The remaining Never-Trumpers now wish to burn the GOP down. The latest example is former Federalist contributor Tom Nichols, who penned another entry in the Washington Post’s ongoing series urging conservatives to vote for Democrats in November.
He writes: “Republican elected officials, from Congress to the state houses, have chosen to become little more than enablers for an out of control executive branch. The only way to put a stop to this is to vote against the GOP in every race, at every level in 2018.” In short: burn it down. Because Trump.
Nichols and other dead-end Never-Trumpers (as distinct from those who have taken a more measured approach since the election) are reversing the rhetoric that the most ardent Trump supporters used during the primary fight. Both factions declared that they would rather destroy the Republican Party than cede control to their rivals. The first—if not only—task of conservatism, in Nichols’ telling, consists of resisting Trump. If Trump leads the GOP, then nuke it from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.
This anti-Trump conservatism presumes that Trump represents an existential threat to the country and our Constitution, a political disease so severe that any infected parts of the body politic must be amputated. But despite the litany of real and imagined wrongs that Nichols recites, the alternatives of Trump losing to Hillary Clinton in the general election or to Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, or even Jeb! in the primary would not have healed our souls or rewoven the frayed fabric of community and family.
Trump may be at the center of national consciousness, but he is not the source of our problems. Trump’s presidency at its worst is more a symptom of cultural and political problems than the source of them.
Recognizing this does not mean that Trump-skeptical conservatives like me have to like the president, cease criticizing him, or vote for him in 2020. It does not mean giving him more credit than he is due, or always defending him. But it does mean not defining ourselves solely in opposition to him.
A clear-eyed conservative look at the Trump presidency will find plenty of fodder for criticism, from trade wars to a rhetorical style that corrodes the cultural basis of our constitutional order. But although Trump’s presidency may well end in tears, honesty demands acknowledging that Trump has been better on policy than many of us (including Nichols) expected, in large part because conservatives and the institutional GOP have checked, steered, and co-opted Trump in important ways.
Rather than admit these nuances, Nichols has become what he hates: someone whose politics revolve around Trump. This has led him to imagine Trump as Trump would like to be seen, a powerful ruler and symbol. For both of them, everything is about Trump: l’GOP c’est moi.
This Trump obsession induces Nichols to claim that “Conservatives who insist on voting Republican this year are, in effect, arguing that Democrats are worse than [Trump and his many flaws].” He argues that Republican candidates and officeholders cannot effectively separate themselves from Trump, and therefore support for any Republican is tantamount to support for Trump—specifically, the worst of Trump.
This argument is ridiculous. Voting for a Republican city council member is not an endorsement of everything (or anything) Trump does. Consider the argument seriously for a moment and apply its logic consistently. If the Republican Party is defined by consensus support for President Trump, and therefore all Republican officials, down to small-town officials, are implicated in Trump’s sins, then Democrats must also be defined by the worst of their consensus positions.
Take, for example, their absolute support for abortion on demand. The Democratic Party does not merely support the legality of abortion, but insists that it be taxpayer-funded and available until the baby’s last toenail leaves the birth canal. The party is at least as committed to this pro-abortion extremism as the GOP is to Trump. If, as Nichols claims, a vote for any Republican is an implicit endorsement of the worst of President Trump, then a vote for any Democrat is a vote for literal baby-killing.
It was not always thus. I have known and admired members of the dying breed of social justice Catholics who lean left economically while adhering to Christian orthodoxy on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. They used to be a core constituency of the Democratic Party, and if they were the alternative to Trump, I could support them, despite our disagreements. A bit more welfare spending and taxation would not be deal-breakers. But the Democratic Party no longer has space for dissent on cultural issues, as most recently illustrated Missouri Democrats’ decision to effectively expel pro-lifers from their ranks.
Likewise, Democrats want to purge religious conservatives from the public and market squares, even if they gut the First Amendment in the process. If a vote for the GOP is a vote to support the worst of Trump, then a vote for Democrats is a vote for a government that compels people to promote and participate in celebrations and ceremonies they believe to be sinful.
It is then also a vote for a federal government that regulates the hiring and firing of religious ministers, as the Obama administration sought to do. It is a vote approving Democrats’ obsession with requiring elderly nuns to fund and facilitate the distribution of birth control. It is a vote to shut down Christian adoption agencies and other charities, with Catholic hospitals and Christian schools and universities the next targets.
By Nichols’ reasoning, voting for any Democrat is a vote for anti-religious bigotry that represses constitutional rights, an agenda justified by the bad-faith claim that it is necessary to prevent a revival of Jim Crow. This is as mendacious as anything Trump has tweeted, because anti-discrimination law can easily protect minorities from material harm without obliterating the First Amendment freedoms of religious believers and other non-conformists.
Of course, political parties are not wholly defined by their worst consensus positions. But, even if Nichols is right that they should be, and he honestly believes that a Democratic Party is a lesser evil than a Trump-led GOP, he should not pretend to be incredulous that other conservatives disagree.
He may not care much, or at all, about abortion or religious liberty (as best as I can tell, he supports legal abortion and is only mildly troubled by the political persecution of non-conformist wedding vendors), but he is intelligent enough to recognize why those who do care will find Democrats utterly unacceptable.
I doubt Trump cares about those issues either, but he at least will ally with us, whereas Nichols is happy to sell us out. If I have to choose between them, I’ll take the grifter who will cut a deal, rather than the arsonist who wants to burn it all down and abandon us to the flames.