As a liberal, I think there are two separate but parallel political battles going on in this country that are necessary for the political health of this country. In the first fight, progressives need to fight to regain political influence in our federal government and in the Red states. In the second fight, progressives are not involved but we have a huge stake in its outcome. In this second fight, moderate Republicans and principled conservatives need to fight the racism, anti-immigrant prejudice and religious intolerance that is currently afflicting the Republican Party. These are two separate fights, but progressives, moderate Republicans and principled conservatives share a common foe: Donald Trump.
America’s democratic republic has thrived because of the healthy debate between the Left and the Right. Since the time of the Constitution, when the Federalists and the Anti-federalists debated about the proper role of the federal government, this country has benefitted from the vigorous debate of ideas of the Left and the Right. When our debate has reached an impasse, liberals and conservatives have been willing to compromise and find common ground. Right now, though, the right wing in this country is not healthy.
Any group or political party is vulnerable to extremism and demagogues if they are not vigilant. In the past, Republicans and principled conservatives have taken stands against extremists within the Republican Party.
In the 1950s, Republican Senator Margaret Chase Smith denounced the red-baiting tactics of her fellow Republican Senator Joe McCarthy during the height of his political power. Senator McCarthy had been making unsubstantiated charges of communism towards any person with left-of-center views, destroying the reputations and livelihoods of many American citizens.
In the 1960s, conservative intellectual William F. Buckley fought the influence of the John Birch Society on the conservative movement. Buckley thought the racism and conspiracy theories of the John Birch Society would have a terrible influence on conservatives. In 1968, Buckley spoke out against segregationist George Wallace’s attempts to appeal to conservative voters. In 1992, Buchanan denounce Presidential candidate Pat Buchanan’s antisemitism and racism.
In 1968, Republican Jackie Robinson denounced Richard Nixon’s coded racists appeals to try to attract Southern white voters. Robinson had integrated Major League baseball and had joined the Republican Party because it was the Party of Lincoln that in the 1940s and 1950s were often better on civil rights issues than the Democratic Party. In the 1960s, Robinson had constant fights within the Republican Party as segregationist Democrats began to switch party affiliations and negatively influence the Republican Party. Nixon’s tactics evolved into the Southern Strategy, where the Republican Party would use coded racism to appeal to Southern white voters.
In the 1980s, conservative Senator Barry Goldwater fought against the influence of Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority on the Republican Party, feeling that they were a threat to this country’s separation of Church and State.
When we look at today’s Republicans, the conservatives who have taken the bravest political stands against Donald Trump and the Alt Right have been conservative writers and intellectuals. David Brooks, George Will, Charles Krauthamer, Jennifer Rubin, Bill Kristol, David Frum, Peggy Noonan, Mary Matalin and some of the writers of the National Review. They have consistently criticized Trump’s racism and breaking of democratic norms, and they have denounced the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish sentiments in the Alt Right movement.
Relatively few Republican politicians have been as brave as these conservative writers. Though I disagree with his political views, I’ve developed a deep respect for conservative Senator Jeff Flake for sacrificing his political career to denounce Trump’s racist, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim appeals and for being willing to criticize the Republican Party for acquiescing to Trump. Flake’s willingness to criticize Trump stands in stark contrast to supposed conservatives like Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Lindsey Graham, Paul Ryan and others who kept talking about their reverence to the Constitution and their reverence to conservative ideals, yet are willing to see Trump to trample over many conservative values.
I personally think Donald Trump is a demagogue who is cynically exploiting the racial and cultural divisions in this country for his political gain. He also has authoritarian tendencies and does not respect the democratic norms that are important for a functioning democratic republic. Though I think Trump is exacerbating the divisions in this country, I do not think Trump is the cause of these divisions.
I keep reading that Trump’s approval rating among Republicans right now is around 80%. Conservative John Kasich thinks that polling may be skewed, as he theorizes that many conservatives and moderates who oppose Trump left the Republican Party to become Independents.
I don’t know how moderates and principled conservatives can win their fight against the Trump and Alt Right influence in their political party. But they need to persist in fighting. If the racism, anti-immigrant prejudice, Islamophobia and Antisemitism become normalized within the Republican Party, that leaves no common ground for moderate and progressive Democrats to work with. It’s impossible for Democrats to constantly have to win supermajorities to overcome Republican obstructionist tactics. So this dooms the Congress to dysfunction where nothing gets done. This is bad for progressives, moderates, conservatives and all Americans.
On October 24, 2017, Senator Flake announced that he would not run for reelection for his Senate seat. Here is an excerpt of that speech
During the 1960s, liberal Republican and baseball great Jackie Robinson found himself drawn to many conflicts within the Republican Party. As Democratic Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson began to take stronger stands on civil rights issues to help the African American community become more equal citizens in this country, disaffected segregationist Southern Democrats began to switch party affiliations and this began to affect the Republican Party in a negative way. Though conservative Senator Barry Goldwater himself was not a racist, his 1964 presidential campaign tried to appeal to segregationist Southern white voters to compensate for Lyndon Johnson’s support in most of the country. Jackie Robinson attended the 1964 Republican Party to support liberal Republican Nelson Rockefeller and was drawn into shouting matches against some of Goldwater’s Southern supporters.
During the 1980s, conservative Senator Barry Goldwater began to denounce the influence of the Evangelical preacher Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority on the Republican Party. Goldwater worried that the Christian Right was having a negative influence on the Republican Party and was a danger to this country’s separation of Church and State. He denounced the efforts of conservative Christians to put a political litmus test on Republican candidates on social issues like abortion. When Goldwater spoke out strongly in favor of gay rights, he earned even more animosity from the conservative Christian segment of the Republican Party.