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Party in danger of repeating history

May 26, 2021 at 9:41 a.m.

Years ago, way back before even my time, was legendary humorist, newspaper columnist and actor, Will Rogers.

His wry comments about politics and government in his time will forever be remembered and quoted, and a couple of them came to mind as I considered the state of today’s politics.

One Will Rogers political quote stood the test of time and holds true today, even though it might be flipped-flopped in 2021.

Rogers said, “I don’t belong to an organized political party. I’m a Democrat.” As I said, the statement pretty much still holds true, but I wonder what Rogers would think about it when considering that other disorganized party in today’s political scene.

When I first arrived in Arkansas, the state Republican Party was on the outside looking in and had some characters who didn’t fit the mold of mainstream politics and particularly the GOP as the rich old white guys’ party.

A local member of the Republican Party called me to question whether it was fair of me to observe as I did in an El Dorado News-Times opinion column in the 1980s that it seemed to me that Arkansas had the goofiest state Republican Party in the country. Yeah, at that time I think it was a fair observation. Especially considering that, not long after that, thanks to a disorganized Democratic organization in South Arkansas, the first Republican since Reconstruction was elected in these parts to the U.S. House. I heard that a fellow representative once referred to that person as the goofiest congressman in the Capitol.

Since then the Republican Party really gained a foothold in Arkansas.

But while by and large the party seems to have continued to be the rich old white guys’ party – ie Mitch McConnell and his buddies - it seems to be devolving into the disorganized political tomfoolery that Rogers credited the Democrats with being.

Probably the most famous quote attributed to Rogers was, “I never met a man I didn’t like.”

Well, he didn’t live long enough to meet Richard Nixon. And, my guess is that, if he were around today, Rogers might say, “I never met a man I didn’t like, but I haven’t met Donald Trump yet.”

It’s not that I have any animosity for the Republican Party, or for that matter, the Democratic Party. I am not a member of either one and have admired folks in both organizations. I’ve also had little use for certain members of both parties. I admit to having at least once, while voting, not being able to hold my nose and check the box for either of the presidential candidates.

What got me yammering about all this political stuff was reading and watching coverage of what has become of the Republican Party. The infighting and missteps and misspeaks by Democrats is nothing new. But it seemed to me that Republicans, while boring, pretty much kept it together.

Over the years, the GOP has been the part of respected stalwarts such as Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush. The most the party strayed from three-piece pinstripe suit blandness was when somebody like George W. Bush, not credited with being the brightest Bush in the garden, rose to prominence. But he got elected twice and in retirement has shown to be a tad bit deeper and profound than some of us might have given him credit for being.

But as I consider some of the characters carrying the Republican banner today, it makes me wonder what in the world is going on with that party. What Republican worth his salt would have a primary opponent vilely insult his family and then kiss up to him like Ted Cruz has done with Donald Trump?

Flat-out opportunists such as Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley flame through the headlines trying to be important and relevant until wearing out the opportunities. All of Georgia Republicans couldn’t possibly think first-term angry, kooky Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene represents the future of the party. The most generous and kindest criticism I’ve heard lately about her is that she needs to get help.

The super-nasty characters such as Cruz, Hawley and Greene aren’t the only ones making the Republican Party look goofy. It’s hard to believe others who are pretending that the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol was nothing but a picnic on the grounds.

And it all is a product of the Donald Trump phenomenon. The party faithful have put all their chips on a guy who has won just one election and can’t admit he lost the last election. So much valuable talent, energy and money has been wasted chasing the illusion of a stolen election that exists only in Trump’s mind and ego.

When did the party decide to turn the keys to the company car over to a bunch of demolition derby drivers?

(Jim Edwards is retired after a lifetime in the newspaper business and for 30 years worked in various positions at the Camden News, El Dorado News-Times and Banner-News of Magnolia. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of this newspaper. Email to [email protected])

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