The remaining days in the presidency of Donald Trump now number in the single digits. That should also be the number of days until the Republican Party begins the post-Trump era, and Trump-disdaining Republicans like me can fully re-engage with it.
But it isn’t. Instead, we face a situation in which Mr. Trump clearly lost the 2020 election — and yet the pressure for us to ditch the party is even more intense than it was before Nov. 3. He has behaved horribly since the election, which is no surprise, and hit an abject low point last week. Despite his role in the sacking of the Capitol, he has (also not surprisingly) refused to resign from office — but what is shocking is that so many Republicans in Congress have expressed downright hostility against forcing him out.
So many of us — who would otherwise consider ourselves Republicans — increasingly feel that either Mr. Trump goes, or we go. If he remains, we will be left with no choice but to leave the party, even though right now might otherwise be the exact time to double down, not ditch, and reassert conservative principles. The costs of people like me leaving could be grave, not just for the party but for American politics.
Many former Republicans who deeply dislike Mr. Trump have already done so. Steve Schmidt, who ran John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, announced last year that he was becoming a Democrat. Representative Justin Amash of Michigan left the Republican Party in 2019 and has urged others to ditch it for a third party (perhaps the Libertarian Party). Evan McMullin, who ran for president as an independent in 2016, has urged fellow NeverTrumpers to “further develop an intellectual and political home” that is “outside of any party,” and told them that “if the Republican Party continues on its current path, launch a party to challenge it directly.”
And yet, there are real pragmatic and practical reasons for Trump-loathing Republicans not to take a walk and in fact to step up our involvement with the party.
For starters, if Mr. Trump’s elevation to head of the Republican Party showed anything, it demonstrated that it is far easier to influence its direction when you are part of it. Before 2016, the party was for free trade, legal immigration and, above all, a strong national defense, hawkish on Russia and in favor of global defense alliances. In a relatively short amount of time, with Mr. Trump as leader, the party drastically changed its position on those issues.
But people forget that as pronounced as the mutation of the party under Mr. Trump was, it was not without precedent. In my lifetime, since the mid-1970s, the party has endorsed presidential candidates who often emphasized different views of conservatism. Each of them — from Gerald Ford to Donald Trump — changed the character of the Republican Party, some more, like Ronald Reagan, and some less, like George H.W. Bush.
Sure, they were all generally less tax-happy than their Democratic rivals and favored more conservative judges. But they — and their respective power bases — also didn’t agree on everything, and sometimes disagreed on a lot. Frequently, they were battling one another to attain dominance within the party. But they all achieved a period of power and control because they stayed and engaged in those battles.
This is what Republicans like Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah understand — and they were all on the ballot during the Trump years and won handily.
If you leave, the people you abhor stay and get to run the whole show. If you stay, you can at least ask questions, offer criticisms, block some objectionable actions and fly the flag for people like you. And things will change — perhaps not immediately for the better, but inevitably.
Still, right now, a lot of us are feeling more like Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who seems to be exploring the view that if Mr. Trump does not resign and Republicans don’t help to eject him, she cannot exist as a Republican anymore. As the conservative blogger and my friend Ed Morrissey, who after the Capitol incursion chose to “disaffiliate” from the party, wrote, “It’s impossible to act as though Republicans are republican, especially while its leadership makes clear that it doesn’t care one whit about the party’s own foundational principles.”
That may be where many of us — those of us who were explicitly NeverTrump, and even those who were willing to cut the president a lot more slack — wind up.
One problem is that, eventually, voters will want change. And when Democrats have been in charge of too many things for too long, even a Republican Party that has moved in a direction that many would describe as, well, deplorable will prove electable.
This is what we saw some of in California and Florida last year. California is dominated by Democrats and has been seen to be moving in an ever increasingly liberal direction. But in November, voters there reinstalled Republicans in a bunch of swing congressional districts.
In Florida, some Hispanic voters decided that if it was a choice between an authoritarian-inclined Republican Party or a Democratic Party with several high-profile, media-attention-grabbing members willing to proclaim themselves as socialists, they’d take the authoritarians.
I don’t want to leave the Republican Party. But I need to believe that if people like me stay, we will have a fighting chance at changing the direction of the party.
So elected Republicans need to force Mr. Trump out of office, one way or another, to avoid further attrition in the ranks and the risk that the party devolves into something even worse than what we have seen over the last week.
Liz Mair (@LizMair), a strategist for campaigns by Scott Walker, Roy Blunt, Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina and Rick Perry, is the founder and president of Mair Strategies, which consulted for Georgia United Victory before the runoff elections. She also served as the Republican National Committee’s online communications director in 2008.
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