JOHNSTON: What should Republicans do now?

Republicans were reeling before last week’s criminal breach of the US Capitol, led by criminals who deserve jail time. That event tossed Democrats a cudgel with which to drive a wedge between pro- and anti-Trump Republicans.

It reminds me of “Pickett’s charge” during the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. General George Pickett led his Confederate troops in an ill-fated charge across an open field in an effort to break the center of the Union line. It failed miserably.

However, the Democrats’ own version of Pickett’s charge, with the violent protesters providing artillery cover, has indeed breached the GOP middle.

How has the GOP responded? By shooting at each other.

Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans demanded Trump’s immediate removal. And if you don’t support that goal, you support the insurrectionists, or worse. They miss the irony of having said little while over 200 cities were pummeled with violence this past summer; no nuance, no exceptions, and zero appreciation for history or self-awareness.

Clear-eyed Republicans with appreciation for history know the party has been here before. After 1930. After 1958. After 1964. After 1974. After 1992. After 2008, when Barack Obama and the Democrats

controlled Congress, including a filibuster-proof Senate. It is time for some retrospection about events and to re-engineer things for 2022 and beyond.

The path forward is not complicated, but not easy. Where are we?

Republicans have become an increasingly personality-driven party. It is the party less known for its success of the past four years, but as “The Party of Trump.” That is unfamiliar territory. Republicans

historically are an agenda-driven party — lower taxes, less government, a strong economy, safe neighborhoods, good schools, and peace through strength. And yes, let’s fully investigate the 2020 election irregularities and institute reform were needed. We need closure.

But what has America been hearing the past several months? The election is rigged… but vote Republican anyway! How did that work out in Georgia’s Jan. 5 U.S. Senate runoff elections?

Republicans shoot at each over the failure to give the case on election law violations and irregularities a fair hearing.

When some in Congress tried to provide such a hearing, consistent with the Electoral Count Act, the Capitol insurrection undermined it and turned some House and Senate members into pariahs.

Ultimately, the job of exposing election illegalities fell to state legislatures, and they mostly punted. That’s where we are. What now?

Republicans cannot allow Democrats to succeed in driving a wedge between Republicans. Republicans need to focus on two things: rediscovering their agenda and combating Democratic excesses.

A forward-looking, optimistic agenda that resonates with a new, emerging multi-ethnic, working-class base should also help bring suburban voters turned off by Trump back into the fold: like smartly ending badly-implemented lockdowns, reforming and building good schools, safe neighborhoods, and military strength to preserve peace and check an emergent communist power in Asia.

Remember that Republicans had great successes in 2020 at the local, state and U.S. House level in 2020, including almost a full sweep in North Carolina. That’s a good place to start.

We need new spokespeople. The RNC should name a new lead spokesperson for the party, someone not running for president who has the respect of our elected leaders, and a with sharp mind, quick wits, and pleasant demeanor who doesn’t fall into a “never” or “pro” Trump trap. Leave the party machinery to the estimable current party chair Ronna McDaniel.

Who are potential new spokespeople? U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, (R-SC); U.S. Rep. Elise Stephanik, (R-NY); Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, (R-NC); U.S. Rep. Mike Garcia, (R-CA); new U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzalez (R-TX).

That’s a younger, geographically and racially-diverse set with great personal stories and inclusive messages. Look also among successful community activists, entrepreneurs and educators.

Lastly, Republicans must stop shooting at each other. #NeverTrumpers, stop disparaging pro-Trump Republicans, curb the arrogance and learn to listen. Pro-Trumpers, focus less on tribalism, accept the reality of the moment, reject lawlessness and work constructively to build on their successes of the past 4+ years. Both sides are guilty of shouting past each other and possessing an “either/or” mentality. Both wings of the party are needed for a successful flight during the Biden years.

The hard part is trying to achieve this in the face of media, cultural and educational headwinds. Who will lead, and will anyone follow?

Kelly D. Johnston is a retired corporate executive and former U.S. Secretary of the Senate. He blogs at