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EDITORIAL: Putting a Dent in the GOP?

York Dispatch editorial board
Rep. Charlie Dent

We heard for four years that, despite their evident loyalty to former President Donald Trump, congressional Republicans were secretly opposed to much of what he stood for.

Didn’t countenance the hateful language and divisiveness.

Hated the tweets.

Couldn’t wait for him to be gone.

Guess what? Trump is out of office, his Twitter account has been suspended and — thanks to overwhelming Republican support in both houses of Congress — his hold on the GOP is stronger than ever.

Former Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent is hoping to change that.

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Dent is among scores of Republicans who began discussions this month about forming a new political party. The “center-right” party would provide an alternative for disaffected Republicans committed to traditional conservative values rather than a disgraced former president.

The informal group includes former GOP office-holders as well as officials from the four most recent Republican administrations: Reagan’s, both Bushes’ and, yes, Trump’s.

“There are a number of Republicans like myself and other Republican leaders, who want a clean break from President Trump, and we are kind of rallying around some core founding principles like truth and honesty, and democracy, and rule of law,” Dent said on CNN, where he is now a contributor.

The current Republican Party could use healthy doses of Dent’s entire menu of principles.

Some three-quarters of registered Republicans continue to doubt that President Joe Biden’s electoral victory was legitimate — a figure matched, if not surpassed, in Congress. When CBS News reached out to all 50 Republican senators last week to ask if they shared Trump’s view that the election had been stolen from him, only five — including Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, bless his not-running-for-reelection heart — responded. Over in the House, the No. 2 Republican, Steve Scalise, this weekend refused to definitively declare Trump lost the election. Majority-Republican votes against certifying Biden’s election and impeaching Trump speak for themselves.

So, yes, there would seem to be a vacuum when it comes to political real estate for reality-conceding Republicans.

But for such a movement to gain traction, it would need participation from elected officials, and there has been little public sign of interest from Republicans in Congress. Indeed, most of them have either reverted to cowardly silence or are openly gushing about their ties to Trump.

The few who have voted their consciences in holding Trump accountable for the Jan. 6 insurrection for which he was impeached have found themselves censured by state parties reveling in their allegiance to the twice-impeached ex-president.

And guess who else isn’t interested in abandoning Trump? Rank-and-file Republicans.

According to a poll released Sunday by USA Today, GOP voters aren’t opposed to a third party, they just want it to be headed by Trump. The poll, conducted with Suffolk University, found 46% of those surveyed would bail on the GOP in favor of a Trump party, while just 27% would stay put.

It appears Trump won’t have to start his own party. Conveniently, he can just do what he’s always been best at: rebranding. It will be up to Charlie Dent and like-minded Republicans to create a movement that embodies the fiscally and socially conservative pillars that once fortified the foundation of the GOP — absent the conspiracy-soaked mean-spiritedness that now defines it.

“We don’t want to follow that man who brought nothing but defeat and misery and insurrection,” Dent said. “Let’s go forward, not backwards.”

But the majority of Republicans — both those in office and the voters who put them there — do want to follow this man.

By establishing a viable center-right movement, whether as a third party or within the current GOP, Dent and his Republican allies would be doing their country a service and their party a favor. Their challenge will be convincing not the former but the latter