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It’s high time for Republican hopefuls to challenge Trump

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Las Vegas bookmakers are offering good odds Republicans will win both the House and Senate, but after those victories, what can they do? Other than frustrating the confirmation of President Biden’s “woke” judicial and administrative appointments, Republicans won’t be able to engineer a big impact on national policies before the next presidential election. Lacking veto-proof majorities, they need some Democrats to get things done, but House Democrats will be even more radicalized in opposition.

The Federal Reserve will grind down demand and slow the economy. Likely a soft landing — a few quarters of negative growth without a big surge in unemployment — or a recession — several quarters of negative growth with unemployment reaching about 5% — followed by a rebound. Either way, the economy will emerge into lethargic growth, the paradox of falling real wages with still tight labor markets and inflation still above 4%.

Stagflation!  

Labor markets will remain tight in some industries because the skill mix of the labor force does not match well with the post-pandemic economy.

Much inflation emanates from food and energy, and neither will fully resolve without reopening Ukrainian grain exports and reintegrating Russia into Western petroleum markets. Those won’t happen without the United States breaking the Russian embargo of Black Sea ports with naval convoys and bloodying Russian President Vladimir Putin’s nose enough that he sues for peace.

All of that is in the hands of the White House — not Congress. And Americans have little appetite for military adventures or risking war with Russia. European political leaders have headaches of their own. If America aggressively confronted Mr. Putin, it’s questionable whether they would follow.

The GOP will bloviate about inflation and the president’s energy policies, but boosting U.S. oil and gas production by perhaps 10% could hardly make up for the West losing access to Russia’s oil and gas.

Europe’s drive to end dependence on Russian gas will drive up prices everywhere, and the Europeans are not helping themselves with the Netherlands shutting down the continent’s largest gas field.

The real answer would be to prudently plan for the accelerating growth in wind, solar and electric vehicle production. And reassure oil companies they can invest and produce — without vengeance from Washington — to meet demand from internal combustion engines, which will remain substantial until the end of the 2030s, and the needs of the petrochemical and other industries that use petroleum as raw material.

Choreographing such a policy ballet is beyond the capacity of conservatives and congressional Republicans that sees tax cuts, deregulation and more dollars for the Pentagon as the answers to virtually all problems the way a four-year-old does a hammer to a nail.

The Supreme Court has made abortion the big social issue of the day. The homeless tenting in San Francisco, the big city crime epidemic and woke teachers’ unions and school boards radicalizing curriculum and gutting standards are all local issues. Those won’t be solved without giving Democrats the boot in statehouses and city halls in the Northeast, Chicago, Minneapolis and West Coast.

Abortion policy, if left to the states, will sort chaotically. Liberal states will have laws that are too promiscuous — some permitting abortions in the third trimester. Conservative states will prohibit abortion altogether, save incest, rape and threats to the health of the mother, or to none after six weeks.

It will be terribly messy. Local bans will inspire illicit medical abortions with drugs moving across state lines, and pro-abortion groups and businesses financing women to travel from places like Utah to California.

The radical left and mainstream media did a good job of scaring women that repealing Roe would end most of their rights — look outside, it isn’t so.

One thing hasn’t changed over the last five decades — about 50% of registered voters polled by Gallup consistently say abortion should be legal but only under certain circumstances — significantly more than those who would prohibit abortion or permit it unregulated.

The most acceptable compromise would be federal legislation making the limit at about 15 weeks, but that would face tough opposition from the hard left in the Democratic Party and hard right among Republicans.  

Republicans need a national leader to step forward to articulate pragmatic solutions and win the battle of public opinion by campaigning for the presidency with specific ideas that occupy the middle ground.

Former President Donald Trump could manage to get nominated, but the revelations of the Jan. 6 committee make it less likely he could get elected. He could hardly be expected to provide the diplomacy in Europe necessary to unite NATO, resolve the crisis in Ukraine or solve great social issues.

It’s high time for Govs. Kristi Noem and Ron DeSantis, former Gov. Nikki Haley and several other qualified Republicans to challenge Mr. Trump — and the nation to embrace a new era of tolerance and reason.

• Peter Morici is an economist, emeritus business professor at the University of Maryland, and national columnist.