I stole the headline from Professor Randy Barnett, whose new book “Our Republican Constitution” is a must read. And when the choice is two reprehensible, corrupt, and immoral demagogues, you can always pick the ethical way out and say none of the above. The republic will survive an election cycle.
The Republican Party is a different story, however. For those who are idealists about the Constitution–and there are probably far fewer than some of us like to imagine–there are a number of reasons to sabotage The Party of Trump, even if it ends with a Hillary presidency. The first is salvaging some of your own dignity and principles. But there are other, long-term political advantages to beating back an authoritarian populist who peddles conspiracy theories and big-government schemes and doesn’t have a freshman-level comprehension about the basic workings of American governance.
For starters, there are things just as important as the presidency. It’s better to have a minority party impeding the growth of government power—yes, often ineffectively and incompetently—than enabling two parties that embrace it. To save a party of more limited government, conservatives must 1) save Congress from Trump and 2) save the GOP from itself.
How To Lose Congress
On the same day that billionaire wins the GOP Indiana primary and secures the party’s nomination, he decides to use an National Enquirer story—the future in-flight publication of Air Force One—to accuse opponent Ted Cruz’s father of helping Lee Harvey Oswald. This was just an amuse-bouche of the utter stupidity that down-ballot GOP candidates will have to deal with, justify, rationalize, ignore, excuse, or support every day for the next six months or so. One hopes the stench of this kind of endorsement clings to them for the rest of their unprincipled and, hopefully, short political careers.
Yet, echoing something I hear every day from his fans, a recent Wall Street Journal editorial argues that a conservative challenge to Trump could cost the GOP the House:
Perhaps, but it’s more likely that dueling presidential candidates would put House and Senate Republican candidates in a perilous spot. Do they support Mr. Trump or the third-party conservative? If they are forced to choose, they could alienate enough GOP voters to ensure defeat. Consider how gingerly Mike Pence, the Indiana Governor running for re-election this year, handled his state’s GOP primary last week. He said he’s voting for Ted Cruz while also praising Mr. Trump.
The people who ensured that the most flawed GOP candidate running, the most unpopular in every demographic category, the least conservative and the most vulgar, will blame movement conservatives and their imaginary puppet masters for bringing down a hero. They already do. Trying to placate them is a waste of time.
What sort of thing will “alienate” the average voter more? Imagine how tough it will be for any decent candidate in a competitive district, running in places like Colorado or Utah or Wisconsin where Trump is unpopular and movement conservatives will be in no mood to vote in the presidential, to deal with the ugly vagaries of Trumpism day after day and to win an election.
To see what the future looks for the average Republican, think about how Trump talks about women. Polls show that approximately 70 percent of women voters have an unfavorable view of the presumptive GOP nominee—in a party that already struggles to attract them. Simply by using direct quotes—soundbites, as this candidate in Arkansas did—Republicans will be forced to spend an inordinate amount of time explaining why their candidate believes mocking the menstrual cycles of journalists who ask him difficult questions is acceptable behavior.
How many voters will that “alienate,” do you think?
The idea that Republicans can localize their elections and avoid the Trump phenomena is preposterous. You’re not afforded this kind of leeway in the best of years, and it won’t happen the coming media frenzy. After Trump secures the nomination, the press will finally become hyper-focused on the massive backlog of Trump’s business dealings and various other unpleasant history. Does anyone think it’s going to be easier to share a ticket?
The only way to avoid this is a concerted write-in campaign or third-party candidate—with all the caveats about getting on state ballots and having absolutely no chance of winning in the general election. A person whom candidates can support to diffuse the Trump attacks. Find a person a movement can coalesce around, or it’s just a matter of time before Hillary-hatred gets the best of people who consider themselves #NeverTrumpers.
The Next Autopsy Will Be a Real One
Trump has already exposed various pretend anti-establishmentarians, hucksters, and statists masquerading as conservatives—Mike Huckabee, Chris Christie, Rick Scott, and Jon Huntsman come to immediate mind. A party without any guiding ideology or principles is a party of nothing but opportunists. This goes for party “establishment”—and that includes big donors and the RNC—which has never moved to stop Trump, although his agenda and tone stands in contrast to everything they preached in their “autopsy.”
More dangerously, it’s clear that, led by the conservative entertainment complex, many voters are willing bend their own views to match the ever-changing positions of Trump. As George Will put it recently, “quislings will multiply, slinking into support of the most anti-conservative presidential aspirant in their party’s history.” All the legitimate anger they had about failing institutions has been wasted on frauds.
It’s quite possible Reaganism is no long relevant or popular with a majority of voters on the Right. Do people believe in conservatism (widely understood) because it’s popular, or because they find some truth in it? If it’s the latter, conservatives can either chase Trump fans by attempting to make a compelling case, offer some new ideas or better arguments, or they can surrender and adopt Trumpism and reward the least classically liberal candidate in Republican Party history.
Although others on this site and elsewhere have used it, this Alexander Hamilton quote is perfect for the situation: “If we must have an enemy at the head of government let it be one whom we can oppose, and for whom we are not responsible.” A Hillary presidency, even with a Republican Congress, will be a disaster for conservatives. But it was the constitutional idealism of the Tea Party that held back Democrats and establishment GOPers from working together to expand the reach of government. A turn to white identity politics and anger is turn away from that idealism.