Two weeks after Conor Lamb’s squeaker victory in PA-18, and President Trump's approval of the omnibus spending bill, some Trump critics and former Republicans who have left (or been forced out) of the GOP are celebrating as the Republican Party edges toward an electoral disaster.
Some conservatives want to help this disaster along by voting Democrat. The movement to encourage dissatisfied conservatives to vote Democrat in order to punish the Trumpian GOP is tempting, but it is a bandwagon that I cannot climb aboard.
I do agree with the general assumptions behind the movement. Trump is a disaster who is damaging conservatism and the Republican Party is going to follow him blindly as long it thinks he is “winning.” The idea seems to be to accelerate the process of Trump's inevitable implosion in order to bring about a conservative revival.
There are a couple of flaws with this line of thinking. First among them is the notion that Republicans want a conservative party. In 2016, there were plenty of conservatives to choose from and Republican voters settled on Donald Trump, a candidate who had the temerity to endorse the idea of universal government healthcare in a Republican debate. Even when it was down to only Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, the conservative did not win.
If Republicans rejected conservatives before, why should we expect that a post-Trump GOP would be any different? As a former president who is popular within the party if nowhere else, Donald Trump will be a party kingmaker. Does anyone really think he will quietly fade away like other past presidents? Not while Twitter and Fox News exist.
While President Trump’s coattails in general elections have been nonexistent, in many cases it is necessary to be a Trump loyalist to win a Republican primary. Just ask Jeff Flake.
A second problem is that I cannot vote for most Democrats any more than I could support President Trump. Many prominent conservatives voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016. I could not. I viewed both candidates as so flawed (albeit in different ways) that I could not give either my vote and endorsement.
The 2018 midterms are similar to 2016 except that some of the Republican candidates will be real conservatives. I cannot vote against these people even as a possible means to save conservatism from an even greater defeat. As a matter of principle, I cannot give my vote to anti-gun, pro-abortion, pro-tax liberals.
If Democrats win majorities this year, then it is likely that President Trump will help advance their agenda on at least some issues. If the Parkland shooting had occurred under a Democrat Congress, is there any real doubt that Trump would sign a gun control bill that made it to his desk? How about a gas tax? More deficit spending increases? More restrictive trade policies? Amnesty without border security? A Democrat majority working with President Trump would be an unmitigated disaster for conservatives and the country as whole.
Third, an electoral loss in the midterms wouldn’t necessarily diminish Trump’s stature in the party. Past losses in special elections have been blamed on Never Trumpers, liberals, the media, you name it. President Trump credited Conor Lamb's victory with running "like Trump" and sounding "like a Republican."Republicans could and would easily shift the blame for a midterm disaster, in their own minds at least, to conservatives who stayed home. That line of attack was ready for use in 2016.
A midterm loss wouldn't necessarily persuade Republicans that Trump had led them to disaster. The Tea Party wave of 2010 didn’t dissuade Obama supporters, it reinvigorated them. The same could well be true of Trump supporters in 2020. The bigger problem is that Obama's second term led to even more congressional losses and to Trump himself. A second Trump Administration would give the Democrats four more years to solidify congressional gains.
Unless President Trump disgraces himself enough to lose the support of his party, it is unlikely that Republican voters will rally to anyone who wasn’t a loyal Trump foot soldier. Republicans have yet to abandon Trump in spite of his bad behavior and lack of accomplishments as president. Perhaps it’s because not much was expected beyond filling Scalia’s seat so any successes at all are heralded. More likely it's because Trump says many of the things that Republicans have longed to say for years.
What would it take for Republicans to disavow Trump? The only thing that has come close to doing so thus far is his apparent embrace of gun control and attacks on the NRA and his signature on the omnibus spending bill. Even then, many were reluctant to hold Trump accountable for these actions.
For better or for worse, the Republican Party’s embrace of Donald Trump is not going away. If Trump had lost in 2016, the party could have reversed course and taken a different direction. After four years to leave his indelible mark on the party, there is no going back, any more than Democrats could go back to a pre-Clinton or pre-Obama era. Even if they could, they wouldn’t want to.
If the Republican Party is now a home for populism where conservatives are accused of being liberal when they criticize the president, then there is only one realistic answer. Conservatives need to choose “none of the above” and find a new political home. When good conservatives are pushed aside because they don’t blindly support the president, the choice to separate from the GOP has been made for us.
A first step is to start judging Republican candidates on their merits rather than by party affiliation. Republicans with conservative voting records deserve to be returned to Washington. Republicans who vote in support of progressive policies such as expanded entitlements, tariffs, large increases in deficit spending and gun control do not. Likewise, Republicans should be held to the same high moral standard to which conservatives hold Democrats. The "R" behind a candidate's name should not be reason enough to vote for them.
Originally published on The Resurgent
Originally published on The Resurgent
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