The “Good Republican” Dilemma

Michael Gerson is one of the many prominent former Republicans who are horrified by what the Grand Old Party has become. In a column earlier this year for the Washington Post he wrote that

A political movement will either police its extremes or be defined by them.

Disapproval from opponents is easy to dismiss as mere partisanship. It is through self-criticism that a political party defines and patrols the boundaries of its ideological sanity.

The column was triggered by the overt racism of Senator Ron Johnson and the reaction–really, the lack of a reaction–by Johnson’s Republican colleagues, who (once again) proved unwilling to “patrol the boundaries of ideological sanity.”

There have always been bigots with access to a microphone. But in this case, Johnson did not face the hygienic repudiation of his party. Republican leaders preferred a different strategy: putting their fingers in their ears and humming loudly. Republicans have abolished their ideological police.

The reason is simple. After four years of Donald Trump, Johnson’s sentiments are not out of the Republican mainstream. They are an application of the prevailing Republican ideology — that the “real” America is under assault by the dangerous other: Violent immigrants. Angry Blacks. Antifa terrorists. Suspicious Muslims. And don’t forget “the China virus.”

Gerson concedes that Trump didn’t somehow create those views out of whole cloth. But  he points out–as many others have–the fact that Trump normalized these sentiments to an unprecedented degree.

Under Trump’s cover, this has been revealed as the majority position of Republicans, or at least engaged, activist Republicans…

Our country faces many crises. But our nation’s politics has a single, overriding challenge: One of the United States’ venerable, powerful political parties has been overtaken by people who make resentment against outsiders the central element of their appeal. Inciting fear is not an excess of their zeal; it is the substance of their cause.

In the column, Gerson describes the effect this has had on him, personally; he now considers himself politically homeless. As he says, as an Evangelical Christian, he has difficulty with several aspects of Democratic policy goals. Despite his own discomfort, however,

I could not advise an idealistic and ambitious young person to join today’s GOP because her ambition would be likely to destroy her idealism. Most Republican leaders can no longer be trusted with the moral education of the young on the central moral challenge of our history. Elected Republicans who are not bigots are generally cowards in the face of bigotry. And that is a shocking, horrible thing.

Gerson is far from the only former Republican adrift in a political no-man’s-land, confronting a once-typical political party that has embraced anti-intellectualism and abandoned policy prescriptions in favor of waging culture war.

I have many friends with whom I served in a very different GOP, and most of them are struggling with a similar personal dilemma. These aren’t simply people who once voted Republican and have decided to no longer do so–they were what you might call “professional Republicans,” people who spent the greater part of their careers in political activity and public service. They include former office-holders, several of whom were quite prominent, a collection of state and county elected officials, a few former city-county counselors, and a number of high-level Republican lobbyists.

Most no longer consider themselves Republican, and several have publicly announced that fact. Others are convinced that necessary change will only come from within–and although I disagree (I think it’s too late, that the party is too far in the thrall of the know-nothings and bigots) I understand their reluctance to “pull the plug” and pronounce the patient dead.

There are many kinds of homelessness. For good people who are intellectually honest, political homelessness is–at best– purgatory.

What’s worse, however, is that the American political system is deprived of the benefit of principled, reality-based debates over the way forward–debates that require honorable and thoughtful political debaters. The ultimate decisions made by politically homeless former Republicans–create a new party? fight to regain control of the GOP?– will determine whether those discussions can ever resume.


  1. The “Good Republican” Dilemma

    That title takes us back to yesterday’s “Words, Words, Words…”; those “Good Republicans” are the cowardly elected members of Congress who sit mute and idle and the word “Dilemma” infers there is a logical consequence to our current situation with those elected to power who are powerless to speak or act due to fear of reprisal from McConnell and GOP Trumpism.

    The current GOP members of Congress have lost all semblance of humanitarianism and the ability to uphold their own Oath of Office; some are backing out by not running for reelection OR to leave openings for Trumpism to move in to replace their cowardice with open White Nationalism.

    The “Good Republican” constituents, like those “Good Germans” in WWII, will either help it return to power with their vote or sit home on election day and allow it to happen and later claim they knew nothing.

  2. These are the five stage of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Current and former Republicans grieving for a party they believe has left them behind would do well to examine the duration of their own “denial.” A lot of water has flowed beneath the political bridge since the Southern Strategy, which arguably is the defining moment of the modern Republican Party. “Anger” and “bargaining” never entered the calculations of a party bent on entrenching its power by harnessing grievance and bigotry. That the excesses of the Trump Administration and its aftermath have only recently fast-forwarded some Republicans to “depression” is a rather sad commentary.

  3. While some GOP’ers have lost their home, many Hoosiers are extremely happy with their party’s vocal racist and cultish selves.

    I was on a Zoom teleconference yesterday with a group that was formed over a year ago to address racism in our county as a result of the George Floyd murder.

    This group has had several meetings. Most of the discussions are filled with platitudes and rhetoric which I abhor. I’m the only journalist on the calls. I couldn’t take the bullshit yesterday uttered by black clergy and our sheriff. They are still looking to establish a “space where they can trust each other to share.” I think over a year is more than plenty of time. 😉

    Meanwhile, I pointed out that the DOJ has gone around the country and found racism in all police departments. It’s 2021, I thought ALL Americans recognized systemic racism in police departments. Not our white Republican sheriff. He recoiled from my statement demanding proof since the DOJ hasn’t visited our community (actually they have because we’ve had several Human Rights violations with lawsuits to boot.

    The Sheriff was clearly offended. It is 2021. It is Indiana. It is Trump’s country. It is GOP’s country.

    I sent him the percentage of blacks jailed compared to the percentage of blacks living in our county after the meeting with follow-up questions. I rarely get answers.

    This is a public servant who happens to be male and white — no clue that our county (or state) is racist. If our population is 40% black, but the jail population and juvenile facilities are 80% black, we might have a problem that needs addressing. Denial and GOPism goes hand in hand.

  4. It’s really very simple, though a very large number of “good” republicans ignore it (and justify voting for Trump and Trumpkins because “the other guy” (whoever it is) is a socialist/communist/ANTIFA, etc.

    Here’s the test:

    If you see nine people sitting at a table with a Nazi, you’re seeing 10 Nazis at a table.

    The same is true for racists, anti-Semites, and bigots of every kind.

  5. Trump is the logical conclusion of the path chosen by Republicans years ago. If the “Good Republicans” wanted to save their party they are speaking out nearly 40 years too late.

  6. All good points, and I and particularly taken by David’s thumbnail sketch.
    Nixon, paranoid bigot and anti-semite, and his “Southern Strategy” put on the table what had previously been sub rosa.
    C-Span published its study of the past presidents, the only 3 coming in below Trump were A.Johnson, Buchanan and Pierce, all champions of bigotry and slavery.
    Today’s GOP leadership would raise monuments to those folks, while the rest would quietly smile and polish them, like the good Germans they are.

  7. One of my sisters told me several years ago that the Republican party was supported by people from the John Birch Society. That Trumpism has become the voice of the GOP has confirmed what she told me.

    So, what do the “good Republicans” need to do? How can these Republicans along with independents and progressives create a narrative that convinces voters that they will be better served by moderates and progressives? What sort of “brand” should we create? How can we control the narrative?

    How can we heal the nation from the damage of Trumpism? I’ve said it before and will say again that we need people who know how to free people from cults to help us free the GOP from Trump and his allies.

    And in the meantime we need people in local communities who know how to get out the vote in spite of the voter suppression laws. I so wish we made the day we vote a national holiday.

  8. Democracy is not foolproof. We can be much more determined fools than a mere method of choosing political leadership can protect against. It does however offer the majority the means to correct their mistakes.

    Republicans therefore now have no choice other than to find ways to compromise democracy by chipping away at it in the only states that they maintain a current majority in. That is, in the wake of Trump, the only way that they can deliver what their base now demands which is racial, religious, and ethnic leadership of the country that redistributes wealth towards them.

    Our Revolutionary War of course determined that, as a country, we would aspire to reject aristocracy as the means to install political leaders. Apparently though, one war was not enough to permanently reject leadership by birthright.

  9. Gerson is still a Republican; it is those who are pursuing a dictatorship while using that party’s name who are not Republicans. That party used to have a platform and guiding principles to offer voters, and while I disagreed with their stands on issues of that day as well as today, they did have a debatable position to take, unlike the Trumpist Republicans of today, who care little of political issues in their quest to destroy our democracy. Imagine! Using our democracy to vote in a dictator in order to destroy our democracy – speaking of circular logic. . .

    I confess to partisianship. Recently Johnson of Wisconsin decided to run for reelection and tweeted that he was starting a big ad campaign. I responded: “Are his ads going to be in English or Russian?” Readers will recall that he and several other Republican senators spent July 4 in the company of Putin in Moscow a few years ago and that he has been spouting Putinisms since he returned, including approval of Putin’s approval of 1/6. For my money any congressional member of any party should not be within a mile of the capitol building if he or she supports the destruction of our democracy – our most precious asset we hold in common.

    The good news is that Gerson has company: Self-identified Republicans now comprise only 25% of registered voters and such number is shrinking, and while this may explain frantic attempts by state legislators to hand elections over to vote counters rather than voters, I consider this statistic to be a positive one as we contest the constitutionality of such Republican attempts to subvert our democracy by statute. To do: Hang tough!

  10. I would agree with the statement: “Gerson concedes that Trump didn’t somehow create those views out of whole cloth. But he points out–as many others have–the fact that Trump normalized these sentiments to an unprecedented degree.

    Under Trump’s cover, this has been revealed as the majority position of Republicans, or at least engaged, activist Republicans.”

    The GOP for years tried to project itself as Conservative, i.e. small government and low taxes, avoiding at least in public some of the more extreme Social-Cultural Warriors. Perhaps a John Boehner or Paul Ryan would fit this model.

    Concurrently, though the GOP base consisted of Reactionary Right Wingers, bible thumper’s, Neo-Confederates and Rambo Wanna Be’s. The Trumpet knew this and legitimized the most extreme. No more dog whistles and siren songs that only a few heard – The Trumpet was loud and strong – The GOP base loved it. Any attack on The Trumpet was a personal attack on the GOP Base.

    Now the GOP has as it’s front the Jim Jordan’s and MTG’s, they are the new normal of the GOP.

    The House Commission on the Capitol attack will present the GOP with an opportunity to accomplish their level best to sabotage, and offer their wild conspiracy stories about Left Wing provocateurs being at the heart of the attack. The other fable will be the Capitol attackers were patriots who refused to abide by a stolen election.

    The US retailers Sears and Kmart have apologized and pulled from sale a T-shirt featuring the words “Ashli Babbitt American Patriot” after an outcry on social media.

    Babbitt was shot dead by law enforcement while taking part in the attack on the US Capitol by a pro-Trump mob on 6 January. She had been inside the building and was attempting to climb through a broken window when she was shot.

    After her death, her internet history showed she was a conspiracy theorist, including a believer in QAnon. Elements of the conservative movement have been attempting to make Babbitt a martyr for their cause.

    The martyr has been selected.

  11. Well, now those so-called “Good Republicans” are getting a taste of what I’ve felt my whole adult life – political alienation from both major parties. Still happy to be an independent voter, although I have voted for many more Dems in my life than otherwise and will likely never vote for a Republican again for any office. Both are essentially corrupted by special-interest-money politics and craven to corporate interests.

    The Biden Administration brings a welcome Spring breeze, especially in its handling of the pandemic and vaccine rollout, however, his recent EO’s regarding market competition ring hollow and harken back to the Clinton days where talk was tough but action was “meh” as the kids say.

    Unfortunately for the GR’s the Democrats are showing no sign of being taken over by the far-left, although they have certainly influenced the current administration’s agenda to be left of center on many issues and policies. This requires some deft coalition building by real political leaders, and not just hacks like McCarthy and McConnell who simply want to re-establish the Federal Government’s do-nothing role back to a time that never existed in our history.

    If that’s an ideology then so was The Peoples Temple under the leadership of Rev. Jim Jones.

  12. The “good Republicans” need to take a page straight from the Trumpers:
    – Gather tons of money from those most concerned
    – Identify the craziest at least somewhat vulnerable House/Senate Trumper incumbents/primaryists
    – Identify well-respected, classically conservative GOP leaders (elected state officials, governors, business leaders, education leaders, non-profit leaders) in those districts/states and put heavy effort into their primary races

  13. Reagan 40 years ago fully embraced American democratic values and institutions. Donald Trump is opposed to those values and institutions. That is a HUGE difference. Once does not flow from the other.

    While those on the left might have been opposed to Reagan on the issues, at the end of the day all Americans were playing the same game, working with the same set of facts. Trump is something new entirely. He is an autocrat, the leader of a cult whose members have been brainwashed into thinking there’s something wrong with American democracy and institutions.

    Those who want to lump all Republicans, past and present, into the same bucket are undermining the alarm that needs to be going off about the very real danger this country is in due to Trump and his followers. American democracy may well not survive another 10 years. We are on course in 2024 to have a Republican-controlled Congress reject the fair and free election of a Democratic President.

    Our country is going to have two political parties, one representing the right and the left. So why would I as a conservative leave the conservative party? I’ve been a Republican a heck of a lot longer than Trump has pretended to be one. So why does he have any more right to define what the GOP stands for than I do? Not that Trump actually stands for anything. Trump has no actual philosophy or views as witnessed by the fact at his request the GOP didn’t have a platform in 2020.

    If Trump and Trumpism represent an existential threat to American democracy, we need Republicans who will stay in the party and fight to rid the party of the Trump cancer. Republicans who leave the GOP instead of fighting back are just playing into the Trumpists’ hand. The minute I as a Republican Party, my credibility to push back against Trump and his cult goes out the window.

  14. Correction: The minute I LEAVE THE Republican Party, my credibility to push back against Trump and his cult goes out the window.

  15. Reagan did NOT embrace democratic values. He embraced the fascist, corporatist, capitalist values written by Milton Friedman. Reagan/Regan started the slide into outright fascism and tyranny we see today in the Republican party. Why else would we have Republican appointed Justices saying idiotic things like “corporations are people” and “money is speech”?

    THESE are the values of Ronald Reagan and the Republicans. Now, we’re paying for this Karl Marx prophecy come true. As mentioned above, Trump is the final outcome of this descent into moral bankruptcy. History shows that Republicans NEVER embraced the middle classes that made them rich. They only promised them “values” while screwing them out of as much money as they could get their hands on. THAT is THEIR American dream. Reagan and Reaganism were and still are disasters.

  16. This is what the Republican Party has been since it decided to cash in on racist resentment of the Civil Rights Act a couple of generations ago. That decision, as LBJ observed, converted the previously Democratic “solid South” to a Republican-racist bloc. And that bloc vote then devoured the former Republican Party from within.

    For decades, race hatred and religious bigotry against everybody who wasn’t a member of the “same church as me” has been the heart and soul of the Republican Party. Oh, the leaders put a good face on things by wearing a fake smile and pretending to be civil and talking about things like free markets and small government and the Constitution and other intellectual conservative talking-points, but as Lee Atwater knew, the real beating heart of the party was the folks who gleefully joked about “spearchuckers” and “junglebunnies” and “feminazis”, and who just as gleefully snarled, when momentarily balked by the rule of law from enacting the venomous hatreds that underlay their “jokes”, that anyone who opposed them should be summarily shot and entire nations reduced to radioactive glass for daring to be different. Trump was just the real soul of the Republican Party bursting out of its flimsy facade of civility like a victorious monster finally ripping off and discarding the skin of the human host that it’s devoured from inside in a horrific SF tale. Like Mr. Hyde casting Dr. Jekyll aside when he no longer has a use for him.

    The monster has now discarded its pretense, and picking up the discarded shreds of its previously civilized human face and sticking them over its snarling jaws will not change what it has chosen to be.

  17. The following is borrowed from a friend. Its accuracy should give pause to notions the Republican Party is redeemable.

    My personal testimony and crusade.

    Republican timeline

    1964: Civil Rights Act, “We (Democrats) lost the South for a generation.” “I’ll tell you what’s at the bottom of it,” he said. “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” Lyndon Johnson

    1968: Nixon’s Southern Strategy
    1980: Ronald Reagan Trickle ON, Government is the Problem, Greed is Good and Welfare Queens
    1988: Lee Atwater’s “Republicans in the South could not win elections by talking about issues,” You had to make the case that the other guy, the other candidate, is a bad guy.”, Bush Senior’s Willie Horton commercials
    1990: Jesse Helm’s White Hands commercials
    1992: Pat Buchanan’s Cultural Jihad
    1995: Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America obstructionism and the Oklahoma city bombing.
    1996: Bob Dole’s “Pay attention to what I say, not to what is written in the party’s platform.”
    1998: Bill Clinton’s impeachment for lying about a blowjob
    2002: Dumbya’s Swift Boat, “Axis of Evil”, Iraq War, Patriot Act
    2008: Birtherism and Mitch McConnell’s “Mr. President I’ll make sure you fail.”
    2012: Mitt Romney’s self-deportation and 47%
    2016: Mitch McConnell and Merrick Garland’s nomination
    2016: Donald Trump, 40 year career hustler, compulsive liar, racist, sub posing as a Dom, and overall malignant narcissist.
    2020: Republicans incite a traitorous mob to invade Congress in an attempt to overturn a lawful election.
    2021: Republicans acquit Trump from inciting a murderous mob.

  18. “Those who want to lump all Republicans, past and present, into the same bucket are undermining the alarm that needs to be going off about the very real danger this country is in due to Trump and his followers.”

    Paul K. Ogden; those Republicans currently sitting in Congress mute and idle have lumped themselves together ignoring the alarm. They are the only ones in the position of power who can speak out and stop undermining the alarm which has been blasting for over four years. Step one should be to use their power in the Senate to remove McConnell and get back to dong the business of Congress put before them.

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