The list of Republicans who fell short in 2017 — discarding intellectual and moral integrity, rationalizing and minimizing President Trump’s racism, overlooking attacks on democratic norms, elevating partisanship over patriotism — was so long as to cause many political-watchers to doubt the viability not only of the GOP but of a functional two-party system.
Well, we largely agree that the GOP will be forever tainted by Trumpism. We also concur that a fleet of “opinion makers” at previously respected publications and think tanks disgraced by their cheer-leading for a xenophobic, racist, misogynistic president whose contempt for truth and the rule of law is unprecedented will not regain the stature and credibility they once enjoyed. We also sadly acknowledge that too many on the right talked (or tweeted) a good game, yet crumbled under partisan pressure when it mattered most. We’ve long since stopped crediting those with pithy Twitter feeds but rotten voting records. The hall of shame is crowded to be certain.
Vice President Pence exemplified toadyism. Speaker of the House Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) forfeited any claim to intellectual rigor. The GOP, as a whole, refused to properly vet nominees or act as a check on executive branch corruption and self-dealing. Republicans looked the other way — or worse, joined in — while the president attacked the credibility of the courts, the FBI and the Justice Department.
However, there were some heroically honest and decent figures on the right who refused to stoop to nonsensical rationalizations (“But Gorsuch …”) or parrot falsehoods (e.g. climate change denial, anti-immigrant clap-trap). Some valiantly defended democratic norms and refused to peddle long-ago debunked policy nostrums.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) again and again rejected ridiculous right-wing policy positions, spoke out against Trump’s attacks on democratic norms and tried to advance sensible policy positions. He warned, “With millions of lives hanging in the balance, the last thing we need is to have politicians and pundits predicting odds on the probability of war [with North Korea]. It’s neither an accurate nor a helpful way to treat a complex international challenge.”
Other Republican governors, including Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Larry Hogan of Maryland and Brian Sandoval, rallied against destructive health-care legislation and continued to govern from the center.
Former president George W. Bush denounced right-wing demagoguery and xenophobia. Former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden lambasted the administration’s anti-Muslim bans and xenophobia while defending the intelligence community against scurrilous attacks from the White House. Former State and Defense Department officials who have served in Republican administrations (e.g. Eliot Cohen, Eric Edelman, John McLaughlin, Richard Haas, Kori Schake) denounced Trump’s infatuation with autocrats, refusal to acknowledge Russian interference in our elections, abandonment of human rights and decimation of the State Department.
Former independent conservative presidential Evan McMullin through his organization Stand Up Republic defended the First Amendment, objective truth and a values-based foreign policy. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) wrote a book and delivered a searing speech from the Senate floor denouncing Trumpism — and backed up words with a financial donation to Alabama Senator-elect Doug Jones in his contest against avowed racist and accused child predator Roy Moore. Although they supported grossly flawed tax legislation, Flake and fellow Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain defended free trade, robust immigration and civic decency. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) announced her retirement but continued to defend human rights, immigration and responsible health-care policy. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) admonished Republicans: “Our primary process leads to the candidates who tack to the fringe or tack to the to the base. And I think we’ve seen too much of that, there’s too much political reward for tacking really hard to the base and not enough reward for consensus and agreement, or heaven forbid, compromise.”
The number of figures on the right who stood up for principle, rejected careerism and refused to go along with their former comrades in venerating or even tolerating Trump seems depressingly small, I grant you. Nevertheless, that makes their defiance in the face of criticism even more admirable. They reminded us that it is not one’s position on top marginal tax rates nor support for a single Supreme Court Justice that proves one’s conservative bona fides or patriotism but defense of a free press, respect for an independent judiciary, embrace of the American creed (“We find these truths … “), adherence to objective reality, advocacy for civic values and dogged rejection of bigotry and xenophobia.
For those who stood firm in the face of the howling mob and relished their sometimes-lonely crusade, we can say well done. We hope your example inspires others in 2018.
Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.