There’s an article in the current edition of “The Atlantic” authored by Jonathan Rauch and Benjamin Wittes (he of the baby cannon on Twitter). It’s called “Boycott the Republican Party,” and in it, Rauch and Wittes contend that the only way the GOP can be reformed and American democracy saved is if everyone outside the Trumpist base votes against Republicans:
[T]he most-important tasks in U.S. politics right now are to change the Republicans’ trajectory and to deprive them of power in the meantime. In our two-party system, the surest way to accomplish these things is to support the other party, in every race from president to dogcatcher. The goal is to make the Republican Party answerable at every level, exacting a political price so stinging as to force the party back into the democratic fold…
We understand why Republicans, even moderate ones, are reluctant to cross party lines. Party, today, is identity. But in the through-the-looking-glass era of Donald Trump, the best thing Republicans can do for their party is vote against it.
We understand, too, the many imperfections of the Democratic Party. Its left is extreme, its center is confused, and it has its share of bad apples. But the Democratic Party is not a threat to our democratic order. That is why we are rising above our independent predilections and behaving like dumb-ass partisans. It’s why we hope many smart people will do the same.
Brian Beutler answered that article with a great piece in Crooked Media yesterday: Boycotting Republicans Isn’t Enough. I urge everyone to read the whole thing, but here are some excerpts, which start from the premise that even if they lose two landslide elections in a row (as they did in 2006 and 2008), Republicans won’t take that as a mandate to reform but will instead become even more hypocritical and reactionary:
After years of engaging enthusiastically in corruption and fiscal profligacy, Obama-era Republicans adopted a pose of rectitude and austerity. Anyone who had been paying attention knew these were just poses. Their immediate jettisoning of Dick Cheney’s “deficits don’t matter” ethos and overnight embrace of hawkish budget rhetoric was nakedly insincere, but was nevertheless accepted in good faith by nearly the entire political elite. Just this week, in an otherwise astute assessment of Republican base voters, Axios’ Jonathan Swan asserted that Trump “has moved the party away from decades of orthodoxy on…deficits,” as if such an orthodoxy has existed in the post-Reagan era. As if Republicans’ re-embrace of expansionary fiscal policy after reclaiming power weren’t completely foreordained.
Republicans spent the full eight years of the Obama presidency making arguments they didn’t believe, claiming to be outraged about things that didn’t really outrage them, fabricating controversy out of things they knew to be uncontroversial. They spent four years pretending to believe an attack in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans was a historic scandal, eclipsed only by the revelation (which they also didn’t really care about) that Obama’s secretary of state used a private email account to do work. When they were rewarded for this plain-as-day bad faith with control of the entire federal government, they immediately forgot about Benghazi, ignored botched operations for which Trump bore responsibility, and continued to use private email and encrypted third-party communication applications with impunity.
Beutler makes the obvious point that the same cycle will repeat unless Democrats play hardball when they again control the government and — crucially — are supported in that effort by other elements of society:
After Trump, Democrats could adopt a more aggressive approach than they have in the past, on the fool-me-twice principle. They could abolish the filibuster, expedite legislation to widen the franchise and reform campaign finance laws, right Mitch McConnell’s theft of a Supreme Court seat, and conduct oversight of the institutions of government Trump corrupted. They could set up a commission to examine, the role of propaganda in American media, and report out how and why, under Trump, the Republican Party entered a de facto partnership with hostile foreign intelligence to influence American politics.
I think they can and should do all of these things and more, so long as they can be done on majoritarian and representative bases.
But to truly marginalize the GOP’s political style would require a level of cooperation from many conservatives that doesn’t exist, and a level of buy-in from generally non-partisan institutions—the media, the bureaucracy, corporate America, and civil society—which have proven ill-equipped to defend themselves from Republican efforts to coopt or discredit them.
Corporate America has giddily joined a banana republic-style public relations campaign to thank dear leader Trump for his corporate tax cuts, and portray them as a boon to workers. Mainstream journalists are so petrified of bad-faith accusations of liberal bias that many of them genuinely can’t grasp how hostile the American right is to the vocation of journalism, or how to report on bad-faith in the public square more generally.
Beutler is correct that the level of cooperation outlined above doesn’t exist. I don’t know how we solve that conundrum, but solve it we must. As horrible and destructive as the current Republican administration is, it is headed by a preening, addled, incompetent clown. After the Trump era, I’m not confident we’d survive a resurgent GOP headed by a more skilled fascist wannabe.