In a recent piece for the New York Times, columnist David Brooks (a centrist Republican) voices his strong disappointment with the Republican Party’s growing acceptance (and defenses) of President Trump’s controversial actions and rhetoric. In his analysis, Brooks points out that despite having chronically low approval ratings, nearly 90% of Republican voters now have a favorable view of the president. He also describes how Republican candidates in red states are abandoning long-held conservative tenets (like free trade) to compete over which of them is the most pro-Trump.
“Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party is complete,” Brooks laments, contending that efforts within the party to hold the president accountable have failed.
Brooks blames political tribalism, and not just from the Right. He believes that the increasingly condescending anti-Trumpism fervor from the Left has helped consolidate the Republican base — to the point that partisan warfare has trumped nearly everything.
Of course, not all Republicans and conservatives have become Trump fans. Some (though fewer and fewer) remain skeptics and critics, and they continue to voice their concerns (to the disdain of fervent Trump supporters) over what they see as serious problems being created and/or exacerbated by our president. These folks are often lazily referred to as “Never Trump” — a term previously used to describe conservatives who didn’t vote for Trump in 2016. These days, the phrase is mostly used as a pejorative by pro-Trumpers who feel inclined to further marginalize dissent on the Right.
As someone who finds himself in that camp of disillusioned righties, I can tell you that we largely view ourselves as Republicans without a home.
In a New York magazine piece published earlier this week, liberal columnist Jonathan Chait offered a suggestion for people like me: Join the Democrats.
Chait agrees with Brooks that tribalism is a big problem within the Republican Party. Yet, he differs in that he doesn’t think the Left has contributed to it:
“One might entertain the conclusion that no combination of facts and logic can dislodge the Republican base from its tribal loyalties. This interpretation could be supported by such evidence as the fondness of Republicans for birtherism, their distrust of climate science, and so on. Perhaps the Republican base as currently constituted is hopelessly immune to reason…”
Chait says that unlike those Republican tribesman who are “immune to reason,” people like me have a logical recourse: leave the party (which many of us have already done), and align with the Democrats.
Here’s his reasoning:
“If Trump is going to call anyone who criticizes him a Democrat and if his base is going to believe him, why not go along with it? Certainly, the half-measures adopted to date by Republican dissidents have failed completely. The GOP is systematically purging dissent and has made anti-Trumpism impossible for anyone who sees a future in Republican politics.”
His observations are hard to deny. And ironically, he’s describing the same prescription that many Trump supporters have written for people like me over the past couple of years. Their belief is that criticizing Trump automatically makes someone a liberal, and thus such a person might as well join the Democratic Party.
In reality, most conservative Trump skeptics are decidedly to the right of the president, politically.
Chait points out that throughout history, even notable politicians have switched parties when they felt as though they’d been left behind by their team. But while Chait believes today’s situation certainly warrants such defections, he doesn’t see it happening, and he explains why not:
“The absence of Republican moderates, among both elected officials and intellectuals associated with the party, willing to openly join or work with the Democratic Party suggests that the power of partisanship remains overwhelming, even among those Republicans who profess the strongest aversion to partisanship.”
In other words, if you don’t join the opposition party, in opposition of Trump, it’s because you’re a partisan. It’s amazing that Chait doesn’t recognize the glaring flaw in his logic.
People switch political parties when they realize that the other party has become a better alternative, regardless of the reason. This is true of politicians, pundits, and regular voters. And if that reason is based on principle (as Chait contends it should be), why would any right-leaning thinker (even a moderate) decide that the Democratic Party is a better alternative?
The Republican Party may well be purging itself of principled conservatives, but the Democrats drove all of its conservatives (and a lot of its moderates) out of the party years ago.
Yes, President Trump is a bad person, and his conduct embarrasses me almost daily. If any of his 16 primary opponents had won the Republican nomination in 2016, I wouldn’t have left the party. But just as I also couldn’t bring myself to vote for Trump’s utterly corrupt opponent in the general election, the notion that I’d be better off siding with the Democrats is absurd.
The Democratic Party offers nothing to someone like me.
As fiscally irresponsible as the GOP has become (and it’s worse than ever under Trump), does anyone envision today’s Democrats actually bettering the situation? How about when it comes to foreign policy, or the economy? How about on health care?
On issues of character and integrity (of which Trump has next to none), who is the Democratic alternative? Schumer? Pelosi? Again, we’re talking about the party that nominated Hillary Clinton to be its leader.
Joining the Democrats’ team, just for the sake of ‘sticking it’ to Trump and the GOP, would be a more tribal and overtly partisan venture than what Chait is attributing to the Republican base. If we didn’t buy that nauseating “binary choice” argument during the election, we sure as heck aren’t going to buy it now.
Simply put, if the Democratic Party wants me as an ally, they would need to give me a substantive reason for entering their abode; a mutual distaste for Trump doesn’t cut it.
Until then, or until the Republican Party gets its act together, remaining “homeless” is a perfectly reasonable alternative.