It’s Time for Moderate Republicans to Join us in Righting the Ship

Ships in Distress in a Storm c.1720-30 by Peter Monamy 1681-1749On January 18, I posted a blog, Can the Democrats Get Clever,  arguing that the time had come for Democrats to make a deal with moderate Republicans, a deal that might save the Republic from a madman in the Presidency and a Republican party now controlled by a group of right-wing neo-fascists.  As I wrote then:

“This year provides a most unusual opportunity for deal making.  Just consider how Donald Trump belittled his opponents in the Republican primaries.  Little Marco, lying Cruz.  Senator McCain is ‘no hero’.  Forming Trump’s cabinet, Trump has given all of the positions to the extreme right – nominees intent on dismantling their respective agencies.  The coming administration is, in fact, a nihilistic body of destruction.  The administration aim to repeal Obamacare is dismantling what was, in origin, a moderate Republican plan, instituted by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts.  Repealing Obamacare without adequate replacement will cause thousands of deaths, deaths that will be on Republican hands.  Here’s the point – there still exists a substantial body of relatively moderate Republicans, honorable men and women who have been belittled and marginalized by the right-wing coup.  I worked with moderate Republicans for over twenty years in our state legislature – they were often among the best educated and conscientious representatives.  And I tell you today, that they are tearing their hair out, their party in the thralls of radicals who disrespect our most basic institutions, traditions, and morality. “

Today, in Politico Magazine, Bruce Bartlett, who worked under Reagan and George H. W. Bush, set out in “Trump is What Happens When a Political Party Abandons Ideas” a cogent description of the dilemma facing the moderate, intellectual Republicans. Here’s Bartlett:  “Trump has turned out to be far, far worse than I imagined. He has instituted policies so right wing they make Ronald Reagan, for whom I worked, look like a liberal Democrat. He has appointed staff people far to the right of the Republican mainstream in many positions, and they are instituting policies that are frighteningly extreme. Environmental Protection Administration Administrator Scott Pruitt proudly denies the existence of climate change, and is doing his best to implement every item Big Oil has had on its wish list since the agency was established by Richard Nixon. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is actively hostile to the very concept of public education and is doing her best to abolish it. Every day, Attorney General Jeff Sessions institutes some new policy to take incarceration and law enforcement back to the Dark Ages. Trump’s proposed budget would eviscerate the social safety net for the sole purpose of giving huge tax cuts to the ultrawealthy.

And if those policies weren’t enough, conservatives—who, after all, believe in liberty and a system of checks and balances to restrain the government to its proper role—have plenty of reason to be upset by those actions Trump has taken that transcend our traditional right-left ideological divide. He’s voiced not only skepticism of NATO, but outright hostility to it. He’s pulled America back from its role as an international advocate for human rights. He’s attacked the notion of an independent judiciary. He personally intervened to request the FBI to ease up on its investigation of a former adviser of his, then fired FBI Director James Comey and freely admitted he did so to alleviate the pressure he felt from Comey’s investigation. For those conservatives who were tempted to embrace a “wait-and-see” approach to Trump, what they’ve seen, time and again, is almost unimaginable.”

Bartlett goes on to lay out the history of the Republican movement since the Goldwater days, noting for example that, “When I became active in the Republican Party in the mid-1970s, it was the party of thoughtful men and women who were transforming America’s domestic policies while strengthening its moral leadership on the global stage. As Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote in a July 1980 New York Times article, ‘the GOP has become a party of ideas.’

And then, everything began to change.”

Bartlett describes in some depth how the Republican leadership turned away from ideas and intellect.  He notes:

“In the 14 years since then, I have watched from the sidelines as Republican policy analysis and research have virtually disappeared altogether, replaced with sound bites and talking points. The Heritage Foundation morphed into Heritage Action for America, ceasing to do any real research and losing all its best policy experts as it transformed from an august center whose focus was the study and development of public policy into one devoted mainly to amplifying political campaign slogans. Talk radio and Fox News, where no idea too complicated for a mind with a sixth-grade education is ever heard, became the tail wagging the conservative dog. Conservative magazines like National Review, which once boasted world-class intellectuals such as James Burnham and Russell Kirk among its columnists, jumped on the bandwagon, dumbing itself down to appeal to the common man, who is deemed to be the font of all wisdom.”

He notes, “With hindsight, it’s no surprise that the glorification of anti-elitism and anti-intellectualism that has been rampant on the right at least since the election of Barack Obama would give rise to someone like Trump.”   “Ideally,”  says Bartlett,  “I’d like to see an intellectual revival on the right such as we saw after the Goldwater defeat and the Watergate debacle.  Freed from the stultifying strictures and kowtowing to know-nothing Trumpian populists—perhaps building on new outlets and institutions that celebrate intellectual rigor and reject shallow sound bites—a few conservative thinkers can plow a path toward sane, responsible conservative governance, just as people like Irving Kristol and Jack Kemp did during the Carter years.”

And, here’s my point.  There is virtually nothing in Bartlett’s piece on current Republicanism that I disagree with.  The damage being done, both to his party, and our country by Trump and the “populist” right-wing agenda is transparent.  Our values are, in fact, much closer together than are those of Bartlett compared to Trump and the Right.  Was there ever a better case for making common cause? Bartlett is not alone; Bill Kristol and George Will and other Republican commentators grounded in old main-stream Republicanism literally have no where at the moment to go.  Is it really asking too much that they join us in putting an end to the Trump travesty and the hypocrisies and misgovernment of Paul Ryan and his ilk?  I think not.

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