This Republican Party Is Not Worth Saving

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.

We Lost the Battle for the Republican Party’s Soul Long Ago

After Mitt Romney lost the 2012 presidential race, the Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus, commissioned an internal party study to examine why the party had won the popular vote only once since 1988.

The results of that so-called autopsy were fairly obvious: The party needed to appeal to more people of color, reach out to younger voters, become more welcoming to women. Those conclusions were presented as not only a political necessity but also a moral mandate if the Republican Party were to be a governing party in a rapidly changing America.

Then Donald Trump emerged and the party threw all those conclusions out the window with an almost audible sigh of relief: Thank God we can win without pretending we really care about this stuff. That reaction was sadly predictable.

I spent decades working to elect Republicans, including Mr. Romney and four other presidential candidates, and I am here to bear reluctant witness that Mr. Trump didn’t hijack the Republican Party. He is the logical conclusion of what the party became over the past 50 or so years, a natural product of the seeds of race-baiting, self-deception and anger that now dominate it. Hold Donald Trump up to a mirror and that bulging, scowling orange face is today’s Republican Party.

I saw the warning signs but ignored them and chose to believe what I wanted to believe: The party wasn’t just a white grievance party; there was still a big tent; the others guys were worse. Many of us in the party saw this dark side and told ourselves it was a recessive gene. We were wrong. It turned out to be the dominant gene.

What is most telling is that the Republican Party actively embraced, supported, defended and now enthusiastically identifies with a man who eagerly exploits the nation’s racial tensions. In our system, political parties should serve a circuit breaker function. The Republican Party never pulled the switch.

Racism is the original sin of the modern Republican Party. While many Republicans today like to mourn the absence of an intellectual voice like William Buckley, it is often overlooked that Mr. Buckley began his career as a racist defending segregation.

In the Richard Nixon White House, Pat Buchanan and Kevin Phillips wrote a re-election campaign memo headed “Dividing the Democrats” in which they outlined what would come to be known as the Southern Strategy. It assumes there is little Republicans can do to attract Black Americans and details a two-pronged strategy: Utilize Black support of Democrats to alienate white voters while trying to decrease that support by sowing dissension within the Democratic Party.

That strategy has worked so well that it was copied by the Russians in their 2016 efforts to help elect Mr. Trump.

In the 2000 George W. Bush campaign, on which I worked, we acknowledged the failures of Republicans to attract significant nonwhite support. When Mr. Bush called himself a “compassionate conservative,” some on the right attacked him, calling it an admission that conservatism had not been compassionate. That was true; it had not been. Many of us believed we could steer the party to that “kinder, gentler” place his father described. We were wrong.

Reading Mr. Bush’s 2000 acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention now is like stumbling across a document from a lost civilization, with its calls for humility, service and compassion. That message couldn’t attract 20 percent in a Republican presidential primary today. If there really was a battle for the soul of the Republican Party, we lost.

There is a collective blame to be shared by those of us who have created the modern Republican Party that has so egregiously betrayed the principles it claimed to represent. My j’accuse is against us all, not a few individuals who were the most egregious.

How did this happen? How do you abandon deeply held beliefs about character, personal responsibility, foreign policy and the national debt in a matter of months? You don’t. The obvious answer is those beliefs weren’t deeply held. What others and I thought were bedrock values turned out to be mere marketing slogans easily replaced. I feel like the guy working for Bernie Madoff who thought they were actually beating the market.

Mr. Trump has served a useful purpose by exposing the deep flaws of a major American political party. Like a heavy truck driven over a bridge on the edge of failure, he has made it impossible to ignore the long-developing fault lines of the Republican Party. A party rooted in decency and values does not embrace the anger that Mr. Trump peddles as patriotism.

This collapse of a major political party as a moral governing force is unlike anything we have seen in modern American politics. The closest parallel is the demise of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union, when the dissonance between what the party said it stood for and what citizens actually experienced was so great that it was unsustainable.

This election should signal a day of reckoning for the party and all who claim it as a political identity. Will it? I’ve given up hope that there are any lines of decency or normalcy that once crossed would move Republican leaders to act as if they took their oath of office more seriously than their allegiance to party. Only fear will motivate the party to change — the cold fear only defeat can bring.

That defeat is looming. Will it bring desperately needed change to the Republican Party? I’d like to say I’m hopeful. But that would be a lie and there have been too many lies for too long.

Did Trump Change the Republican Party Forever?

Donald Trump’s Election Day victory will go down in history for many reasons.

“This is probably the most incredible election ever in that we’ve never had a time when someone lost the popular vote by so much, and won the presidency without going to a vote in the House of Representatives,” says historian, author and Hedgeye Demography Sector Head Neil Howe.

Howe is referring to the rare case where no candidate wins a majority in the Electoral College and the vote is put to the House of Representatives. This is called a contingent election. “We’ve had this two times before. Rutherford B Hayes in 1876, that was the election that ended the Reconstruction. And we had it with John Quincy Adams,” he says.

How the Republican Party went from Lincoln to Trump

Today’s Republican Party opposes big government. It’s culturally conservative. Its demographic support is strongest among white voters, and it usually dominates elections in the South. And its 2016 presidential nominee has been heavily criticized for inciting racial tensions. But things weren’t always this way. Over the past 160 or so years, the party has undergone a remarkable transformation from the party of Abraham Lincoln… to the party of Donald Trump.

George H.W. Bush, the anti-Trump

Bush was so self-effacing that he hated to use the personal pronoun — “don’t be talking about yourself,” his mother instructed him. Trump, by contrast, hardly talks about anything other than himself.

.. The marriage of convenience between Bush and the right broke apart in 1990. The president was determined to reduce the growing deficits that he had inherited from Ronald Reagan — and that had grown larger still because of the need to bail out failing savings and loan associations. With the nation headed to war in Kuwait, he wanted to put America’s finances in order. The problem was that in 1988 he had foolishly promised, “Read my lips: No new taxes.” Bush knew he would pay a price for breaking his pledge, but he was determined to do so for the good of the country.

.. The No. 2 Republican in the House, Newt Gingrich of Georgia, initially appeared supportive of a spending deal that would have limited tax increases to levies on gasoline, alcohol and other products, avoiding income tax hikes. But when it came time to announce the agreement in the Rose Garden, Gingrich stalked out.

.. Bush went back to the table, agreeing to a small increase in the top income tax rate, from 28 percent to 31 percent. (It had been 50 percent as recently as 1986.) House Republicans still rejected the deal, but this time there were enough Democratic votes to pass the compromise.

.. From a fiscal conservative’s perspective, the 1990 deal was a raging success. As Bruce Bartlett notes, “The final deal cut spending by $324 billion over five years and raised revenues by $159 billion.” It also put into place stringent rules mandating that any future tax cuts or spending increases would have to be offset by spending cuts or revenue increases. Within eight years, a $376 billion deficit had become a $113 billion surplus. Yet conservatives never forgave Bush for his apostasy.

.. Gingrich’s opposition to the budget deal — and his general disdain for bipartisan compromise — helped him in 1994 to become the first Republican speaker of the House in 40 years.

.. Bush’s tax hike was also part of the rationale for Patrick J. Buchanan’s 1992 primary challenge, which proved more damaging than anyone had expected. The syndicated columnist won enough votes in New Hampshire (37.5 percent) to embarrass the incumbent and earn a prime-time slot at the Republican convention, where he gave his fiery “culture war” speech that repulsed moderates and independents.

.. As Jeff Greenfield has noted, many of the themes Buchanan hit in 1992 were similar to Trump’s in 2016:

  • He denounced threats to U.S. sovereignty,
  • railed against globalization and multiculturalism, and
  • called for “a new patriotism, where Americans begin to put the needs of Americans first.”

.. George F. Will once remarked, after Reagan’s ascendancy, that Barry Goldwater won in 1964; “it just took 16 years to count the votes.” Likewise, Buchanan won in 1992; it just took 24 years to count the votes.

.. Jon Meacham quotes from Bush’s diary in 1988 after meeting a supporter of televangelist Pat Robertson who refused to shake his hand: “They’re scary. They’re there for spooky, extraordinary right-winged reasons. They don’t care about Party. They don’t care about anything. . . . They could be Nazis, they could be Communists, they could be whatever. . . . They will destroy this party if they’re permitted to take over.”

.. Well, now they have taken over, and it is impossible to imagine the Republican Party again nominating a man who put loyalty to country above loyalty to right-wing dogma.