As Biden leads, GOP sinks into disarray

It’s a rare moment indeed when one can quote Representative Matt Gaetz, the self-aggrandizing Republican chaos agent from Florida, and say: Damn, he’s got that right!

But such an instance came earlier this month when, in defense of his motion to oust then-speaker Kevin McCarthy, Gaetz noted the disparity between the GOP’s rhetoric about President Biden and the reality of results.

“It is going to be difficult for my Republican friends to keep calling President Biden ‘feeble’ while he continues to take Speaker McCarthy’s lunch money in every negotiation,’’ he noted.

Gaetz was referring specifically to spending negotiations, but his observation applies well beyond that. Biden is performing impressively during a period when the GOP’s dysfunction threatens effective national government.

Yet even as they have fumbled to get their own house in order, Republicans have reflexively blamed Biden, faulting him in ways that defy not just facts and logic, but the ineluctable passage of time itself. Hamas’s barbaric terrorist attack on Israel had barely been repulsed when Republicans began declaring Biden had enabled those atrocities by releasing $6 billion in frozen Iranian assets as part of a deal that saw Iran free five US hostages.

No matter that none of the money had yet been tapped, let alone for terrorist purposes; funds, we heard again and again, are fungible, which apparently meant that mere knowledge of their availability freed up other monies for Iran to channel to Hamas. (The United States and Qatar, to which that $6 billion was transferred, have agreed to block Iran’s access to those funds for the time being.)

Problem: For that to have happened, both Iran and Hamas would need the ability to peer into the future, for as we’ve now learned, Hamas’s attack had been at least a year in the making.

Next came the captious conservative carping that Biden had attended other events in the days following the attack, that his statement hadn’t come promptly enough, that he hadn’t specifically mentioned Iran, and so on. Sadly for the president’s critics, their hastily cobbled criticisms were rendered risible by the gratitude Israelis expressed for Biden’s emphatic declaration that the United States stands with Israel in the face of “an act of sheer evil’’ by “the terrorist organization Hamas — a group whose stated purpose for being is to kill Jews.’’

Nor did he stop there. Biden’s subsequent warning to other parties (read: Hezbollah and Iran) not to attempt to exploit this situation, Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s shuttle diplomacy, and the movement of two aircraft carrier groups to the area have signaled strength and determination.

But that hasn’t meant an extension of carte blanche to Israel. The president, Blinken, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin have all made clear that Israel must abide by the rules of war as it responds to Hamas’s barbarities, attempts to rescue the estimated 199 hostages Hamas holds, and destroys its tunnel system and operational infrastructure.

The administration has also stressed that humanitarian aid must be allowed into Gaza. With the news that Biden will travel to Israel to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then to Jordan to talk with King Abdullah II, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas came official word the president will be discussing the measures Israel will take to minimize civilian casualties and provide humanitarian aid in Gaza. (After the bombing of a hospital in Gaza, Jordan’s foreign minister said his country had canceled Biden’s visit there.)

Risks abound with such a trip. But in going, Biden is acting as a strong leader intent on shaping events in the region and not just reacting to them.

All this comes in striking contrast to the behavior of the populist wing of the GOP.

Former president Donald Trump responded to Hamas’s attack by faulting Netanyahu and affixing the description “very smart’’ to Hezbollah, the Iran-funded military group that holds such sway in Lebanon. Among terrorist attacks attributed to Hezbollah is the 1983 Marine barracks bombing that killed 241 US service members.

To their credit, several of the Republicans running against Trump for the Republican presidential nomination have found the fortitude to take him to task for those comments.

Sadly, however, the urgency of the moment hasn’t been sufficient to jolt House Republicans into electing a capable, serious, result-minded and compromise-inclined figure as speaker so that chamber can function.

Neither have their GOP counterparts in the Senate prevailed upon Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama to end his extended blockade of US military promotions.

And then, of course, there’s the conservative party’s growing isolationism, which imperils continued US aid to Ukraine.

Time was the adage prevailed in Washington that, at least in times of crisis, politics stopped at the water’s edge.

With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, that injunction has faded to irrelevance. That’s bad for the country — but perhaps even worse for the GOP.

Scot Lehigh is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him @GlobeScotLehigh.

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