Towards Renewal

Some Friday links and a few thoughts on how the GOP can begin to clean up its act

Happy Friday, and thanks for reading!

I know I said the full launch of the Rundown won’t begin until after the Biden inauguration - probably early February - I wanted to go ahead with some thoughts over the next few weeks. God willing, we’ll move through the next week peacefully and perhaps even begin, slowly, to reshape something like a normal politics.

With that said, let’s run down five links for Friday.

First, a piece in the Guardian from the historian Geoff Kabaservice. Geoff is a good follow on Twitter (@ruleandruin) and his book, Rule and Ruin, is a great read on the history of moderate Republicanism post World War II. In this piece, he walks through the havoc Trump and his enablers have brought upon the GOP, and notes the danger for the nation if one of the two major parties is captive to personality of one very unstable man. Republicans in the House did an unwise thing by not impeaching the President this past week, but at least the Senate has an opportunity to rid our national politics of Trump’s influence. Let’s pray they do the right thing.

Second, you may have noticed a little dust-up yesterday when Politico ran a piece by Ben Shapiro. The site’s staff nearly revolted, and social media was once again inundated with the conversation over the liberal media’s lack of intellectual diversity. The problem, though, is that Shapiro is a firebrand who enjoys arguing bad faith. As Berny Belvedere argues here, we should not equate discomfort with Ben Shapiro with discomfort with conservatism. More importantly, we should ask ourselves - honestly - why people may be uncomfortable with Shapiro in the first place.

Third, my friend Samuel Goldman had a good piece this week at Providence Mag on “the Putsch at the US Capitol.” Whatever we call it, it was bad, and our nation suffers for it.

Fourth, if you spend any time at all on social media - including Facebook! - you’ve likely seen links from the Epoch Times. Read this recent piece from the Atlantic, and you should come away with greater suspicion for anything the site publishes. Pieces like this are going to important as we continue to weed out disinformation from our national conversation.

Finally, a masterful piece in National Review from Dan McLaughlin. I’ve had my disagreements with McLaughlin over the last few years, finding him far more willing to give the Trump administration a pass, or at least to try and view the administration through a standard lens. I always rejected that view, and nothing has changed my mind. In any case, after last Wednesday, McLaughlin has had enough, and argues forcefully for disqualifying Donald Trump from ever holding office again. (This piece may be behind the paywall - sorry!)

Now, on to some other thoughts about the Republican Party. While I’m generally of the opinion that the party isn’t worth saving, I realize it’s still here, so it might as well clean up its act. So how should it do this? Most Republican politicians have spent the last four years kowtowing to the MAGA mob on talk radio and Twitter, but I do believe that if enough leaders speak with force, voters are going to come around. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself this. If Republican leadership - with all but a handful of cranks (Hi, Mo Brooks!) - had come forth the second week of November and said with clarity, “This election is over, and Joe Biden will be our next President. Let’s get busy with the transition and with thoughtful opposition to his policies as they’re presented.” What would have happened? Maybe the MAGA mob would have still staged an insurrection last week. It’s possible. But the entire country could have seen that those folks were on their own. Instead, those violent fools were just repeating the same lies they had been told by their local congressmen.

So where does the GOP start?

I’ll give one example and pick up the rest next week. First and foremost, democratic norms and the rule of law have to be followed. At all times. No exceptions. The truth is this should be a no-brainer, but democracies are like gardens - they must be pruned and cultivated. To overdo the metaphors, think of this is like a diagnostic checkup of sorts. Once a candidate or party meets this threshold, they can enter into our politics and engage in all sorts of debate and argumentation. But absent a firm, robust commitment to the rule of law, which includes a willingness to respect our electoral process and to follow proper chains of investigation for prosecution of criminal conduct, we cannot have a strong party system. This also means that political leaders have to be willing to speak out publicly about violations of these norms. The GOP has failed this test in numerous ways over the past five years.

A couple of brief examples. The most egregious was Donald Trump’s consistent argument, both in 2016 and 2020, that the electoral process was rigged against him, with almost no serious pushback from Republican leaders. Moreover, Trump routinely argued that the Supreme Court and the Vice President would come to his aid, a deeply unconstitutional proposition. All of that culminated in last Wednesday’s insurrection. No party can tolerate a member, most less a leader, who constantly delegitimizes the electoral process without any supporting evidence. Moreover, Trump’s use of his office to pressure both a foreign ally - Ukraine - and the Department of Justice to open investigations designed to damage a political opponent tested both the laws of our nation and the spirit of democratic rule. In the end, it all earned Trump two very well-deserved impeachments.

So as the Republican party tries to find its way out of the dark, it should recommit to a firm allegiance to the rule of law. Not to tax cuts or small government or abortion restrictions. All of those things must come later, if they come at all. Our political parties must be committed to our political system, lest they set fire to the very house in which they live.