The most memorable campaign event I attended in 2016 was a rally for John Kasich in Rhode Island. The participants seemed the cream of the middle class – many old-fashioned small-business Republicans as my father was. The Ohio governor spoke on the benefits of not being angry with everyone all the time. His prescriptions were common-sense. (Starting at a community college can make a four-year degree less expensive. That kind of thing.)
One questioner opened by noting that he was a registered Democrat. His query was respectful, and Kasich gave a serious answer. The attendees exhibited not a splinter of hostility toward the Democrat in their midst. He was a neighbor, after all.
I left thinking, “Well, I might still prefer a Democrat for president, but if Kasich were elected, the world wouldn’t come to an end. Far from it.”
Donald Trump was elected, and the world coming fastest to an end is the sanity wing of the Republican Party. Responsible Republicans had better storm the cockpit before the exploding deficits, trade wars and crazed presidential attacks on American businesses rip up their one strong card, the economy. They need to vote for Democrats come November. Not a few Republicans feel this way.
“The only way to save the GOP,” writes Michael Gerson, an evangelical who wrote speeches for George W. Bush, “is to defeat it in the House.” (He’d be fine with the Senate’s staying in Republican hands.) Why vote this way? “Because American politics is in the midst of an emergency,” Gerson answers. “President Trump is a rolling disaster of mendacity, corruption and prejudice.”
National Review’s David French disagrees. No fan of Trump’s, he nonetheless argues that Republicans should vote for good Republican candidates anyway. “Short-term emergency thinking … is one of the reasons why politics is so dysfunctional,” he writes.
Problem is, the dysfunction honking loudest in today’s politics is the impotence of the “good” Republicans in Congress. They’ve totally failed to stop Trump’s transgressions against their conservative values.
Most have retired, lost a primary to a Trump-backed challenger or joined the dark side. That Trump will eventually go away does not justify electing officials standing mute before his lunacy.
Recall that during the 2016 campaign, Republicans told Trump skeptics not to worry; the Republican adults in Congress would rein in his worst impulses. How did that work out?
The drama surrounding the special election in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District, formerly considered safely red, lays bare the Trumpist threat to Republican normality. So close were the pre-election polls that Trump jetted to Ohio to prop up Republican Troy Balderson.
“Morning Joe” Scarborough was not alone in opining that it was not Trump but a last-minute endorsement by Kasich that saved Balderson. Kasich had conferred a stability seal of approval. That notion clearly fried Trump, who then bizarrely attacked Kasich as “very unpopular” and a “failed presidential candidate.” Kasich hit back, tweeting an image of a laughing Vladimir Putin.
Republicans disgusted by Trump, what will it be? You can follow the lead of GOP strategist Steve Schmidt, conservative columnist George Will and others who have fled the party. Or you can stay in and help a Democratic sweep of Congress, with the aim of regrouping afterward. Sending good but spineless Republicans to Washington would only extend the nation’s agony.
Granted, the options for principled conservative strategists are not attractive. Polls show overwhelmingly strong support for Trump among registered Republicans, so who is there for a wiser GOP leadership to lead?
The anti-Trump Republicans’ only hope at the moment is a massive repudiation of Trumpism at the polls. Only that would clear the ground for green shoots, whatever form they might take.
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