No one should ever get a second chance to destroy the Constitution.
I was a Republican for most of my adult life. I came of political age in 1980, and although I grew up in a working-class Democratic stronghold in Massachusetts, I found a home in Ronald Reagan’s GOP. Back then, the Republicans were a confident “party of ideas” (a compliment bestowed on them by one of their foes, Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York), optimistic boosters of the American dream at home, and fierce opponents of the Soviet Union overseas. While the Democrats were the party of recrimination and retreat, the Republicans were the party of the future.
I understand the attachment to that GOP, even among those who have sworn to defeat Donald Trump, but the time for sentimentality is over. That party is long gone. Today the Republicans are the party of “American carnage” and Russian collusion, of scams, plots, and weapons-grade contempt for the rule of law. The only decent, sensible, and conservative position is to vote against this Republican Party at every level, and bring the sad final days of a once-great political institution to an end. Then build the party back up again—from scratch.
I’m not advocating for voting against the GOP merely to punish Republicans for Trump’s existence in their party. Rather, conservatives must finally accept that at this point Trump and the Republican Party are indistinguishable. Trump and his circle have gutted the old GOP and stuffed its empty husk with the Trump family’s paranoia and corruption.
Indeed, the transformation of the GOP into a cult of personality is so complete that the Republicans didn’t even bother presenting a platform at their own convention. Like a group of ciphers at a meeting of SPECTRE, they nodded at whatever Number One told them to do, each of them fearing an extended pinkie finger pressing the button that would electrocute them into political oblivion.
Some Republicans, even while they grant that Trump is a sociopath and an idiot—and how unsettling that so many of them will stipulate to that—are willing to continue voting for Republican candidates because the GOP is nominally pro-life or because the administration’s judicial appointments show that the people around the president are doing what conservatives should want done.
But Trump’s few conservative achievements are meaningless when compared with his war on American democracy, a rampage that few Republicans have lifted a finger to stop. Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr have turned the constitutional order and the rule of law into a joke. If you’re Roger Stone or Michael Flynn, the White House will arrange pardons, commutations, or even the outright betrayal of the Justice Department’s own lawyers. Felony convictions are for the little people. The Constitution is just busywork for chumps.
GOP representatives in the people’s house sneer at concepts such as oversight and the separation of powers. Rather than demand accountability from the executive branch on COVID-19, on the Hatch Act, on the Postal Service—on anything, really—they either repose in sullen silence or they take up the lance for the president and overwhelm committee hearings with Trumpian word salad.
Meanwhile, senators who swore to be “impartial” jurors refused to hear actual evidence during an impeachment trial. They confirmed a rogue’s gallery of incompetent henchmen and cronies to important positions. They continue to downplay Russian attacks on the U.S. political system and are now outfoxed by the likes of John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, a nonentity who has ruled that none of them, Republican or Democrat, should be allowed to ask any pesky questions about election security in person.
“But Gorsuch,” Republicans chirp when pressed about their party’s demise, as if Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh will saddle up and save us when elected Republicans refuse to stop Trump from finally turning the FBI into his private police force or Barr from using the Department of Homeland Security as the White House’s own Belarusian interior ministry. (Kavanaugh, who warned during his confirmation hearings that “what goes around comes around,” might be exactly the justice to put his stamp on such moves.)
Conservatives must also let go of fantasies about saving the “good” Republicans, a list that is virtually nonexistent. (You can’t count Mitt Romney more than once.) The occasional furrowed brow—a specialty of the feckless Susan Collins of Maine—is not enough. The few, like Romney, who have dared grasp at moments of sanity have been pilloried by Trump and other Republicans. In any case, Romney is chained to the GOP caucus, a crew that includes the jabbering Louie Gohmert and calculating Elise Stefanik in the House, and the sniveling Ted Cruz and amoral Mitch McConnell in the Senate.
Would-be Madisonians among the Republicans warn that no party should have untrammeled access to the levers of power—and especially not the Democrats. Yes, they say, we understand that Trump must go, but if Joe Biden is allowed to run the executive branch without a Republican Senate, America will become a one-party state that sooner or later will fall under the boot of the dreaded Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. This faux constitutionalism is naked hypocrisy: I do not recall, during my days in the GOP, anyone on the right ever pleading that Americans should leave at least a few Democrats in office so that we Republicans would not go crazy and start force-feeding Ayn Rand or Friedrich Hayek to impressionable schoolchildren.
America needs two healthy political parties. So if the Republicans suffer a full-spectrum defeat in 2020, what comes next? At the least, a shattering loss should result in a wholesale purge of the Republican National Committee. Even donors who like what they got from Trump will not pour money into a losing proposition.
In the long term, sensible conservatives—who believe in limited government and the prudent, constitutional stewardship of national power and resources—might feel safe to run for national office as Republicans again. Those at the local level who were bullied into silence by their state organizations might be able to come out of hiding and challenge the people who led them to disaster.
Reconstructing the GOP—or any center-right party that might one day replace it—will take a long time, and the process will be painful. The remaining opportunists in the GOP will try to avert any kind of reform by making a last-ditch lunge to the right to fill the vacuum left by Trump’s culture warring and race-baiting. In the short term, the party might become smaller and more extreme, even as it loses seats. So be it. The hardening of the GOP into a toxic conglomeration of hucksters, quislings, racists, theocrats, and cultists is already happening. The party gladly accepted support from white supremacists and the Russian secret services, and now welcomes QAnon kooks into its caucus. Conservatives must learn that the only way out of “the wilderness” is first to vanquish those who led them there.
No person should ever get a second chance to destroy the Constitution. Trump has brought the United States to the brink of civil catastrophe, and the Republican Party has protected him from the consequences of all his immoral and illegal actions more ably than even Fred Trump did. Conservatives need to put the current Republican Party out of its—and our—misery.
The position of director of national intelligence was created after the 9/11 terror attacks to prevent another such assault on the American homeland. The DNI, as the director is known, must oversee 17 intelligence agencies with a total budget of about $60 billion. There are few jobs more important in the federal government — or the entire country. Yet President Trump treated the selection of a DNI with less care and forethought than he would give to picking an interior designer for Mar-a-Lago.
When Dan Coats decided last month that he had suffered enough as Trump’s DNI, Trump reportedly called Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to ask what he thought about Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.) as a replacement. “Burr responded that he didn’t know much about the lawmaker but would consult with a few people,” Politico reported. “But less than a half hour later, Trump tweeted that Ratcliffe was his choice.”
Trump picked Ratcliffe, it seems, because he liked the congressman’s obnoxious questioning of former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III in July hearings and his role in spreading cuckoo conspiracy theories about a nonexistent “secret society” of FBI agents supposedly out to get the president. But it soon emerged that Trump didn’t know much about his new nominee.
In the days after Trump impetuously announced Ratcliffe’s nomination on July 28, The Post and other news organizations discovered that the three-term congressman from Texas had greatly embellished his résumé. He had boasted that he had “arrested over 300 illegal immigrants in a single day” and had “firsthand experience combating terrorism. When serving by special appointment in U.S. v. Holy Land Foundation, he convicted individuals who were funneling money to Hamas behind the front of a charitable organization.” Turns out that Ratcliffe had played only a small role in a sweep of undocumented immigrants and an even smaller role in the Holy Land case; an aide told the New York Times that Ratcliffe only “investigated side issues related to an initial mistrial.”
With Senate opposition growing, Trump withdrew Ratcliffe’s nomination on Friday just five days after putting him forward. He had lasted less than half a Scaramucci. In pulling the plug, Trump both credited and blamed the media, saying, “You are part of the vetting process. I give out a name to the press and you vet for me, we save a lot of money that way. But in the case of John [Ratcliffe], I really believe that he was being treated very harshly and very unfairly.”
Ratcliffe was treated “very harshly and very unfairly” — but by Trump, not the news media. There’s a reason presidents normally vet nominees before, not after, they’re announced. It’s better both for the prospective appointee and for the president to have any skeletons uncovered before swinging the closet door wide open.
By ignoring the traditional way of doing things, Trump subjected his personal physician, Rear Adm. Ronny L. Jackson, to considerable embarrassment in 2018 by nominating him to become secretary of veterans affairs and then having to withdraw the nomination after stories emerged accusing Jackson of “freely dispensing medication, drinking on the job and creating a hostile workplace.” The Defense Department inspector general even launched an investigation of Jackson. Learning nothing, Trump repeated the same mistake this year when he nominated Herman Cain and Stephen Moore to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors — posts for which they were utterly unqualified. Facing Senate resistance, Trump had to withdraw their names — but not before unflattering details of Moore’s divorce became public.
And those are the good-news stories: the nominees who never took office. Much more common for Trump has been his discovery, after the fact, that his appointments were terrible mistakes. His clunkers have included a secretary of state
- (Rex Tillerson) who devastated morale at the State Department; a national security adviser
- (Michael Flynn) who was convicted of lying to the FBI; three Cabinet officers (Interior Secretary
- Ryan Zinke, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, Health and Human Services Secretary
- Tom Price) who were forced out for improper travel expenses and other ethical improprieties; a secretary of labor
- (Alexander Acosta) who had given a sweetheart deal to a wealthy sex offender; and of course a communications director
- (Anthony Scaramucci) who was fired after 11 days for giving a profanity-filled, on-the-record interview to a reporter.
Coats is the 10th Cabinet member to leave the Trump administration. In President Barack Obama’s first two years in office, not a single Cabinet member departed. Trump also has a record-setting rate of 75 percent turnover among senior, non-Cabinet officials. The cost of this constant churn and chaos is high: It becomes nearly impossible to develop or pursue coherent policies.Trump is a president straight out of “The Great Gatsby.” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote of his protagonists: “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” In Trump’s case, the thing that he has smashed up is America’s government, and the cleanup cannot begin until January 2021 at the earliest.