It’s never easy taking an unpopular position. It’s especially difficult when the unpopularity of the position comes from your own side of the political debate.
I’ve somehow managed to be in this tight spot on more than one occasion. It was this way during certain stages of the Obama years — certainly during the Summer of Snowden back in 2013 when most of the left was lined up in support of Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden. I’m happy to see, however, that opinions have shifted since then, certainly about Greenwald who’s proving himself to be everything I said he was back when much of the left was simultaneously deifying him and cursing my opposition to his brand of disruption-disguised-as-reporting.
There have always been two factors that’ve helped me to retain the will to stand by my convictions in these cases: 1) the support of smart people, and 2) the confidence that goes along with carefully studying the landscape and determining the correct path forward. Fortunately and in most cases, both items are usually present. Even then, taking a risky position can be lonely, and my confidence can occasionally be shaken.
Cutting to the chase, I’m continuing to game-out my ongoing thesis that a “Coalition of Normals” is the most effective way to repair the systemic damage of the Trump crisis. More specifically, I believe Democrats and “Never Trump” Republicans need to form a working coalition to address structural changes to the presidency and other related institutions in order to prevent another Trump while fixing everything Trump himself has crushed under his ponderous, flailing bulk.
For the most part, the Coalition has been met with positive reactions from both groups. As I’ve surveyed various players about the idea, it’s been exclusively the left that’s opposed it. Not every liberal — but among those who dislike the idea, 100 percent of those people happen to be liberals. For example, the two most vocal opponents I’ve heard from are Driftglass from the Professional Left podcast, and my editor at Salon, Andrew O’Hehir.
Along those lines, I thought I’d take some time today to address some of the criticisms I’ve heard from various Democrats who are deeply skeptical of the Coalition, most of whom believe I’m being overly naive and/or idealistic. I, of course, strongly disagree. In fact, every molecule of the Coalition idea is borne out of practicality and necessity. There’s nothing irrational about it and, so far, I haven’t heard a single valid argument against it. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at some of the liberal arguments against the Coalition.
1) GRIPE: You’re never going to get Never Trumpers to agree with us on the issues.
I thought we’d start here since it’s an easy one to address. The Coalition isn’t about issues, it’s about structure, process, and institutions. Not as fun as issues, but these are areas that absolutely need addressing separate from disagreements on issues, especially knowing how Never Trumpers tend to agree with Democrats on what needs to be fixed. And the only way to fix damage this extensive, possibly with constitutional amendments, is to have the cooperation of some Republicans. Democrats alone can’t fix the Electoral College or divestiture rules or the White House usage of social media or devising new mandatory presidential qualifications or anything requiring an amendment.
But regarding actual issues, it’s worth noting how prominent Never Trumper, David Frum, is already on record supporting legislation to solve the climate crisis. He’s also on record as having defended George Soros, and, most importantly, Frum called out the Republicans for voter suppression, suggesting the GOP is being racist with its purges and other related shenanigans. You’ll also find more than a few Never Trumpers supporting the Affordable Care Act. So, sure, it took them a while to get here, but they’re here, and it’s the Never Trumpers who are meeting us eye-to-eye on several key issues (bonus!).
2) GRIPE: The Never Trumpers are part of the reason why Trump exists.
This is the most frequent gripe I see. What about Gitmo and Iraq and Sarah Palin and torture and tax cuts and so on? What about all the things they’ve been wrong about for years? Look, I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I’m well aware of the establishment GOP’s sins, some of which have impacted me personally. I’ve spent many hours criticizing Bill Kristol, David Frum, Steve Schmidt during the 2008 campaign, and even my e-friend Tom Nichols on occasion — I’m fully cognizant of all the things. Anyone who’s followed my work since 2004-ish knows I how feel about their support for policy proposals that I find untenable in some cases and loathsome in others.
What I have trouble grasping is the answer this question: What do we get by scolding people who actually agree with us on one of the biggest ever existential threats to American democracy? Seriously, I’d like to know what we get. The scolding and rejection of Never Trumpers will win us… what exactly? Is there something more substantive beside the, I don’t know, personal satisfaction of being able to tsk-tsk moderate conservatives up close? Are we expecting Never Trumpers to rend their garments in penance for their sins? While we’re waiting for an adequate degree of contrition, Trump continues to inflict damage and Trumpism will continue to metastasize. The time to start is now. Not when we’ve sufficiently flogged the Never Trumpers into submission.
3) GRIPE: They can’t be trusted! They’ll stab us in the back and embarrass us!
Since the 2016 election, we’ve been screaming all over social media and the blogs about how congressional Republicans should put nation before party. Never Trumpers are doing exactly that, while some of them are actually seeing the wisdom of center-left policies in the meantime. Given the amount of abuse they’ve been receiving from the Red Hats, the Never Trumpers are taking a brave and unpopular stance. This indicates to me a shit-ton of sincerity and fortitude.
There are never guarantees in life, and sure, there’s a chance they’ll balk and revert back to extreme partisanship, but we’re all sticking our necks out in opposition to a president who could very easily declare martial law tomorrow, subsequently arresting dissidents such as, yes, Frum and others. It’d be far worse for them if Trump were more popular than he is.
Frankly, I give the Never Trumpers a hell of a lot of credit for holding an unpopular opinion among so many of their former peers and permanent family-members. I assure you, they’re not going through all of this just to maybe-kinda-eventually team up with Democrats with the sole purpose of stabbing us in the back when we least expect it. Hell, if that were the case, I’d give them a lot of credit for a very risky long-view plot.
All told, I’m not trying to pull us all into a trap. It’s clear, however, that Democrats aren’t capable of unilaterally making all the repairs to the system that are necessary to eradicate Trump’s brand of toxic populism and creeping fascism from the national dialogue. We these need well-known conservatives to convince other Republicans that systemic reconstruction is a mandatory effort. Democracy is on the line here, and the only way to protect it from a hasty death is to build coalitions to stitch together a broad enough net capable of rescuing it, one, then to create fertile ground for it to flourish. Rejecting such coalition-building with a handful of trite and kneejerk grievances isn’t going to fix a damn thing. In fact, this is a unite or die crisis requiring all the help we can get. For this cause, I’m more than willing to hold fast despite being out on a limb. Again.