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TODAY'S DEBATE

Defund the GOP: The Republican Party needs saving, and Mitt Romney knows how

Utah senator is defying President Trump, unlike other GOP senators not facing reelection. Three are retiring, but they also have remained silent: Our view

The Editorial Board
USA TODAY

Mitt Romney has been showing the kind of political courage and independent thinking that is rare in an era of hyperpartisanship, particularly within the Republican Party.

He was the only Republican in either chamber to vote against President Donald Trump on impeachment. He has joined former Secretary of State Colin Powell in refusing to back Trump for reelection. And he appears to be the only GOP member of Congress to take part in one of the many anti-racism protests sweeping the country.

While we have no special insight into Romney’s motivations, we’d be very surprised if this were some effort to rebrand himself as a moderate. The Utah senator, and former GOP presidential candidate, is a conservative — opposed to abortion and supportive of free enterprise, robust trade, a strong national defense and social policies that generally reflect traditional values.,

Shrinking GOP, growing resentment

Romney is not a politician departing the Republican Party but one trying to save it. He is saying and doing things that other Republicans would like to join in on, but can’t without risking the wrath of Trump supporters in their next primary election.

Romney knows that today’s GOP is on an unsustainable path, built on a base shrinking in numbers while increasing in resentment. The Republican Party has become three things, none of them good:

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, at the U.S. Capitol on June 9, 2020.

►A cult of personality in which lifelong public servants are forced to pay obeisance to a lawless, petty and incompetent leader; where principled dissent isn't allowed, and where it is all but impossible for lawmakers to forge an identity beyond that of loyal acolyte.

►An organization dedicated to the airing of white grievances as it pushes counterproductive and often cruel immigration policies and tacitly supports racist and white supremacist causes. (In some cases, such as the recent tweets of Texas party leaders, the support for racist conspiracy theories has been explicit.)

►An institution perfectly willing to cling to power against popular sentiment through the grotesque gerrymandering of legislative districts and blatant voter suppression laws and policies.

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President Reagan's final speech

Needless to say, this a long way from the ideas espoused by the GOP’s last great president, Ronald Reagan. He so adulated the entrepreneurial-minded, religiously conservative immigrant that he made his final comment of his final speech from the Oval Office a recommendation that America open its doors to “anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”

Reagan also firmly believed — not without considerable evidence — that Republican candidates would win fair and free elections simply by communicating their highly appealing ideas.

Today, Republicans claim to revere Reagan while disavowing much of what he stood for, including political views grounded in reality and open to productive compromise.

Except Romney. He is willing to endure presidential tweetstorms, grassroots tantrums and broadsides from conservative pundits because he sees a party with little to be proud of as it hurtles toward oblivion.

One easy explanation for Romney’s behavior is that he has the luxury of not facing voters until 2024, and might not even run then anyway. But nine other Republican senators won’t be up till then either, yet they have remained silent. Three could speak up because they are retiring, but they also haven’t.

When the Republican Party is ready to abandon its destructive dalliance with attempted despotism, Romney will have earned a leading voice in rebuilding it.

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