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Can the Grand Old Party survive its current woes?

Amid Trump’s second impeachment trial and serious disagreement among its leaders, the Republican Party is in turmoil

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Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., walks with fellow House Republicans on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021, following a meeting called by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Contributors Frank Pignanelli and LaVarr Webb explore the future of the national Republican Party amid turmoil.

J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

In the past several months, the national Republican Party has taken some punches. The party lost control of the U.S. Senate, Donald Trump lost the presidency and his second impeachment trial is underway. Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney fended off challenges to her leadership position. A Georgia congresswoman who holds bizarre conspiracy theories was stripped of committee assignments. Longtime donors are reassessing commitments to GOP candidates who didn’t accept President Joe Biden’s victory. We assess the current status of the Grand Old Party.

What is the impact of all this turmoil on Utah Republicans?

Pignanelli: “Republicans found Biden more progressive than they thought he would be, but we’re too busy killing each other to really focus on that.” — Sarah Chamberlain, president of Republican Main Street Partnership 

In the past six decades, the GOP was declared dead or mortally wounded by experts in at least three periods of political tumult — 1964, 1974 and 2008. Yet, within a few years the party rebounded to claim the presidency and/or houses of Congress and numerous state offices. These prophets of doom were wrong then, as they are now.

All the rancor occurring within the GOP is needed strife. Throughout American history, both parties have been affected with strange and destructive elements (e.g. McCarthyism, segregationists, etc.), which fostered internal bloodletting and eventual adjustments. Currently, national politicians are attempting the dangerous dance of appeasing extremists and more traditional conservatives.

Utahns are a practical pragmatic people who do not tolerate fringe elements of either side of the political spectrum in public office. Our state has cultivated a well-deserved prestige for excellent management and refined politics. Voters quietly but efficiently dispatch officials who risk embarrassment to this reputation. Extreme elements in either party may detest such maturity, but that is where the electorate exists (thank goodness). Our representatives in Washington, D.C., who understand this dynamic will flourish.

As in other troubled episodes of America’s political history, Utah officials will provide adult supervision.

Webb: Republicans need to do a couple of things. One is to move on from the Trump era — but do it very gently. I say gently because Trump Republicans and traditional Republicans must reunite or forget about winning another presidential election. All conservatives should celebrate the remarkable economic, trade, regulatory, foreign policy, religious freedom, cultural values and judicial appointment accomplishments of Trump, while remembering his character and personality flaws as instructive lessons.

Trump had great courage to stand up to the elitists and arch-liberals and enact policies that produced the best economy in history for people of color and blue-collar workers. But he is no longer president, so it’s time to move on.

Second, Republicans need to sit back and watch and enjoy as progressives run wild. They will greatly overreach, abandon family values, and make government bigger and more expensive. They will sneer at heartland Americans as bigots and domestic terrorists who must be censored, canceled and deprogrammed. They will vastly overrate a mandate they don’t have, and vastly underestimate the number of mainstream Americans who do not agree with their left-wing agenda.

Specific advice to Utah Congressman Burgess Owens: It’s great to hold strong conservative views, to fight for family values and oppose the Democrats’ lurch to the left. But you must avoid tilting into conspiracy theories and far-right absurdities or you will be a one-term congressman.

Are the national controversies impacting Utah legislators’ deliberations during the current session?

Pignanelli: It is my experience that lawmakers are self-contained for 45 days during the session, impervious to most activities on a national level, unless the commotion is impossible to ignore. Other than trying to predict federal funds, nothing in Washington, D.C., is of use to legislators as they wrestle with budgetary, education, economic and social issues.

Webb: Utah is not an island and is not immune from national politics or economic trends. But the governance contrast between the two levels is simply remarkable. In Utah we solve our problems, we balance our budgets and we take care of citizen needs. Utahns should thank the nation’s founders every day for establishing a federalist system giving states primacy over day-to-day government functions. Unfortunately, much state authority has been usurped by the federal government and a rebalancing is badly needed. 

Are the Democrats poised for a similar civil war at some point in the near future?

Pignanelli: The battle between the left and moderates was a subdued violence, lasting for years. The coup d’état by progressives quietly prevailed in the past decade. Thus, socialist Bernie Sanders was able to assume control over major portions of a political party for which he was never registered. While there are still scattered voices of a mainstream policy, there is no recognized leader of such. Another struggle may occur in the near future, depending upon the Republicans’ messaging and performance in the next election.

Webb: The Democratic left should have been chastened by Barack Obama’s 1,000-seat loss (congressional, gubernatorial and legislative) during his presidency and by the election of Trump. But they are so blinded by progressive dogma that they will continue their inexorable march to the left.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser who served as a Democrat in the Utah state Legislature. Email: frankp@xmission.com.