Democrats do generational change while Republicans remain in Trump's grip

GOP leaders now know that the former president and his politics will be toxic in a general election

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The resignation of Nancy Pelosi, from the post of Speaker of the House of Representatives, second in line to the presidency, marks the end of an era in US politics. Ms Pelosi led House Democrats for almost 20 years, and as she said in her farewell remarks, scored significant accomplishments with Republican president George W Bush and Democrats Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

Missing from her list was Donald Trump. She achieved nothing with him, and the only noteworthy legislation passed during his tenure was a major tax cut for corporations and the wealthiest. Ms Pelosi will be remembered for confronting Mr Trump in a televised meeting about his efforts to shut down the government to coerce funding for his border wall, and tearing up the text of his 2000 "state of the union" speech to Congress, which she called a "manifesto of mistruths".

She will be handing leadership of House Democrats to her deputy, Hakeem Jeffries, who she has prepared for several years. His capacity to take over her effective leadership role remains untested but promising.

That cannot be said for the presumptive incoming Republican Speaker, Kevin McCarthy, who has apparently kowtowed to extreme party elements to gain the position, even including notorious Georgia radical Marjorie Taylor Greene. Ms Greene was removed from committee assignments after she seemed to threaten the lives of Democrats, along with numerous violent, racist and anti-Semitic tirades. Mr McCarthy says he will respond by excluding from committees several leading Democrats, including the Somali-American congresswoman Ilhan Omar, along with Eric Swalwell and Adam Schiff.

Marjorie Taylor Greene and fellow Republicans Matt Gaetz (Left) and Thomas Massie, at the Capitol in Washington, on November 17. AP

While Ms Omar and Mr Swalwell have made provocative comments, none are remotely comparable to the explicitly violent rhetoric of Ms Greene. But the incoming narrow Republican House majority appears driven by payback, whether or not it makes any sense.

Although extreme Republicans were defeated in the midterms, and those who won promised to focus on "kitchen table" issues like inflation and crime, incoming House Republican leaders have vowed to focus on investigating Mr Biden's son, Hunter, who has never been a government official, along with the Department of Justice and FBI investigations of Mr Trump.

There are legitimate oversight issues, including the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and shambles at the border. Republicans often include these legitimate issues on their list of grievances, but they seem more interested in attacking Mr Biden's family and defending Mr Trump than actually interrogating flawed policies or execution.

This may well play into the hands of Democrats. They insist they have developed a sophisticated and robust set of counterattack strategies, and they will control the Senate, most likely with an additional seat after the Georgia runoff in December. Mr Biden, as I noted in these pages in November 2021, can use the House Republican majority as a foil against which to run for reelection in 2024. His chances look extremely good under current circumstances.

The best news for him arguably was the announcement last week that Mr Trump is officially, once again, a candidate for president. This historically unprecedentedly early announcement was unmistakably an effort to seek political protection against likely forthcoming major criminal charges from the Justice Department.

Attorney General Merrick Garland immediately responded by appointing a special counsel, career prosecutor Jack Smith, to lead two vital investigations into Mr Trump over pilfered government documents as well as the wide-ranging effort to overturn the 2020 election.

While Mr Smith may require some time to get up to speed with the documents case, and the criminal probe into the attempted coup and January 6 attack on Congress probably needs significant additional investigation, he seems well-positioned to hit the ground running. He's known as a hard-charging, highly experienced prosecutor who has recently been heading Kosovo war crimes trials at The Hague.

Indeed, the special counsel may eventually actually speed up the apparently inevitable filing of criminal charges against Mr Trump in the documents scandal, because he inherits such a thoroughly investigated and straightforward case and will be free of many normal bureaucratic impediments.

Ms Pelosi has voluntarily handed leadership to Mr Jeffries, and Mr McCarthy will probably finally get the Speaker's gavel, though his tenure may be turned into a brief nightmare by the extremists surrounding him. And Mr Trump, who looked elderly, listless and wearied – though not, perhaps, as bored as the audience, which was physically prevented from exiting by security personnel when too many tried to leave – is facing major criminal charges and serious leadership challenges.

US President Joe Biden greets US troops at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, in the western Pacific Ocean. AFP

It is Mr Biden, who turned 80 over the weekend, who seems both distinctly elderly and also profoundly in control. His first two years as president yielded significant and far-ranging legislative accomplishments, probably the most since Lyndon B Johnson's administration in 1964-65. And he just presided over the best Democratic performance in a first presidential midterm since John F Kennedy's administration in 1962.

Mr Biden has not announced his official candidacy, but he says it is his intention to run again, meaning he will be asking Americans to give him another six years in the White House. But, since he says he decided to run in 2020 mainly to deny Mr Trump a second term, his mission will not be complete until 2024 passes without producing a second Trump administration.

There is no doubt Democrats will coalesce around him if he runs. He is a proven winner with a remarkable track record, especially since he was elected president. And he knows how to beat Mr Trump, which he may be called upon to do again.

Republican leaders realise the midterms conclusively demonstrated that Mr Trump and his politics are toxic in a general election. But they also have every reason to fear that he remains unbeatable in Republican primaries, especially when facing more than one candidate, as seems inevitable.

As Democrats are changing the generational guard, except for Mr Biden, many Republicans would like to do so as well. But there is an ageing, angry old man in Florida, who claims to be both the only person who can solve things and also "a victim," who will look at Ms Pelosi's surrender of power, or anyone else's, with total incomprehension and utter disdain. He is not going anywhere. Republicans are going to have to proactively dump Mr Trump, or, yet again, surrender to him with total abjection.

Published: November 22, 2022, 2:00 PM
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