While the American left debates just how socialist to go, Republicans and the political right are in an existential fight, a veritable crisis.
They must decide between power and principle, politics and conscience. They have to choose whether to stand with US president Donald Trump, no matter what he has done, or for the ideals they claim to believe in.
The most bold among them have already chosen the latter and have been leading by example. That makes them radicals, more so than any Democratic presidential candidate promising the end of student loan debt and Medicare for all because conservatives, by definition, don’t hasten change or disrupt the status quo.
But American conservatism is different, or so says former Republican commentator George Will, who argues that in the United States, looking to the past, to the Constitution and its framers’ ideals, ensures change and dynamism.
Will is among the conservatives who have spoken out against Trump. He quit the Republican Party because it supports the president, who does not represent his views. Will believes doing so was his duty, and he’s not alone.
In praise of intellectual honesty
Law and language luminary Bryan Garner, chief editor of Black’s Law Dictionary and author of Garner’s Modern English Usage, a fan and friend of the fiercely conservative late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, announced mid-month that he’s leaving the Republican Party “over impeachment.” Garner is registering Independent.
It was a rare political statement for a word nerd who generally tweets about linguistic pet peeves, so the post spoke volumes.
Of course, Michigan congressman Justin Amash already made that move, breaking with his party earlier this year after the release of the Mueller Report, which outlined obstruction of justice by the president. Last week, he voted to impeach Trump in the House, standing as a lone Independent in the wilderness of the House of Representatives.
When he appeared at the debates ahead of the vote, Amash initially looked awkward standing at the Democrats’ podium. But as he pointed out, he wasn’t there as a partisan but “as an American who cares deeply about the Constitution.”
It was quite an about-face. Amash was once the lion cub of the right, a staunch conservative likely to become a party leader, and he could still be if a new movement of ethical conservatives manages to sway a few more of its former allies on the right.
Four Republicans who’ve worked on and contributed to GOP campaigns published a New York Times opinion piece on Dec. 17 entitled, “We Are Republicans, and We Want Trump defeated.” Among the authors was George Conway, husband of Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway. George Conway famously said he regrets having introduced his wife to the president. Last year, he also helped start Checks and Balances, a group of conservative attorneys standing up for the rule of law in opposition to the president.
Conway and his fellow Republicans wrote, “Patriotism and the survival of our nation in the face of the crimes, corruption and corrosive nature of Donald Trump are a higher calling than mere politics. As Americans, we must stem the damage he and his followers are doing to the rule of law, the Constitution and the American character.”
To this end, they created the Lincoln Project, “an effort to highlight our country’s story and values, and its people’s sacrifices and obligations.”
Their website is more direct about the project’s goal: It aims to “defeat president Trump and Trumpism at the ballot box” in the name of fidelity to the Constitution.”Electing Democrats who support the Constitution over Republicans who do not is a worthy effort,” the site states, putting it plainly.
Call of the conscience
Christian conservatives are also calling for Trump’s removal and condemning support for a president they believe is corrupt. While the gold-loving thrice-married Trump was always problematic for some of his co-religionists, he’s had widespread support among evangelicals. His grip seems to be loosening.
Christianity Today published on Dec. 19 a scathing editorial explaining, “In our founding documents, Billy Graham explains that Christianity Today will help evangelical Christians interpret the news in a manner that reflects their faith.” As such, the publication was compelled to state that Trump was corrupt and must be removed from office, writing:
[T]he facts in this instance are unambiguous: The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents. That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.
It followed up a few days later, describing reader reactions to the first editorial, which “spanned the spectrum” from relief to rage: “We have received countless notes of encouragement from readers who were profoundly moved. They no longer feel alone. They have hope again…Stay strong, they told us.” Others were reportedly incensed and stood up for the president.
Trump slammed Christianity Today as irrelevant. But the publication has 130,000 subscribers and attracts more than 4 million website views monthly. It’s reaching people, and urging readers to take a Christian perspective on the president, writing:
Out of love for Jesus and his church, not for political partisanship or intellectual elitism, this is why we feel compelled to say that the alliance of American evangelicalism with this presidency has wrought enormous damage to Christian witness. It has alienated many of our children and grandchildren. It has harmed African American, Hispanic American, and Asian American brothers and sisters. And it has undercut the efforts of countless missionaries who labor in the far fields of the Lord.
The Christianity Today editorials have deepened the rift among evangelicals. While one Christian Post contributor on Dec. 22 called for Trump’s conviction, saying it was “more important than abortion,” the publication released an editorial supporting the president and calling Christianity Today’s positions “elitist.” On Christmas Eve, Christian Post editor Napp Nazworth announced that he was quitting the publication because of its editorial.
The votes that count now
For all the rumbling on the right, the Republican leadership is firmly allied with the president. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, has practically promised Tump that the Senate will vote to acquit the president in the upcoming impeachment trial.
As such, many political pundits assume acquittal is a foregone conclusion based purely on partisanship and numbers. There are 53 Republican senators in office and only 47 Democrats. A simple majority of Republicans can approve impeachment proceeding rules, just 51 members, and it would take two-thirds of the body to convict the president. It seems then that Republicans can align on the procedure and the outcome and will find the president not guilty.
That prediction, however, assumes every Republican senator is a partisan puppet, which isn’t fair. For example, Alaskan GOP senator Lisa Murkowski told local reporters she finds McConnell’s approach to the upcoming trial disturbing.
The majority leader’s assurances that he will coordinate with the White House rang alarm bells for Murkowski. “To me it means that we have to take that step back from being hand in glove with the defense, and so I heard what leader McConnell had said, I happened to think that that has further confused the process.”
Murkowski isn’t saying how she’ll vote but she reserves the right to exercise independent judgment. ”If it means that I am viewed as one who looks openly and critically at every issue in front of me, rather than acting as a rubber stamp for my party or my president, I’m totally good with that,” Murkowski said.
She’s not the only Republican who hasn’t promised to acquit the president yet. Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine are also wild cards. And by some accounts, there are up to 35 Republican senators who would convict Trump if they could do so in secret—a problematic position to be sure, but one that indicates they are capable of coming to inconvenient conclusions even if they can’t be relied on to stand up for the principles they swore to uphold.
Those who do stand up now, though, are “thought leaders” in the truest sense and they’ll be the people to watch in 2020. If the statements they make reverberate, a new ethical conservative movement could bloom, raising hope for a more enlightened American politics in the next decade—one in which right and left exchange, intellectually, honestly, instead of operating in two separate vacuums.