The recent GOP debate produced many Donald Trump moments without Trump. More heat than light revealed the GOP lacks something important.

Take former VP Mike Pence. Like Trump, he never served in the military. Had he completed Infantry Officer Candidate School (specifics in a moment), he might have defined leadership more wisely. 

Pence advocates a federal abortion law. To her credit, Nikki Haley, former South Carolina governor and UN ambassador, pushed back: 60 senators cannot be found to pass such legislation. She proposed reaching consensus. Pence declared that consensus is not leadership. OMG! 

To begin, leadership involves consent of the governed. The majority of the governed. It also entails integrity. Six candidates (save Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson) said they would support Donald Trump’s candidacy even if he’s convicted on any of the felony charges he faces. 

Back to consensus. Leaders listen. I learned that going through an exercise at OCS (1966-67). Each squad in my company faced ten challenging physical obstacles. We had ten minutes to cross each. We took turns as squad leader. None of us succeeded. But we learned a great lesson: A leader begins a task not by rushing forward but by evaluating suggestions and recommendations. 

Pence again. Like most politicians, he’s quick to toss around a catchphrase taken out of context. He loves God’s instruction in Deuteronomy 30:19, “Choose life.” That verse has nothing to do with abortion. It’s about Israel following all the commandments to extend the good life in the Promised Land. Willful misreading of sources misleads. To students of Torah, it’s downright insulting.

Back to Haley. I liked her advancing consensus as a necessary political practice. It certainly helps her break away from Trump, who prefers seat-of-his-pants autocracy, his “holy word” emanating from the Oval Office. I also appreciated the common decency exhibited by Christie and Hutchinson to reject Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election when all legal means had been exhausted—and reject his candidacy. 

Vivek Ramaswamy? Trump’s “Mini Me” craves attention. He’ll say anything outlandish—admittedly, quite smoothly. I’m not impressed with a 38-year-old—or a 77-year-old—acting like a 12-year-old on the playground. As to Ramaswamy’s promise to withdraw support from Ukraine and end the war with Russia, leaving Vladimir Putin pleased with Russia’s gains and ready to end his relationship with China . . . Huh?

Putin wants unrivaled power to “protect” Orthodox Christian Russia from the Godless West. Witness the warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin, late head of the Wagner Group and former Putin ally. On the day of the debate, Prighozin’s plane plummeted from the skies between Moscow and St. Petersburg. The plunge strongly suggested an onboard bomb. Putin’s spokespeople and media denied Kremlin involvement. But Putin did not attend the funeral. Is it me, or has Ramaswamy remained silent on that?

Note to Vivek: A significant portion of Trump’s base wants a Christian America. Can you, as a Hindu, support that? (Indian-American Nikki Haley converted to Christianity years ago. Is it okay with her?)

The United States has endured leaders long on ambition and bluster, short on the concept of service and truth. The 2024 election will offer more of the same on the Republican side unless a conservative leader with backbone exhibits a sense of honor—along with the GOP rank and file.

The Short (Pun Intended) Redemptive Life of Little Ned is now available in softcover or e-book from Amazonbarnesandnoble.com and iuniverse.com. Or order from your favorite bookstore.

The post will take off next week and return September 15.

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  1. David Newman on September 1, 2023 at 11:55 am

    A short list of characteristics that define leadership — and are sorely lacking in the Republican candidates — includes humility (Micah 6:8) and integrity. Humility means accepting that you don’t know everything and need to listen to what others have to say. Integrity means to stand firm for what you believe is right and avoid being swayed by other people’s opinions. It’s a tricky balance, which is why there aren’t very many real leaders. On the one hand, you can’t lead people where they don’t want to go; on the other hand, sometimes you need to stand for what you think is right and do what you can to get people to follow.

    • David Perlstein on September 1, 2023 at 12:05 pm

      All true, David. Thanks.

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