Of Course, Democrats Should Welcome the Help of Never Trumpers

There will be plenty of room for policy debates once Biden is president.

When the Associated Press reported that former Governor John Kasich had been asked to endorse Biden in a speech at the Democratic Convention, a bit of a controversy broke out over whether that was a good idea. It then broadened into a discussion about the wisdom of welcoming the assistance of Never Trumpers in electing the former vice president.

Especially given the fact that the convention will be virtual, I don’t think it is all that important whether a Republican is given a platform to speak. But Charles Pierce made the case against doing so. He points out the policy differences between Kasich and the Democratic Party:

[H]is politics don’t belong within an area code of any Democratic convention. He’s radically anti-choice, radically anti-union, and a career-long adherent to the worst idea in American politics, the Balanced Budget Amendment. He opposed marriage equality; the Hodges in Obergefell v. Hodges was a Kasich appointee in Ohio. He’s a fan of private prisons, despite the customary problems.

Most of the critique of Never Trumpers, however, has focused on the Lincoln Project, a political action committee formed by George T. Conway III, Steve Schmidt, John Weaver and Rick Wilson. As I’ve pointed out before, they are hardly the only ones. Other groups of Republicans who have formed to defeat Trump include the Right Side PAC, 43 Alumni for Biden, and Republican Voters Against Trump. I suspect that the reason the Lincoln Project is being singled out is because the ads they have produced have gone viral on social media and the group has successfully lodged themselves in Trump’s head—which is actually one of their goals.

The criticism of the Lincoln Project has varied. It goes from a suggestion that the people involved are only in it for the money, to a claim that they are ineffective, to the fact that they have focused on negative ads, which are harmful to our politics. But perhaps the most important criticism to consider is the idea that the group will claim credit for electing Biden and then attempt to use that to influence his policies. That is the case made by Jeet Heer—specifically as it relates to militarism in foreign policy:

This suggests that these ads should be seen as an attempt to stake a claim in Joe Biden’s victory so that if he becomes president he’ll give hawkish Republicans a seat at the table. Biden already has a tropism toward bipartisanship, especially in foreign policy. He voted for the Iraq War and has been criticizing Trump from the right for not being sufficiently hard-line on Venezuela and China.

Heer’s assumptions about Biden are not born out by the fact that the former vice president’s “support” for the Iraq War was complicated and that in every case where the Obama administration considered military action, Biden was the voice against doing so.

The suggestion that the founders of the Lincoln Project will attempt to influence a Democratic president raises the question of what motivates the Never Trumpers and what their vision is for the future of the Republican Party. I suspect that varies from person to person. One thing to keep in mind about the Lincoln Project is that Trump isn’t the only target of their ire. I would remind you that they are the ones that produced this video:

What that ad suggests is that they aren’t just working to elect Joe Biden, they are attempting to ensure that he has a solid majority in the Senate—which is where the real battle will be over a Democratic agenda.

It is worth reading Greg Sargent’s summary of his conversation with John Weaver about the Lincoln Project. When it comes to their vision of the future of the Republican Party, this is the crux of the matter:

But will the Lincoln Project remain committed to concrete expansions of voting rights after Trump is gone? Weaver said yes, noting it will keep advocating for automatic voter registration and a restored Voting Rights Act, and continue fighting efforts to “make it difficult for black people or poor people to vote.”

“No more of that,” Weaver said.

But for the Lincoln Project, this is also a means of rescuing the GOP from itself. This will force it to “actually compete for votes,” Weaver told me, adding that the GOP will be a “better party for the country if everyone participates.”

If not, Weaver said, “it will die.”

If Weaver is to be trusted, that is a hint that he recognizes that the Republican Party’s embrace of anti-democratic strategies — designed to allow a minority party to stay in power — must be rejected. In order to take the next step, Weaver would have to articulate an actual agenda that didn’t rely on post-truth politics and instead, actually competes for votes in the arena of ideas.

No one in this group has been more clear about the need for that than Stuart Stevens, a Republican consultant who has been affiliated with the Lincoln Project. Another Never Trumper, Max Boot, gives us some idea of what Stevens says in his book, It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump:

He calls the GOP “a white grievance party,” and writes that “there is an ugly history of code words and dog whistles in the party.” The rest of the Republican platform he dismisses as a convenient fiction: “How do you abandon deeply held beliefs about character, personal responsibility, foreign policy, and the national debt in a matter of months? You don’t. The obvious answer is those beliefs weren’t deeply held.… [I]t had always been about power. The rest? The principles? The values? It was all a lie.”

As a reminder that, no matter what these Never Trumpers do in the future, there are deep policy differences that exist between their positions and those of the Democratic Party, Bill Kristol recently tweeted this:

Actually, the most meaningful way to address the Iranian threat is to reinstate the agreement negotiated by the Obama administration and our allies that stopped Iran’s development of nuclear weapons—which Biden has promised to do.

While Democrats should welcome a broad coalition to defeat both Donald Trump and his congressional enablers, there will be plenty of room for disagreement once that goal is accomplished. As Adam Gopnik wrote, right now there is a need to distinguish between honest opponents and toxic enemies:

What’s needed against Trump now is … not an ideologically narrow, politically focussed opposition but the widest possible coalition of people who genuinely value the tenets of democracy, meaning no more than the passionate desire to settle differences by debate and argument, rather than by power and cruelty and clan.

It is possible that Democrats could sway enough independents to beat Trump in November. But to ensure that things like voter suppression and foreign interference aren’t enough to question the results — and to deal a major blow to Trumpism — we’ll need that broad coalition to protect the tenets of our democracy. Once that is done, if Never Trumpers can actually present as “honest opponents,” then we can talk.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.