Several years ago a Republican state legislator chose not to run again, out of disgust for the character of the legislature under an arrogant Republican super-majority and the outsize influence of Lt. Gov/Sen. Ron Ramsey. The legislator mused that the only way to restore the legislature to a reasonable degree of deliberative functioning was to elect more Democrats. Needless to say, that’s a position I favor.
I remembered that conversation recently, in late June, when iconic conservative Pulitzer-Prize-winning columnist and commentator, George Will, announced before the Federalist Society that he has quit the Republican Party. He’s a thinking rather than a reactive conservative, who urges everyone to counter Trump’s inept, wrong-headed leadership by voting against the current batch of Republicans for state and federal office.
On the same day another Republican notable renounced the party. Steve Schmidt headed John McCain’s and George W. Bush’s campaigns and introduced Sarah Palin to the country’s main stage. He’s been strongly public and vocal about Trump’s unfitness for office from the campaign’s very beginning, but by this point he expresses desperate worry for the country and the future of democracy. He says he left the party not so much because of Trump himself but because the party itself now mimics Trump, has become “corrupt, indecent, and immoral,” and, apart from notable exceptions like Bob Corker, is filled with “feckless cowards who disgrace and dishonor the legacies of the party’s greatest leaders”.
He has scathing language for Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, who’ve refused to use their powerful positions to say anything against Trump. He says, “The party is irredeemable. It has died and bled out because of the fecklessness of its leaders.” He has equally harsh words for those he calls “theocratic crackpots” who have taken over, like Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, and Mike Huckabee (whom I’d once respected as Arkansas governor and candidate for president, before he joined FOX News). Leaving only one major political party in support of liberal democracy, to address the damage being done to our country’s institutions, our founding values and role in the world.
Schmidt (and I now assume George Will) is appalled by the lack of imagination Republicans show for the scope of tragedy which could be set in motion by someone in Trump’s powerful position.
How could they not recognize in the undermining of U.S. stature, the damaging of our Atlantic Alliance, and his apparent zero-sum conviction that might makes right, that he is heading us toward dangerous territory? Schmidt believes it’s critical that we all, Republicans and Democrats, understand the strategies Trump has used to con and build his devoted base into a faction so strong that most Republican leadership caved with barely a whisper. Out of electoral fears or, in the case of wealthy donors, economic self-interest. Schmidt has identified the five essential ploys Trump has used in his rallies, from the first to most recent, and how they’ve had effect.
First, Trump uses lies to incite fervor in his base, with such an avalanche of falsehood that even best fact checkers can‘t keep up. That the president of the United States lies as a matter of course is bad enough. That he barely cares if we know it compounds the insult. Second, he’ll scapegoat any vulnerable target. Third, he makes up allegations of conspiracies, mostly hidden nefarious voices colluding with the scapegoated populations. Fourth, he engenders a sense of mass victimization among his followers, which particularly resonates with those who come with an already entrenched sense of persecution, perhaps near ready to welcome a strongman protector. And, fifth, he’ll assert the need to use extraordinary powers, that heretofore were held to be unthinkable. Of course to protect us all.
I have watched in disbelief as Tennessee’s Republican candidates for high office fall over themselves to claim loyalty to Trump, and Trumpism. Some have even boasted to be the least moderate, as though that term for an essential quality in healthy human interaction is instead a pejorative, to be sternly avoided. Our state Republican electoral hopefuls have indelibly marked themselves. At least the one who was loudest in shunning moderation recently lost out, however, and I hope her Trump kowtowing did some damage. We must somehow manage, as Americans, to recover our true character, and that won’t likely be accomplished until Republicans recover theirs.
As I consider this, a favorite line of poetry comes to mind — “we must have known/know well by now/the way evil will tag stupidity around.” Over dramatic, you say? Not by my lights, nor, it’s clear, by the standards of Steve Schmidt and George Will.
When a most respected conservative thinker, and a major party operative as well as serious thinker himself, advise voting the Republicans out, no words can express the overwhelming scale of change going on. Many long-time Republicans are considering joining them in pushing back. Others may simply call time out. As a Democrat, I won’t be counting on any of it. The necessary strength of character to admit mistakes in wake of an effective con job may be the rarest thing in the world.