Michael Gerson was President George W. Bush’s chief speechwriter from 2001 until June 2006, and he also served as one of Bush’s senior policy advisors during the 2000 campaign until his departure from the White House in 2006. Time magazine once listed him as one of the twenty-five most influential evangelicals in America. Now, he’s basically hoping that every Republican running for office next year will lose.
This is the sad logic of Republican politics today: The only way that elected Republicans will abandon Trump is if they see it as in their self-interest. And the only way they will believe it is in their self-interest is to watch a considerable number of their fellow Republicans lose.
It is necessary to look these facts full in the face. In the end, the restoration of the Republican Party will require Republicans to lose elections. It will require Republican voters — as in Alabama and (to some extent) Virginia — to sit out, write in or even vote Democratic in races involving pro-Trump Republicans. It may require Republicans to lose control of the House (now very plausible) and to lose control of the Senate (still unlikely). It will certainly require Trump to lose control of the presidency. In the near term, this is what victory for Republicans will look like: strategic defeat. Recovery will be found only on the other side of loss.
One of the more interesting implications of what he’s saying is that the Republican Party’s increasing reliance on evangelicals is immoral:
Trump and his allies are solidifying the support of rural, blue-collar and evangelical Christian whites at the expense of alienating minorities, women, suburbanites and the young. This is a foolish bargain, destroying the moral and political standing of the Republican Party, which seems complicit in its own decline. It falls to Republican voters to end this complicity.
There’s a political calculation in there. He’s saying that alienating minorities, women, suburbanites and the young isn’t a good long-term electoral strategy. But there’s a moral argument in there, too. He’s more explicit about it here:
Similarly, if Republicans lose the House, the Senate, the presidency and (for a time) the country — and incur some policy losses in the process — Trump’s Republican opponents will not be to blame. It would be Trump and his supporters, who turned the Republican Party into a sleazy, derelict fun house, unsafe for children, women and minorities.
A healthy, responsible, appealing GOP can be built only on the ruins of this one.
Gerson doesn’t explicitly mention it, but evangelicals in Alabama by and large stuck with Roy Moore, which makes them complicit in the “the aggressive ignorance, the racial divisiveness, the disdain for governing, the contempt for truth, the accusations of sexual predation, the (just remarkable) trashing of America in favor of Vladimir Putin, [and] the conspiracy theories” that Gerson says typify the Trump movement.
Gerson describes himself as “positively elated” that Doug Jones defeated Roy Moore, but he only won by about 20,000 votes. That’s a remarkable achievement for a pro-choice Democrat in Alabama but it still shows that a huge number of evangelical Christians held their nose and voted for Moore. They represent the most loyal Republicans imaginable. Forget yellow dogs, they were willing to vote for a child molester over a Democrat.
Don’t these voters need to be saved before the Republican Party can be saved?
Where would the GOP get the votes they need to succeed without these voters?
Personally, I think that people like Gerson should start thinking about building a centrist party that can compete in parts of the country where evangelicals aren’t the driving force behind the right. Let the GOP be the party for the aggressively ignorant and the racially divisive, and let evangelicals who don’t fit that description fan out and join a new political party. It’s not far-fetched that a party like that could supplant the GOP as the second major party in places like California and the Mid-Atlantic.
Business leaders would prefer a Rockefeller Republican-style party anyway, so that they would have a guaranteed, steady flow of donations.
I don’t think the GOP can recover from its present state, and it’s probably a mistake to wait around hoping for that to happen. People who oppose Trump but can’t support the Democratic Party for whatever reasons shouldn’t be left without a party. They should get about building one. If the new party can only achieve dominance over the GOP in certain regions, that will still force the GOP into coalition building, which will force them to reform—at least moderately.
In the end, Gerson’s stance here is admirable but also kind of useless.