Bloom Briefing 18: An Appeal to Senior Republican Leaders: Will You Save the Country?
Welcome to the eighteenth edition of The Bloom Briefing: Notes from the Resistance. This week, President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who, until his firing, had been leading an investigation into Trump and the Trump campaign for illegally collaborating with Russia during the election. Conservative pundit David Frum has described this as nothing short of an attack on the rule of law. Dan Rather described it as unlike any of his preceding 4,500 weeks on earth. This is a BFD.
As such, I am forgoing other coverage entirely this week. Instead, The Bloom Briefing will take the form of a letter to senior Republicans in the Senate. Timothy Egan asked if there were not a few good men who would save the republic. I believe that there are. What follows is my attempt to persuade the only people who retain the power to save the republic that is in their interest to do so.
To: Senators Burr, Collins, Flake, Graham, McCain, Murkowski, Paul, and Sasse
From: A concerned citizen
I never thought that I would write to you. As a Pennsylvania voter, none of you represents me personally in the senate, but Senator Toomey, with all due respect, has the spine of a mollusk, and Senator Casey has no power. As a lifelong leftist, I disagree with most of the legislation you have sponsored in your collective time in the chamber, and I think you have been too soft-spoken in condemning the bigotry and hatred of parts of the Republican Party.
But I am a patriot, a believer in the always-still-to-be-realized potential of this great country, and you are as well. You have shown a willingness to speak out, at times, against the immoral and undemocratic elements within your own party. You have all, at one point or another, displayed frustration with or distrust of the current administration. I know that you want to serve your country, to, as the oath goes, protect and defend the constitution of the United States, and I am here to convince you that doing so will be both morally righteous and politically expedient.
I think the time has come for you to lead a conservative movement against Donald Trump. He is not a conservative. He is a mendacious and rapacious self-promoter, more concerned with dominating others and maximizing the value of his businesses than he is with upholding either the country or the norms and principles of liberal democracy. He treats everyone, including his ostensible allies, with condescension, disdain, and an utter lack of gratitude. (Have you heard from Chris Christie or Rudy Giuliani lately?)
You know this. You don’t need to be convinced of this. If you had any doubt before, the firing of James Comey, by all accounts an upstanding man, someone who would “speak truth to power,” and who wouldn’t be bullied by Trump, should have confirmed your worst suspicions. Trump has now fired three separate people investigating him and his administration.
It seems to me, however, that you need to be convinced that there is a way out of the cul-de-sac in which you, and many others in the Republican Party now reside. You don’t want Trump. You never wanted Trump. You may hold views that are somewhat aligned on certain issues, but you know that Trump cannot be relied upon to execute on these views because you can’t be certain that he actually holds them. Trump will do what is best for Trump, yet he remains popular among your constituents. What is to be done?
I understand the predicament you are in. A majority, and not a small majority, of your party supports Donald Trump. Over 75% of Republicans believe the firing of Comey was appropriate and that the investigations into Trump and Russia are a distraction. Trump’s approval rating among Republican voters remains above 80%. Even other senior leaders in your own party like Mike Pence and Paul Ryan won’t openly disagree with the president on anything at all.
You can expect a backlash from members of your party for speaking out against Trump. Paul Ryan is doing everything in his power to hold the party together by ignoring outrageous statements from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He hopes, I presume, that he can pass legislation Republicans have long sought in this presumably brief period where you control both houses of congress and the presidency.
Should you decide to speak out against Trump consistently, it is also possible that you would be subject to a primary challenge from a Trump-backed Republican. I think it’s unlikely that the administration is operationally functional enough to recruit a candidate to run and support that candidate in any meaningful way, but I can understand not wanting to have to spend time and energy wanting to defeat a hypothetical primary challenge.
But if those represent all the reasons why your current predicament is hard, let me present you with an alternative view of affairs. I think the current travails of the Republican Party have created a nearly unprecedented opportunity to enhance your political stature. A group of moderates and patriotic Republicans is waiting for a leader. You can be that person.
You have no doubt seen the polls that show a majority of your party supporting Donald Trump, but there is another way to read these polls. One could argue that the Republican anti-Trump movement has never taken off, in part, because it never had a standard-bearer. John Kasich doesn’t garner national attention when he speaks out, and he has focused more on Ohio politics than national politics. Evan McMullin has some national attention, but without an elected office, he holds virtually no power so can be ignored.
Image the potential of a senior elected official as the leader of a conservative anti-Trump movement. “Senator ________, leader of the True Conservatives movement in Congress, attacked Trump for obstructing justice, and vowed to use any legal means necessary – read subpoenas – to obtain documents from the White House pertinent to Russian interference in the election and any and all attempts to hide said interference.”
You would have a national spotlight every day of the week. While Democrats jump up and down waving their hands just to get a small bit of media attention, you could open your mouth to dozens of microphones. Do you really think all of those 80%+ of Republicans who support Trump would continue to do so with another senior figure of the party telling them not to?
In fact, we have polling that seems to suggest that they would not. In a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll out today, only a plurality of Republicans and Republican-leaners say that they supported Donald Trump in the primary. A majority report that they either supported someone else or had no strong preference. Even though over 80% of Republicans support Trump abstractly, over half of the party would gladly support someone else. You can lead the majority of your party.
With the majority of your party in hand, you would also appeal to the moderates and independents and even a few on the left to build a bi-partisan national coalition, all while doing the right thing at the same time! I don’t have to tell you how rare it is that politics offers such an opportunity. You will instantly become a front-runner for Republican candidate for president in 2024, if not 2020. This is an unprecedented opportunity for leadership.
Nicole Hemmer, whom I often find to be possessed with apt and prescient historical analogies, believes that, like Watergate, the Trump-Russia scandal will rally Republicans around Trump. We have already seen evidence of that, with some of you and many of your colleagues issuing bland non-statements on Comey’s firing or outright support for Trump. Representative Cheney’s “Best. Termination. Letter. Ever.” was particularly obsequious.
I happen to think, however, that on this point, Dr. Hemmer is mistaken. The Watergate scandal was about partisan politics. Nixon sent henchmen to break into Democratic headquarters, and then tried to cover it up. The entire scandal was about partisan politics taken to an illegal extreme. It’s easy to retain loyalty to your side when it crosses the line a little bit (or even a lot) against its eternal enemy.
This scandal is different. Rather than being an extension of partisan politics, it is, quite literally, the attempted takeover of the U.S. government by a hostile enemy. Not a domestic enemy, but a foreign one, a foreign power whose goals are not any particular policy, but the undermining of democracy as we know it. Allying yourself to a president potentially compromised by a hostile foreign power is not the same as allying yourself to a president who has overstepped the legal bounds of electoral politics.
You may look at the Watergate example and think that things didn’t turn out so badly. Four years of Jimmy Carter were succeeded by 12 years of Republican administrations, including that of Ronald Reagan, whom many of you believe to be one of our all-time great presidents. You were able to achieve many policy victories that had been long-time conservative goals.
Again, I believe wariness about the historical applicability of Watergate is warranted. Do you really want to tie yourself to the mast of this sinking administrative ship while it may be attempting to cover up Russian intervention in American elections? That is not, I believe, a position from which there is any political recovery. You may be able to retain some Republican support, but the Democratic attack ads will destroy you in any remotely competitive election. “Senator _____ helped cover up Russian interference in American democracy. Can she be trusted to protect the people of _______?”
Finally, I’d urge you to attempt, for a moment, to look at the situation from the perspective of Democratic and other left-leaning voters. Many of us believe that there may well have been foreign interference in the election that benefitted Trump and which he is now trying to cover up. He has shown throughout his career a ruthlessness that includes outright contempt for the law, and a willingness to cozy up to dictators and other leaders of questionable character.
Surely you can understand why, when both the institutions and norms of democratic society appear to be under attack, and the principal beneficiary of that attack decides to shut down an inquiry into whether or not liberal democracy is indeed under attack, faith in democracy is damaged. It is hard to have faith in the institutions of government when they appear to be putting partisan politics and personal gain ahead of their stated purpose, which is the preservation of liberal democracy.
You and I both value the process – liberal republican democracy – more than we value any particular set of policy outcomes. I would rather have liberal democratic government than a monarch who supported all of my particular policy preferences. This is the bedrock of our society. Without you taking action, however, those on the left find it difficult to believe that you (and by this you, I really mean all Republicans) really do value these principles more than your own particular policy preferences. Though our present predicament is mostly not your fault, your inaction aids and abets the declining faith in the democratic process among those on the left.
At the same time, many supporters of your own party are losing faith in liberal democracy because Trump shows it no respect. They are willing to support anything – even the politicization of law enforcement (i.e., the Comey firing) – if it angers those on the left. This is the anti-anti-Trump crowd.
It is true that being anti-anti-Trump is a reasonably safe space for conservatives at the moment, but it also allows for the decay of democratic values. You can join the anti-anti-Trump crowd and do so without personal consequence. But by attacking Democratic hysteria, you would allow your own supporters to forget or trivialize the process of government which Democrats are at least purporting to defend, a process which you and I (and hopefully sincerely some of the Democratic politicians claiming to stand up for it) value immensely. By calling out the more extreme elements of your party, including its highest elected official, you would actually be following in the footsteps of conservative icon William F. Buckley.
Finally, there is also something to be said for the fact that the truth always comes out in the end. At some point, the truth surrounding this election will be revealed. By ensuring that the truth is found out sooner rather than later, you insulate yourself from the criticism that you were willing to put party above country. Even if your commitment doesn’t result in a presidential bid, you can cement your legacy as one of the great statesmen of your generation, a Daniel Webster or William Seward.
The time has arrived for you to make a decision. Will you stand up for truth and the liberal democratic institutions that make this country the greatest in the world? Or will you be one of the many Republicans who decides it is best not to rock the boat while water is already pouring in through a multitude of holes? You can do the right thing and raise your political stature at the same time, or you can be one among a crowd of Republicans who helps the party achieve some policy gains in the short term, but presides over the annihilation of faith in liberal democracy in the process.
Lead the charge against Trump and the country will look fondly upon you as a patriotic actor at a time of immense need in its great history. Abiding historical approbation is within your grasp. Prove that the same principles that the founders codified to make this nation a city upon a hill are still alive and well. If you walk us back from the brink, your country will be eternally grateful.
I hope you will consider the themes of this letter seriously. It is my sincere belief that you are the last hope for the preservation of democracy. With your leadership, government of the people, by the people, for the people can indeed endure.
A concerned citizen