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Make the Grand Old Party great again

On a foggy Friday morning in LaGrange, Georgia, I was surrounded by loyal lifelong Republicans, at a campaign rally for a Senate candidate. It was a throwback to the way the G.O.P. used to be, and how it may yet become again.

Speaking before the crowd was former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who was also a Republican candidate for President in 2008 and in 2016. It got me thinking how things may have been different if Huckabee, who won the 2008 Iowa Caucus and made a spirited race that year (before being buried under the weight of so many other candidates eight years later) had been the nominee instead. I can see him running neck-and-neck with Biden if he were up for reelection.

Huckabee was charming from the start, with folksy self-deprecating humor that we’ve missed over the last four years, replaced by “I’m the best…” or “I’m the most… in history.” It’s not a small thing to have a little Christian humility, as much follows from the first part of that concept.

He gave a pro-Republican message, maybe referring to Trump from time to time in the positive, but did not demand blind allegiance to him. If Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio was running for reelection, it would probably sound the same.

Had Huckabee won, we would probably have the same slate of judicial nominees from the Federalist Society. I think we’d still have a full-throated defense of Christianity, but not as a prop. I’m sure we would have the same debates over taxes and spending. We’d have a GOP President with a completely different policy toward North Korea, NATO and Russia, supporting economic freedom in international markets, and a very different response to Charlottesville, detained immigrant kids at the border, and protesters at Lafayette Square in Washington DC.

But there were some other differences. When he wasn’t socially distanced up on the podium on the town square, the former Arkansas Governor wore a mask, replacing an arrogance on the subject of masks that frankly plays a major role in the leadership’s poor response to the pandemic. Huckabee, endorsed by Chuck Norris, was tough enough to wear a mask, foregoing the false bravado that brought COVID-19 into the halls of the White House via carelessness.

Rep. Collins and Sen. Loeffler, when they both spoke at the same place at different times, wore masks as well. They defended their core beliefs, but didn’t play the dog whistles on race in their LaGrange stump speeches, which was also much appreciated, and by more than just me. Other speakers did the same. Not everyone follows the social media patterns of a certain DC politician.

Most of the local Republicans, both at the Sen. Loeffler event or the Rep. Collins event in LaGrange, knew exactly who I was, and what I’ve written. Yet I didn’t hear a single complaint. Everyone who spoke to me welcomed me warmly, refraining from any verbal attacks. All who spoke asked about my family, the college, and were pleased I brought students. One even asked about being able to sit in on my classes. But that’s how most everyday Republicans are, aren’t they? I wish I could videotape the whole thing, show it in Washington, D.C., and say “this is how Republicans are, and what they really want in their leaders.”

On November 3, 2020, Republicans will be picking more than just a President. They’ll also be deciding who will represent them and their party in the coming years. Will they reluctantly compromise with a style and behavior which may be the polar opposite of the values that they actually stand for? Or will they boldly start the GOP rebuilding process, making it less of a family enterprise, and more of a Republican Party so many members secretly long to return to?