This week’s Democratic National Convention featured many Republicans testifying on behalf of Hillary Clinton. But they could hardly be expected to spell out the real reasons GOP loyalists should vote for Clinton. However, I thought that I would see it in National Review or The Federalist or my other favorite conservative sites. Maybe I missed it. But since I haven’t seen it, let me leave it here.
For this argument, you need 2020 vision, instead of the usual get-it-now-forget-the-future myopia that characterizes both parties and obviously much of the elite class, for example Wall Street. Let’s call the ability to see four years in the future what it is: 2020 vision.
Of course, there’s always the argument that the Democratic Party has moved so far to the center, or even to the right, that moderate Republicans, the Lincoln Chafees and Susan Collinses and Arlen Specters, align more closely with Hillary anyway. If a muscular, consistent foreign policy is your main reason for voting, then that’s probably a reasonable argument. But most of my friends on the right don’t see Hillary as a right-wing-wolf in liberal sheep’s pantsuits; quite the opposite, they see her as a left-wing-wolf in conservative clothing. So let’s meet them where they live instead of trying to convince them that Hillary’s still a Goldwater Girl.
Importantly, this isn’t an argument that would work if Joe Biden had been the Demo nominee. Or Bernie Sanders. Or Elizabeth Warren. Nor would this argument make sense if Marco Rubio had been the Repub nominee. Or Jeb Bush. Or Ted Cruz. It only works if the race is Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump. Now, for months on my blog, I’ve advocated for a non-partisan, populist third party. I still have a feeling Gary Johnson of the Libertarian party could come along and throw this already-chaotic 2016 race into even more chaos. However, for the sake of argument, let’s just start with the premise that most people have, that there’s a binary choice.
Now, think five moves ahead. What is more likely to destroy the Republican Party as we’ve known it since Reagan, Donald Trump’s loss in November, or his victory in November?
Granted, it’s a close call. There are no good options for GOPers. But I’m here to tell you that Trump’s Presidency would not only be disastrous for the country, as everyone at the DNC said, but also disastrous for the Republican Party. No previous GOP senior general or foreign policy adviser will work for him! With naught but amateurs captaining all the ships, plenty will run aground. At the barest minimum, Trump will have two years much like George W. Bush’s 2005 and 2006, with multiple equivalents of an ignored Hurricane Katrina and cataclysmic Iraq War. And the first two years are likely to be made worse with Trump’s toxic combination of ignorance, arrogance, and habit of tweeting first, laughing off the implications later.
The Republicans in many ways are still recovering from 2005 and 2006. That was where they demonstrated to every independent that ideology, and not competence, was their main hiring criteria. That led directly to getting hammered in the 2006 midterms, Obama’s 2008 election, and the 2009 founding of the Tea Party, which was an infusion of intolerance and hostility to compromise that repudiated Bush’s “compassionate conservatism.” Should Trump win in 2016, the GOP will be shellacked in 2018 and 2020, and this time, there won’t be anything left to build on. What happens when President Cory Booker takes office in 2021, does someone found the True Tea Party? No.
In this scenario, the 2020 census redistricting and gerrymandering means the Democrats are going to turn their demographic millennial advantage into something that party-line conservatives should find terrifying. The GOP will become more and more of a rump party of cranks. It’s simply not sustainable for the party to allow George W. Bush and Donald Trump to be its only Presidents in the memories of half of Americans. The Ford Motor Company was forgiven one Edsel. It did not permit decades where Edsels were its most publicly visible brand. If it had, there would be no Ford Motor Company today.
On the other hand, if Hillary wins in November and Trump loses, several things happen. For one thing, Hillary has been a GOP fund-raising magnet for a quarter-century. The old GOP coalition rises. It won’t quite be the same as it was, but Trump’s loss will serve to repudiate much of so-called “Trumpism.” Conservative principles regarding small government and the Constitution will have a new lease on life. The GOP can write off 2016 as a fever dream. And the 2020 nominee will not be Trump or anyone like him, because there is no one else like him. We just learned that his own kids aren’t like him.
That said, we’re not getting rid of Donald Trump anytime soon. Whether he wins or loses this November, for years to come his tweets will be part of the news cycle of any new, unforeseeable event, say a new Deepwater Horizon oil spill or new Sony Hack or whatever. If he’s President, the GOP has to own all of those tweets for four more years. No brand could survive four years of that kind of shellacking. If he’s not President, on the other hand, GOP leaders use those tweets as evidence that we need to get past the 2016 fever dream and move on to conservative principles. In other words, having Trump as President drip-drip-drip-destroys the GOP over four excruciating years. If Trump loses, however, the triangulation begins, and Trump’s own words can be used to reinforce the GOP’s new message of true liberty through smaller government.
Anyone remember Obama’s argument in 2008, that it was time to “turn the page” on 20 years of Clintons and Bushs and partisan warfare? (The same one that, two days ago, he pretended he’d never said?) That was a powerful argument; it may have won him 2008 squeaker elections, first over Hillary and second over John McCain who, Obama never tired of reminding us, voted with Bush 90% of the time. If Hillary becomes president in 2017, the 2020 GOP candidate gets to make that argument. If Trump becomes president, they don’t, not in 2020, not in 2024, not ever.
But wait, some conservatives are saying. What about the Supreme Court justices? One problem is, you really have no idea who Trump is going to pick. You’ve given yourself a choice between known-bad and unknown, and you’re going to have to think of it as Brussels sprouts versus a mystery food that might contain arsenic. Or realize that Chief Justice John Roberts was right: when you politicize the process this much (say, by refusing to hold hearings on Merrick Garland), public trust in the Court erodes. Perhaps that thought may provide some cold comfort for the next one: conservatives, give up on social issues. Abortion, the death penalty, affirmative action, same-sex marriage? I mean, really, let it go. Conservative positions on most of that stuff contradict, or at least distract from, your stance as the party of small government. And that’s where your strength lies going forward. That’s where you can retake the Senate in 2018 (which you’ll lose this November). In the Senate and House, you can pass laws that cover what the Court covers (since as Roberts said, people don’t trust the Court anymore anyway). Remember, Congress makes laws, the Court only interprets them.
The GOP faces a Hobson’s choice of throwing away all of its history, or trying to build something out of decades of principled opposition. Voting for Trump is choosing the former. No RNC convention had ever been so contemptuous of history as this year’s. The speakers barely mentioned Reagan or Jesus. Instead, the past and present were re-framed as reality if you only knew it through Twitter (and maybe Fox News), as an unending horror show. Voting for Trump means saying goodbye to the principles that defined conservatism in the past and hello to something that’s at least fascism-adjacent. If Trump wins, liberals will very effectively deploy the worst stereotypes of conservatives for decades to come. Voting for Hillary, this one time, means that the GOP’s decades of small-government rhetoric can and will survive in some sort of revived fashion. As I said, there are no good options, but in this case the choice is clear.
Republicans for Hillary!