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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Toby’s Puts the Wonderful in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

The musical version of It’s a Wonderful Life returns to Toby’s, The Dinner Theatre of Columbia, as its featured holiday production. With its heartwarming charm, the musical hews closely to the Frank Capra film classic starring Jimmy Stewart that has been a Christmas staple on TV for decades.

Under the direction of Toby Orenstein and her two Assistants to the Director Mark Minnick and Tina Marie DeSimone, the production brings to life the loveable and not-so loveable characters from the film—and in living color, no less. From a book and adaptation by Michael Tilford and with a sweet score and clever lyrics by David Nehls, Toby’s iteration of this classic is perfect for the holiday season (though the connection to Christmas doesn’t directly take place until the second act) and a joyful, needed escape from the times we are living in now.

Led by the stalwart efforts of the multi-talented Justin Calhoun as the central character George Bailey, the entire cast is outstanding in delivering an energetic, well-staged and expertly performed production.

The overarching theme of the story that takes place in the small town of Bedford Falls spanning the 1920s to 1940s is that life is worth living no matter how bad things may appear. Every life has value if you do good deeds that touch upon others.

To be sure, George Bailey did good deeds starting at a young age. He saved his younger brother Harry’s life from drowning. He prevented a pharmacist, Mr. Gower, from accidentally adding poison to a prescription. He reluctantly postponed plans to travel the world to take over his father’s Building and Loan business after the elder Bailey died. He kept the business open despite the hardships of the times and the pirating efforts by the town’s owner of everything else in Bedford Falls, the villain Mr. Potter.

Along the way and in the face of these challenges, George found love and married Mary. They began a family.

But things went sideways at the Building and Loan as $8,000, which was supposed to be deposited in the bank by George’s Uncle Billy, went missing. It had been found by Potter who kept it. 

Frantic and unable to find the money, the business was under a threat of being shut down as a result of a review by a bank examiner, Mr. Carter. George was facing imminent arrest for malfeasance and other charges. Predictably, Mr. Potter refused to grant him a last-ditch loan to overcome his quandary. He told George that he “is worth more dead than alive.”

Unable to wrest himself from this plight, George took out his frustration on his wife and children. In despair, he climbed on top of a bridge to jump and take his own life. His guardian angel, Clarence, under the mentorship of a winged angel, Joseph, intervened and then George said he wished he was never born.

Clarence, in pursuit of earning wings of his own, proceeded to demonstrate how things would have developed had there been no George Bailey. His brother Harry Bailey would have died from drowning rather than being a national hero in the war. Mr. Gower would have been punished for the poisoned prescription. The town would be called Pottersville as Potter would have owned everything. Nobody in the town including friends knew who George was.  Mary would not have married, and the three cute children would have never been born.  The message worked, and everything eventually played out for a happy ending.

"Toby’s iteration of this classic is perfect for the holiday season..."

Scenic designer David A. Hopkins and Properties Designer Shane Lowry crafted a simple set depicting the town of Bedford Falls with the use of streetlamps surrounding the in-the-round stage and other touches on the walls. The use of the balconies and an excellent facsimile of a bridge from which George intended to jump enhance the aesthetics. Numerous set pieces are employed, such as a bank window and desks,, and were moved on and off the stage as efficiently as Santa’s deliveries on Christmas Eve. The transformation from bar stools to grave stones with just a flick of the wrist is particularly well done.

While there isn’t an abundance of dancing throughout the show, Tina Marie DeSimone’s up-tempo choreography hits the mark. The dancers excel in such numbers as “Syncopation Rag,” “A Very Special Occasion,” and “This Round is On Me.”

Reenie Codelka led the six-piece orchestra on the night this show was reviewed (Ross Scott Rawlings takes the baton on other performances) and supported the vocalists very well without overpowering them.

Lynn Joslin’s Lighting Design and Mark Smedley’s Sound Design as well as the period costumes designed by Sarah King contributed to the realistic atmosphere of the time.

Justin Calhoun, in a tour de force, excels as the earnest and well-intentioned George Bailey. His marvelous tenor voice delights in “I’m On My Way,” “Lullaby,” and “I’m At Home” among others. Mr. Calhoun’s stellar acting skills are showcased in this demanding role. Convincingly playing a full range of emotions from bliss to anxiety, to enthusiasm, to love, to generosity, to frustration, to anger, to despair, to triumph, Mr. Calhoun is superb. Watching his performance alone is worth the price of admission. Bravo Justin Calhoun!

Robert Biedermann channels his inner Lionel Barrymore as the wheel chaired-bound Scrooge-like villain, Mr. Potter. Mr. Biedermann effectively portrays the gruff, miserly, mean and joyless tycoon to the hilt without going over the top, which would have been easy to do. A few in the audience did boo him (hopefully good-naturedly) at curtain call to signify how effective Mr. Biedermann performed.

For comic relief, one can always count on Toby’s resident cut-up David James. He plays the part of Clarence, George’s guardian angel in his quest to earn wings, with mischief and precise comedic timing. As his mentor Joseph, DeCarlo Raspberry is more than up to the task in the role of keeping not only Clarence in check but also Mr. James. Neither is an easy task.

This duo offers the teachable moments in the story and binds the events effectively. Sadly, we don’t get the chance to enjoy Mr. Raspberry’s amazing singing voice in this show, but Mr. James does a fine job in the spirited “Ya Gotta Have Wings.”

Lovely MaryKate Brouillet plays Mary, George’s wife with tenderness. She rides the rollercoaster of George’s journey of emotions and conveys her devotion to him and her children. As she has demonstrated in other Toby’s productions, Ms. Brouillet commands a beautiful singing voice. “My Wish is You” and “Mary’s Sequence” stand out. Her vocals shine in a duet with Mr. Calhoun in ‘I’m at Home.”

Other notable members of the cast include Adrienne Athanas, David Bosley Reynolds, Tina Marie DeSimone, AJ Whittenberger, Jeffrey Shankle, Shawn Kettering, Heather Beck, Santina Maiolatesi, Adam Grabau, Jane C. Boyle, Gerald Jordan, Jordan Stocksdale, Lydia Gifford, Andrew Horn and Susan Thornton.

The Bailey children are being portrayed by Jana Sharbaugh, Lucas Rahaim and Gwyneth Porter on this night with Ava and Mia LaManna and Jackson Page during other performances.

On a personal note, it was heartwarming to see Jane C. Boyle, Tina Marie DeSimone and AJ Whittenberger return to the Toby’s stage. They may have been gone for a while for various reasons but their talent did not subside at all. They are terrific.

Adding to a long list of triumphant shows at Toby’s is It’s a Wonderful Life. A very talented cast and crew under excellent direction makes this a pleasant experience with a much-needed happy ending to enjoy during the holiday season. And bring your appetite to partake in Toby’s scrumptious show-themed dinner buffet.

Running time. Two hours and 45 minutes with an intermission. The show begins 15 minutes earlier than usual.

It’s a Wonderful Life: The Musical runs through January 15, 2023, at Toby’s Dinner Theatre, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, MD 21044.  Tickets may be purchased by calling the Box Office 410-730-8311 or visiting the website as well as Ticketmaster.

Photos: Jeri Tidwell Photography


Not everybody can be fortunate enough to have a guardian angel help them navigate through the trials and tribulations of life. And this is especially significant during the holidays when many feel lonely and detached.  The lessons taught in It’s a Wonderful Life are valuable in reminding audiences that all lives have value no matter how bad things seem to be. To call the Suicide Prevention Crisis Hotline, dial 988.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Who’s the Next GOP's Bogeywoman?

When Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced she is stepping down from the Democratic leadership position, the response by the vapid, classless, near brain-dead Republican leader, soon to be Speaker, Kevin McCarthy, was predictable. “We have fired Nancy Pelosi,” he declared triumphantly as he made it personal. Such statesmanship! Such grace!

That’s who he is. That’s what the Republican Party is.

Republicans as a matter of policy have had a long history of being anti-women from health care to raising the minimum wage to childcare to abortion rights and everything in between. The “grab ‘em by the p***y” former president offered the anti-woman crowd hope. Right wing media with the likes of Tucker Carlson and the late Rush Limbaugh have pushed the misogyny along.

Over the past few decades, the Republican Party bludgeoned Hillary Clinton with their misinformation and disinformation. The campaign against Ms. Clinton had been relentless and began in earnest before she was the First Lady.

Conspiracy theories sprung up like April dandelions. There was absolutely no stopping these baseless onslaughts. But thanks to social media, people believed she was running a pedophilia ring out of a D.C. pizza joint and other nutty stuff.

When Ms. Clinton ran for president in 2016 the GOP had laid such a foundation of negativity that it was almost impossible to overcome, even as she was pitted against a dimwit, narcissistic TV personality and lying conman. Her missing emails became the equivalent of a nuclear attack. 

Her role as Secretary of State under President Obama in the Benghazi debacle was investigated over and over again with nothing substantive to report. And who could forget Trump’s never ending moniker "Crooked Hillary "?

The Republicans also attacked Nancy Pelosi ruthlessly over the years. As is in the case of Ms. Clinton, the GOP couldn’t bear the fact the country had a strong, intelligent woman as a leader. This treatment emboldened the Speaker. She stood up to Trump on numerous occasions and embarrassed the former president with her antics at meetings and at the State of the Union Address.

So vitriolic the Republican Party has been towards, Ms. Pelosi, she was hunted down by the members of the violent mob Trump incited on January 6. “Oh Nancy. Nancy? Where are you, Nancy.”

And last month a nutcase broke into her home in San Francisco looking for her to kidnap and perhaps break her kneecaps and wound up banging her husband with a hammer.

A champion of women and children’s issues, Speaker Pelosi fought for legislation in an attempt to level the playing field for women. She constantly held her caucus together—no small accomplishment given the disparate ideological wings of the party. And the thing that provides her with a great deal of satisfaction has been the progress in seating a more diverse Congress.

“When I came to the Congress in 1987, there were 12 Democratic women.  Now, there are over 90.  And we want more!,” she said during her floor speech on November 17 where she announced her future plans.

Yes, the Republicans have pummeled the likes of Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi for electoral reasons. But make no mistake, the main motivation is fundraising. The GOP has probably raised billions over the years off of these two strong women by a base that is not onboard with strong women leading the country.

Now with Hillary Clinton out of the limelight for the most part and Nancy Pelosi serving out her term as a member of Congress and not the leader, who will be the next Republican bogeywoman?

Republicans have been going after Gretchen Whitmer,  AOC and other members of the "Squad."

Now all eyes will soon turn to Vice President Kamala Harris. She has already taken shots by the Republicans since her term, but will they intensify? It could be at their peril because attacking the first ever African American and female vice president in the manner they attacked these other powerful women may not be received well by suburban women, young people and independents among other groups.

It will happen though. It’s who they are.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Compelling ‘Tina’ Electrifies the Hippodrome

Adding to its growing list of solid jukebox/bio musicals, Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre is presenting Tina: The Tina Turner Musical as part of the show’s 30-city North America tour. This mounting could not have been better if it tried. With spectacular staging and lighting, wonderful toe-tapping songs, a brilliantly acted gritty storyline, and an abundance of musical talent on display, Tina delivers one of the best all-around jukebox musicals in memory.

Directed by Phyllida Lloyd with a book by Katori Hall, Frank Ketelaar, and Kees Prins, the musical takes the audience on a journey in the life of Anna-Mae Bullock (whose name eventually changed to Tina Turner) from a youngster in Nutbush, Tennessee to the summit of an internationally revered musical career. Her story chronicles one of the most amazing comebacks in music history in becoming “The Queen of Rock ‘n Roll.”

Tina’s journey is riveting. As much as the musical showcases Tina Turner’s catalogue of big-time hits that earned her 12 Grammy Awards and her twice induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, what she had to endure along the way is captivating.

Many of the dramatic episodes involve her tumultuous, sometimes violent relationship with Ike Turner, who launched Tina’s career and gave her the stage name she continued to use. Ike was a short-tempered, controlling, abusive womanizer who slapped Tina during their frequent arguments. She maintained that she loved him but was forced to run away from him after yet another violent fight and his striking one of Tina’s two children.

Tina also had to confront blatant racism and ageism not only in the 60’s and 70’s South but also in dealing with record label moguls. Moreover, her mother, Zelma, whom Tina believed was never supportive of her, adds to the struggle.  Even without any music in this show, the compelling drama alone would make for good theatre.

But there is music, and lots of it. The audience will be familiar with Tina Turner’s hits performed in the show though not presented in chronological order of their release. Such favorites like “River Deep—Mountain High,” “Private Dancer,” “Proud Mary,” “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” “We Don’t Need Another Hero,” and “(Simply) The Best” are among the 24 musical numbers in the show.

"...Tina delivers one of the best all-around jukebox musicals in memory."

Because of the drama woven throughout, the songs performed do not constitute a concert. Nonetheless, a two-song mini-concert with all the spectacular lighting and other concert effects takes place following the curtain call, so wait for that.

The entire production is an electrifying spectacle. With brilliant hue-rich lighting by Bruno Poet and projections by Jeff Sugg, the scenes change not just smoothly, not just seamlessly, but instantly—in a blink—lending to the rapid pacing of the show. Nevin Steinberg’s superb sound design and Music Director Anne Shuttlesworth and the orchestra support the vocalists exceptionally without overpowering them.  Credit Set and Costume Designer Mark Thompson for his contributions to the show’s aesthetics.

During this run, the lead role of Tina is split between Zurin Villanueva and Naomi Rodger in alternate performances. On the night this performance was reviewed, Zurin Villanueva was the lead.

In a tour-de-force, it’s not enough to say that Ms. Villanueva has a magnificent singing voice with enormous range and power. She can also dance, and she can act. In fact, her acting skills grab your attention as much as her vocals.

This versatile performer is extremely convincing as a woman who had to suffer through the abuse of Ike reflected by frequent shouting matches embedded in their arguments. Tina’s frayed relationship with her mother and the dynamics with her managers during her career are nuanced and conveyed well. All of this while belting out songs to near perfection, and she performs in just about all of them.

Her most touching moment was near the end of the first act when Tina escaped from Ike after another violent episode and was reduced to literally beg a motel clerk to let her spend the night. She only had 36 cents in her possession but promised to pay him back. Her heartrending number “I Don’t Wanna Fight No More” describes her plight.

Garrett Turner is convincing as the gruff, manipulative and violent villain Ike Turner. Mr. Turner (no relation) delivers a strong, commanding performance and contributes to the high drama. So effective is he in the role that at curtain call he received a smattering of boos from the audience. His deep baritone is on display in the solo “Rocket 88/Matchbox” and with Ms. Villanueva in the iconic “Proud Mary.”

Roz White delivers a mighty performance as Tina’s mother Zelma. Having been abused by her own husband, Zelma has been tough on Tina throughout her life. She even attempted to get Tina and Ike to reconcile prior to her death but to no avail. Ms. White is excellent in the role and performs well in a duet with Ms. Villanueva in the reprise of “Don’t Turn Around.”

Young Ayvah Johnson is a standout and an audience favorite in portraying Young Anna-Mae. Her excellent vocals are on display in the group number “Nutbush City Limits.”

Other notable cast members include Lael Van Keuren as Rhonda, Tina’s first manager; Taylor Blackman as Raymond, Tina’s second manager, Jacob Roberts-Miller (for this performance) as Roger Davies as another manager; Andre Hinds as Craig, Tina’s son; Parris Lewis as Alline, Tina’s sister; Antonio Beverly as Ronnie, another son of Tina; Geoffrey Kidwell as Phil Spector and other roles; and Ann Nesby as Tina’s grandmother, Gran Geogeanna. The remainder of the talented, high-energy cast and Ensemble contribute to the high quality of the production.

Tina: The Tina Turner Musical is a sterling production that showcases magnificent talent and songs and also brings to light in an honest manner some of the nagging sores of our society. This is a musical that should not be missed.

Running time. Two hours and 40 minutes with an intermission.

Advisory. The show contains scenes of domestic violence and profanity including the use of the N-word and is not recommended for children under 14.

Tina: The Tina Turner Musical runs through November 20 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or visit ticketmaster.com or BaltimoreHippodrome.com.

Images: MurphyMade

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Groundbreaking ‘Beauty and the Beast’ Graces Olney Theatre

Evan Ruggiero as the Beast and Jade Jones as Belle

Over the past few years, the Olney Theatre Center has been mounting productions that have transcended conventional theatrical boundaries in its goal to “drive social change, better humanity, inspire joy, and bring communities together.” Some of these efforts involve a particular theme of the production, some involve casting decisions, and others simply try out something new.

In staging Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in 2021, the artistic team decided to go outside the box and cast as the lead a self-described queer, plus-sized Black woman, Jade Jones, who plays the role of Belle, “the most beautiful girl in town.”

Olney Theatre made a conscious effort to expand the stereotypical notions of beauty onstage in this casting choice, and it worked marvelously. In addition, Olney cast Evan Ruggiero, an acclaimed tap dancer and actor who lost a leg to cancer as a teenager, to play the role of the Beast. Demonstrating that his condition was not an impediment to his performance, Mr. Ruggiero also succeeded.

Unfortunately, the production had to be cut short in 2021 because of a surge in a Covid variant. Determined to build on the success of the original production, Olney Theatre has brought back Disney’s Beauty and the Beast to the Main Stage to run through the holidays with most of the cast including these superb leads returning.

Under the meticulous direction of Marcia Milgrom Dodge, the snappy choreography of Josh Walden and the musical direction of Walter “Bobby” McCoy, the show excels on many fronts. Besides the talented leads and ensemble, the glorious set designed by Narelle Sissons, the extraordinary period costumes by Ivania Stack, the wigs designed by Ali Pohanka, the exceptional lighting by Colin L. Bills and the crisp sound by Matt Rowe, Beauty and the Beast is far more beauty than beast.

"[Jade Jones as Belle] is, in fact, perfect for the role."

Let me emphasize that Jade Jones as Belle is indeed beautiful. There is no concern, nor should there be that because they doesn’t look like Belle in the animated film or in previous iterations of the stage production, that they is not perfect for the role. Blessed with extraordinary vocal talent and acting abilities, any stereotypes about beauty vanish by their performance. Jade Jones is, in fact, perfect for the role.

Likewise, Mr. Ruggiero as the Beast, who continued to pursue dancing as a career even after the amputation, effectively moves about the stage peg leg and all and is an inspiration. He also possesses a muscular baritone voice that is a joy to hear.   

The musical, which opened on Broadway in 1994 and was based on the 1991 animated feature film with the same name, became the 10th  longest ever running musical on Broadway. It features the Oscar-winning score with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman, with additional songs composed by Alan Menken and lyrics by Tim Rice. The book is written by Linda Woolverton.

Show-stopping well-choreographed production numbers, such as “Be Our Guest,” “Gaston,” and “Human Again” that

showcase the singing and dancing talents of the ensemble are audience pleasers to be sure.  Yet, it is the fairy tale itself that sweeps you away on an emotional and romantic journey.  

The story of a spoiled prince who had been transformed by an enchantress into a boorish, hot-tempered beast until he can find love and return to his human form before petals fall off from an eternal rose given by the enchantress and a beautiful woman Belle from a provincial town is tender and endearing. This relationship has the audience rooting hard for both.  Also pushing enthusiastically for the couple to fall in love are various servants in the prince’s castle who were converted into household objects when the spell was cast on the prince.  They, too, have a stake in the spell being removed.

Simultaneously, the town’s egomaniacal, narcissistic, preening bully, Gaston, rejected by Belle to be his wife, strives to make her change her mind. 

Simply put, Jade Jones as Belle, shines throughout.  Considered “weird” by the townsfolk because of her passion for books, Belle is strong-minded, and her eventual attraction to the beast that requires his becoming more gentlemanly for starters is tearful in its sweetness.   Ms. Jones’ Broadway-caliber vocal prowess is evidenced in the ballads “Belle,” “Home” and “A Change in Me.”

For his part, Evan Ruggiero as the Beast is superb.  He is called upon to be mean and demanding only to soften his demeanor as he becomes emotionally closer to Belle. His on-stage transformation back to being human displaying his handsome countenance at the show’s end with the ingenious use of lighting techniques is spectacular.  Mr. Ruggiero’s powerful voice is evident in “How Long Must This Go On?” and “If I Can’t Love Her.” As mentioned earlier, he overcomes his physical challenges flawlessly.

Michael Burrell romps through his role as the superior, perfect-looking God’s gift to the world, Gaston.  His character, though an antagonist, provides much of the comic relief throughout because of his over-the-top self-centeredness with the amusing and energetic help from John Sygar as Lefou, Gaston’s goofy, ever-fawning sidekick.  Mr. Burrell’s commanding baritone in the heavily misogynistic “Me,” “Gaston” and “The Mob Song” is on display.

As noted earlier, the Beast’s staff had been turned into such objects as a teapot (Mrs. Potts played by Kelli Blackwell).  Her rendition of the beautiful title song was performed sweetly. 

Other characters in this group include Cogsworth, the clock (Dylan Arredondo); Babette, the feather duster (Haley Rebecca Ibberson); Lumiere, the candelabra (Bobby Smith); operatic Madame de la Grande Bouche, the wardrobe (Tracy Lynn Olivera); and Chip, the cup (Arianna Caldwell).  All performed well in their mostly comic roles as foils to the Beast.

Also, turning in a solid performance is Sasha Olinick as Maurice, Belle’s inventor-father thought to be crazy by Gaston and the town folk.

The remaining members of the talented and energetic cast include Connor James Reilly, Selena Clyne-Galindo, Erica Leigh Hansen, Miya Hamashige, Megan Tatum, Jessica Bennett, Ariel Messeca, David Singleton, Tyler M. White, Michael Wood and Felicia Curry.

The set, which is comprised of a facsimile of a castle’s great hall with a staircase and balcony, is essentially the only scenery used. Movements of the stairs and dropdown lighting fixtures as well as lighting changes, moveable set pieces and props signal shifts in locale, such as the town and woods as well as the castle.  Additionally, there is a clever round depiction of a rose that tracks the falling of the pedals on the rear wall.

Hundreds of costume pieces are employed including colorful 18th century gowns, dresses with hoopskirts, as well as attire for wolves and the beast himself.  Creative devices are used to outfit the enchanted objects—clock, tea pot, candelabra, etc.  There are great challenges in designing such costumes but Ivania Stack succeeds spectacularly, which fortifies the aesthetics of the show.

This production proves why the musical has received such worldwide popularity. No matter our age, we can all enjoy a good fairy tale with a happy ending to brighten our lives.  Bring the kids, too; they’ll love it.

The desire on the part of the Olney Theatre to make the theatre experience inclusive, shatter stereotypes, and open doors to all talented people regardless of how they look, who they love, where they’re from, and the nature of their physical abilities is laudable and appreciated.  They should be applauded along with the performers and creative and technical teams.

Running time. Two hours and 20 minutes with an intermission.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast runs through January 1, 2023, at the Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832. Tickets may be purchased by calling 301-924-3400 or by visiting here.

Photos by Teresa Castracane Photography

Saturday, November 12, 2022

GOP: Don’t Blame Trump, Blame Yourselves

The votes haven’t all been counted yet so that which party will control the House of Representatives remains unclear.  The Senate is officially blue, however. What is known is that the nearly unanimous expected “red wave” did not materialize. In fact, the only red seen is the color of the faces of those embarrassed pundits, right wing media, and other Republican cheerleaders who confidently predicted otherwise.

Instead of the “bloodbath” that Donnie Dipshit, Jr. declared on Twitter on election night, the Dems will likely hold the Senate and perhaps increase their position by an extra seat pending the outcome of the Georgia runoff on December 6. They have a steep climb to retain their majority in the House but the Democrats are still mathematically in it. Even if they don’t quite get there, the GOP will be in control but with the slightest of margins, which will give them political migraines for at least two years. Donald Trump, Jr.’s tweet did not age well.

But Junior was not alone. No Republican (or Democrat for that matter) predicted this shocker.  To be clear, the polls leading up to Election Day (now Week) indicated that inflation and the economy was the number one issue and that would, as well as historical precedent, gerrymandering and the unpopularity of the president, be a burden on the party in power.

It didn’t.

Rather, the Republican controlled Supreme Court’s decision in the Dobbs case that essentially overturned Roe v. Wade angered women and young people. Democrats also realized how our democracy was on the ballot as hundreds of election deniers and conspiracy nuts were running for offices at all levels.

They voted in great numbers their fury at the SCOTUS ruling and in the need to protect democracy. Republicans incorrectly assumed that Dobbs was sufficiently distanced in the rear-view mirror, as well as the horrors of January 6 and that the energy would fade. The predicted red wave would wash over the country; just a lot of embarrassment and finger pointing resulted instead.

Then there was the Trump effect. The former president was not on the ballot, but he might as well have been. He encouraged potential candidates at all levels who were mini-Trumps and who bended their knees to him to run in primaries. To be sure, these weren’t the best candidates the Republican Party could have recruited, e.g., Herschel Walker. Cringing at this roster, party leaders crossed their fingers that the red wave would be too strong, and that inflation would trump the inexperience, incompetence and extremism that the mini-Trumps possessed.

Most lost their elections, not just in Congress but gubernatorial races, state legislatures and secretaries of state candidates were defeated. There were some victories, of course, but not enough to propel a red wave.

So, with eggs on their faces, the humbled and humiliated Republican establishment has finally begun to recognize that Donald Trump is an albatross. After all, he has been linked to Congressional losses in 2018, lost the presidential race and Senate in 2020 and now may have contributed to thwarting the red wave.

With Governor Ron DeSantis’ crushing victory in Florida, he instantly became the new darling of the party in some quarters. Seeing a replacement for Trump as the leader of the party on the horizon, some Republicans and right-wing media, such as FOX News, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post have cast the loser label on Trump and are edging away from him. They are blaming him for the failure to capitalize on rising prices and an unpopular president.

Certainly, much of the blame should be leveled at Trump. He chose, endorsed and appeared at rallies on behalf of loyalists to him rather than qualified, competent candidates. Mehmet Oz’s defeat to John Fetterman in Pennsylvania that swung a former Republican seat into the Dem column was the singular most crushing example. Herschel Walker will be next come December.

However, the Republicans have themselves to blame for allowing Trump to go unfettered around the country choosing these people. Even Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, cringed at the lack of “candidate quality”. 

It started during the 2016 primaries when Trump made frequent racist and misogynous comments. He degraded John McCain and a Gold Star family, made fun of a disabled reporter and proceeded from there while president to the disgusting remarks surrounding Charlottesville where both sides including Nazis and KKK members contained “very fine people.”

Then there was the deadly violent insurrection in which Trump summoned and incited a mob to prevent the constitutionally mandated certification of votes at the Capitol on January 6.  Additionally, he participated in a fake elector scheme and in effect, tried to launch a coup.

After initial outrage by some Republicans to these events, they tried to whitewash them and hope that time would pass and that the insurrectionists were to be seen as tourists having a bad hair day. Heck, they wouldn’t even go along with a bipartisan commission to investigate the insurrection.

Thus, they let Trump with his 74 million votes he garnered to run the party. At the second impeachment trial that focused on Trump, Mitch McConnell could have easily whipped votes to convict Trump (he put the blame squarely on Trump during a post-impeachment speech) so that he would be automatically disqualified to run for federal office again. He wimped out.

Image: cartoonmovement.com
Now, the new dilemma for Republicans is Trump’s impending announcement to run again for president in 2024. They don’t want him to make such a declaration at least until the December 6 runoff. But Trump needs to act fast because he knows, as well as many legal observers, that indictments will be handed down in short order. He wants the cover of being a candidate to claim the indictments are partisan. It appears that’s his only defense.

The Republicans’ empowering him because of their fear of his base and allowing Trump to run loose to hand pick his sycophants in these midterm elections is the price one pays. It’s like allowing an unrestrained dog to roam your house only to find that he chewed on the furniture. Do you blame the dog or yourself for providing him the opportunity to do what dogs do?

It’s on you, Republicans, not Trump.


I was in the minority, but back in May, I wrote a piece describing why the doom of the Democrats may be avoided in these midterms. You can read it here.