The future of the GOP after Trump
Prominent #NeverTrump advocate and GOP consultant Rick Wilson (reportedly assisting in the independent Republican bid of former CIA veteran Evan McMullin) persuasively argues that it is in the party’s and country’s interest for Donald Trump to lose -- by a lot. He explains:
“[I]f there’s a loss by a slim margin in the popular vote or electoral college, millions of already embittered Americans, worked into a frenzy by a shameless leader who will surely refuse to accept the returns, will start the next four years convinced that the United States of America is little more than a banana republic - and the presidency of Hillary Clinton is irretrievably illegitimate.
“That will be awful for the country.
“The second reason Trump needs to fall hard in November is that the Party of Lincoln needs a complete, top-to-bottom reset - one that completely purges the Trumpkins who believe racial animus is a governing philosophy and that their ignorant and angry primal screams can ever build a Republican majority.”
In other words, Trump, Trumpism and the unhealthy network of right-wing apologists (the American Conservative Union, talk radio, Fox Non-News primetime hosts, the senior staff of the Republican National Committee) all need to go down to crushing defeat so that the center-right can begin anew. (“No more hate and reckless group blame. No more fact-free fearmongering,” Wilson urges. “No more feeding the obese ego of a man who’s transparently unfit for the job.”)
If there is to be a viable alternative to liberal statism, a center right party must prioritize character, tolerance, intellectual honesty and decency -- not a check list of policy positions from the 1980s -- as the minimum requirements for elected office and party leadership. Most large organizations have a “mission” statement and the post-Trump center-right party surely needs one that emphasizes those attributes. A national center-right party should not be tethered to a check list of granular positions on dozens of issues, but instead to general propositions (e.g. American leadership in the world is essential; all Americans are deserving of the right to pursue earned success) and to a type of political honor code that insists upon civility, respect for fellow Americans and cultivation of an informed electorate. If this sounds ethereal and old-fashioned it is only because the GOP and Republican leaders have demonstrated incivility, lack of respect for their fellow Americans and perpetration of political myths and flat-out untruths. The party at the highest levels must eschew the politics of resentment, anger and hate.
Defining how the center-right party must behave needs to precede the decision as to whether the GOP can be that vehicle or whether a new party is preferable. Frankly if the Trumpist elements cannot be purged and will not tolerate an extensive reworking of the party, it will be time for men and women of good conscience to leave the wreckage of the GOP. The resulting political entity, whether the revised GOP or something altogether new, will need to be a 21st-century party that does not cultivate kooks, conspiratorialists and bigots.
A party that treats Sean Hannity as a journalist, the National Enquirer and talk radio as authoritative, and the email harangues and score cards of Beltway hucksters as more authentic than the views and needs of actual voters cannot survive. It does not deserve to survive. The election exposed a raft of right-wing media types undeserving of the center-right’s attention or indulgence. Voters can tune off or click past the schlock news, but the party itself should cease treating propagandists as legitimate journalists. Conservatives should decline to go on their shows, refuse to invite them to moderate panels or officiate at party functions; or speak respectfully of outfits that have flacked for Trump, contrary to the interests of conservatives and the country.
Trump belonged in a fringe right-wing, nativist party akin to the far-right European parties. If there is a segment of Americans who prefer that sort of thing, so be it. But that party cannot be the GOP or its successor. So, yes, after the election it will be time to clean house and clean out the intellectual cobwebs. Honor politicians who resisted Trump and look for future leaders among their ranks.
The election already has discredited the evangelical charlatans who claim political virtue and moral authority. Meanwhile, Libertarians (on limited government, trade, immigration and individual rights) in many respects have preserved the essence of the modern conservative movement (or 19th-century small “l” liberalism). It is time to reconnect with the latter (despite some significant differences of opinion) and to end toadying to the former.
Finally, it is time to eschew anti-immigrant fervor, opposition to gay marriage (which is as much a part of the legal landscape as is desegregation) and anti-government nihilism. These are not consistent with 21st-century America nor the attributes of a successful national party. The country will never return to its pre-New Deal size, nor will the American people tolerate evisceration of the safety net. Federal regulations of some sort will exist. The question is what kinds of government, regulations, tax and budget measures are implemented -- ones that enlarge the federal government and centralize power or which, where possible, employ market forces and cultivate strong communities.
All of this requires, per Wilson, Trump’s sound thrashing. Then reform, revitalization and refurbishment of the GOP -- if not abandonment -- can proceed.