decency, respect for democratic institutions and fiscal rectitude. Their party would not tolerate racist sentiments. It would have ostracized any member who threatened school board members over anything.

My father had been a Republican for most of his life. He wanted lower taxes and less regulation but didn’t care who was bedding whom. He left the party in disgust during the President Bill Clinton sex scandal, when Republicans froze the government for months as they erupted in fake outrage over a mutually consensual tryst. Their sole purpose was to harass a popular Democrat.

Back in the 1990s, when a serial bankrupt named Donald Trump conned investors into putting money in his dying casinos, my father felt more contempt for the idiots who lost their shirts than the grifter himself. That Trump became president would have astounded him.

I’m telling you all this to nail the point that “Republican” had not been a negative word for much of my adulthood. But in recent years, the national party’s integrity has gone so far into the crematory flames that there’s little left to recognize.

On the state and local level, pragmatic Republicans continue to win in the bluest of places. The liberal New England states of Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont all have Republican governors, as does Maryland.

And so, what can horrified Republicans, former Republicans and Republican-leaning independents do to stop the insanity, assuming they still have hope for the party? Christine Todd Whitman and Miles Taylor are urging fellow Republicans to vote for moderate Democrats until the leadership casts off the Trump curse. After all, Joe Biden became president because 7 percent of Trump voters in 2016 moved the Democrats’ way in 2020.

Conservative pundit Jonah Goldberg suggests forming a third party to act as a spoiler to Trumpified candidates. “The point,” he writes, “is to cause the GOP some pain for its descent into asininity.”

When Republicans nominate a Reagan-like conservative, on the other hand, the new party could endorse that candidate rather than run one of its own. That way, no Republican nauseated by Trumpism would feel compelled to vote for a liberal Democrat.

A Republican Party freed of Trump could offer candidates that people like me would sometimes vote for, and there are a lot of people like me. They are voters who pick and choose their views from across the political spectrum. Republicans Powell, McCain and Bush fit the bill for many of us. Will we ever see their likes again?

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