Can the Former and Never Trump Republicans Save Democrats from Themselves?
With Ryan Adams
Last year, we made the case for why Joe Biden would be our best bet against Donald Trump. I thought Bernie Sanders was the candidate that would bring on another 1972-like situation as the one thing guaranteed to drive voters to oppose, more than anything else, is socialism. But that was before the pandemic hit, crashed the economy, and sent the country into a fear and panic spiral.
It was before Biden committed to choosing a female Veep, and it was before the murder of George Floyd sent the country reeling, with protests in all 50 state. On the left, they showed mostly violence by the police against protesters. On the right, they showed mostly violence by the protesters. As usual, the truth was somewhere in between. But this turbulent conflux has pushed the demand for an agenda that put would social justice — along with identity politics — front and center. The “Defund the police” label has stuck to the left and they will have to support or defend it.
All these things have shaken up the solid advantage Biden had — that he represented a sober lateral move, to convince enough voters to turn to a man they know and trust, even if it meant unseating an incumbent after only one term, a rare thing in presidential politics. But things look a lot different today than they did a year ago.
Enter the never-Trump and former-Trump Republicans.
Democrats have caught a lucky break when allied forces swooped in to help bring down the country’s most corrupt and dangerous president. Once we had a faction of savvy and articulate conservatives fighting on our side, an alternative path began to appeal to millions of disillusioned voters. These pragmatic voices know how to speak about a reality in terms that are easily understandable, while far too many prominent Democratic voices online are not.
Liberals are too often caught up in a feedback loop that gains its energy from Twitter hearts and the mainstream press that mirrors pie-in-the-sky idealism. Where were the voices confronting reality on the ground? Mostly on the right.
They see themselves as without a party because the party they used to know has been hijacked by Trump and his sycophants who do not believe in the most basic tenets that America is supposed to be about. Here’s the funny thing, neither do a lot of people on the left, if recent events are any indication. Many of them might but many more are too afraid, too intimidated to speak out for fear of what Bari Weiss has called the “Thunderdome” of Twitter.
The never- and former-Trump Republicans have no such need to be accepted by the “Obelisk of Woke” — those who chose the safer route that avoids thorny questions so they can continue on their righteous path of running against “the Devil.”
Who are these unexpected allies? The Lincoln Project’s Rick Wilson, Steve Schmidt, George Conway, Jennifer Horn, Reed Galen, Ron Steslow, John Weaver, and many more senior advisers including Tom Nichols, Rachel Bitecofer, Molly Jong-Fast (who co-hosts the podcast from the Daily Beast, the New Abnormal), and many more.
Former libertarian congressman and persona non grata on the right is Joe Walsh whose podcast “Fuck Silence” is a must-listen for those who are afraid of what we see happening right now but aren’t quite ready to side with the left or the right at the moment. Walsh lost everything when he stood up against Trump — his livelihood, his support network and his listener base. For his part, he is building a coalition to target Republicans in the swing states to vote Biden.
Then there are the folks at the Bulwark, Charlie Sykes, Bill Kristol, Barry Rubin, Sarah Longwell, Jonathan V. Last, Jim Swift, Benjamin Parker and Hannah Yoest and more. Charlie Sykes’ podcast is also a must-listen. Sykes brings on a range of guests to talk about a range of topics that anyone who is looking for a kind of truth that can’t be found on traditional outlets anymore will appreciate. The Bulwark has several writers and podcasters who contribute articles daily.
Additionally, there is Max Boot, Jennifer Rubin, Richard Painter and George Will — all powerful voices from the right that are helping Democrats defeat Trump by backing Biden and voicing persuasive opposition to the bastardized GOP and the havoc its wreaked on the country since 2016.
Revolution is in the Air
The reason Democrats need this assist now more than ever before is that we’re headed for a replay of 1972 if we don’t quickly get a grip. What that means is that there’s an undeniable parallel between the two factions that split and divided us in 1968 and those that continued to split and divide us in 2016, with the list of purity demands growing longer by the day. All Democrats really had to do to beat Trump was be the less crazy side. But millions upon millions of ill-informed voters flipping channels between cities set ablaze and a simpleton chanting “LAW & ORDER!” are going to settle on whatever looks less like delinquents and more like daddy.
More and more, though, as the days wear on, and Americans are increasingly exhausted and traumatized by Trump and a pandemic with no end in sight, they are also being pummeled with a lecture that America is evil and rotten at its core — not unlike the same case made in 1972 by the anti-war protesters.
Yes, they were right. The war had to end. The vast swaths of the general public, however, chose to side with Nixon even after witnessing the travesty of four students at Kent State shot to death. Why did they side with Nixon? Because, already numbed by the cost of slaughter in Vietnam, they wanted what they’d been promised we were fighting for, law and order at home.
Nixon just barely won in 1968 by being the law and order candidate but then when the war came undone, Democrats overplayed their hand and he won in a massive landslide in 1972. Sure, a lot of that was ratfucking — Nixon micro-managing the race by sabotaging his biggest threats so he could run against the guy he knew he could beat, not to mention he promised to end the war, not to mention his approvals were much higher than Trump’s all through his presidency. It is not the same now as it was then but some dynamics are the same.
The resulting cultural upheaval brought on by the emboldened left helped bring Jimmy Carter to power when Nixon resigned in 1974, but the victory was short-lived because the world kept throwing conflict at America’s unsteady feet. Carter’s gentle nature was exactly the wrong attitude to confront emerging threats, and he was attacked from both the right and the left. When a sitting president gets challenged from within his own ranks, it does nothing but project strife and uncertainty. Easy enough to take out Carter in one term, replacing a kindly uncle in his cardigan by casting a slightly more convincing actor posed on horseback. Meanwhile the unseen power-players were relentlessly moving the country right, rescuing middle America from the unruly cultural revolution of the left.
What is the end game of this revolution on the left?
There seem to be two different factions fighting for two different goals. The majority of Americans are ready to simply fire Trump and hire Biden, which should never have been colored as a revolutionary move.
But as we can see, the slogan of Our Revolution is too catchy for too many on the left to let go of. Probably all we had to do was step back and let Trump implode, but the warriors on the left were promised a revolt and tragic events gave them new reason to rise up.
The problem, of course, is that is that this pits one set of liberal causes against another, creating a party at odds with itself. We’re still split between two agendas: the Hillary side (social justice, safeguarding and enhancing the ACA, identity politics) and the Bernie side (economic revolution, medicare for all, tuition-free education).
Ironically, although Bernie Sanders would have put us on a dangerous course to repeating McGovern’s disastrous outcome in 1972, considering all that’s happened this summer, his revolution had a hivemind of its own so we might as well have gone full Bolshevik. Instead, the vast majority of voters chose Biden as the man to defeat Trump, but now he has another battle raging on his left flank. That is more along the lines of Hubert Humphrey in 1968–1972. The moderate old guard vs. the new cultural revolution.
But the never and former Trump supporting Republicans have no such ideological split. They see their target. They know their target.
Ratfucking Will Be Back
Nixon knew that there were candidates who could beat him in 1972, like Edmund Muskie. He wanted a decisive victory since he’d won by a small margin in 1968. The same goes for George Bush, by the way, who ‘won’ by 537 votes in 2000 (or by 1 vote, if we go by SCOTUS), but then won decisively in 2004. Trump, ideally, had hoped to follow the same path and win by a big margin in 2020. But the country is in a state of abject collapse and it’s hard to see him winning. If he does, it will be by another Electoral College fluke, and only then just barely.
Roger Stone is back from the dead, and if anyone knows how to attack the left FROM THE LEFT it’s him. He was part of the Dirty Tricksters that sabotaged the Democrats by pretending to be other Democrats attacking with friendly fire. If you don’t think that is about to happen again — and even worse than it was in 1972, you have some gruesome research to do. We are more primed than we ever have been for that kind of sabotage. Not just directed at Biden but at anyone on his team. As a result of the Purity Posse forever on patrol, we are, on the left right now, once accused, forever guilty.
Trump doesn’t have to win by much to win.
Heed the words of Rick Wilson in Running Against the Devil:
Here’s a phrase Democrats need to take out of their game plan for 2020: popular vote. Pretend it doesn’t exist. You need to understand the rules of the game, once and for all.
You’re not playing a game of winning the popular vote, and whether you like it or not the game is exclusively about victory in the Electoral College.
Them’s the rules.
Say it with me: “The only game in town is the Electoral College.”
Now say it with your raging, Samuel-L.-Jackson-in-a-Tarantino-movie face: “The only motherfucking game in town is the motherfucking Electoral Fucking College”
Fight where the fight is. Ignore where it’s not. It’s not in California. It’s not in New York. It’s not in Massachusetts. If the Democratic campaign or a single political committee on the left spends a goddamn dollar in those states or visits them for any reason other than fundraising, they’re helping Donald Trump. The only states in your campaign are the target states on the Electoral College map.
Wilson wrote this book before Covid-19 (he is releasing an updated version soon), before the murder of George Floyd, before the bizarre rise of extreme cancel culture, before the left was actually making a case to “defund” the police and to tear down statues of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Those unforseen calamities have fundamentally changed the dynamic of this race.
How much worse is it going to get on the left to hand this election back to Trump? Can Democrats get a grip? Probably not. They are starting to fret the involvement of the Republicans thinking Democrats are helping them to build their own war ship to fight Democrats with starting November 4, 2020.
It’s important to remember what really matters to you and that is what you should fight for. Whether it’s healthcare or climate change or education or women’s rights. None of that takes away from what we must do together to help salvage our country. We need them more than they need us. They are playing the game to win, not trying to re-arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.
The never-Trump and former-Trump Republicans recognize what is obvious: the left is fractured, not united and not adequately in sync with the majority of Americans. They exist mostly in a feedback loop driven by the insular bubbles of Twitter and Facebook and the mainstream press locked into this unhealthy dymanic. This is not sustainable and if the country shifts rightward after this election it won’t be because of the Lincoln Project — it will be because the left has lost its collective mind and must be pulled back from the brink.
No one can tell anyone what they should care about. If a culture war is what you want and you do not care who is president — then no one can tell you that’s wrong. But if you do want to remove Trump as your primary goal? It’s time to grim up and be ready for a real fight.
Sooner or later the madness on the left is going to spill out in the mainstream. Already, the Wall Street Journal has written an editorial about the recent spate of suppression of dissent in major institutions across the country, with AOC hopping on board to fight for the right for cancel culture to become part of American policy. If you don’t think that isn’t going to cost us votes, you have another think coming.
Right now, the Democrats are setting the scene for another 1972, with escalating confrontations with police (don’t be so sure Americans won’t side with Trump in Portland either — after all, they sided with Nixon after Kent State), the Woketopians running a Big Brother-like panopticon, going after their jobs for tweets or opinions that go against the doctrine, bringing down well-meaning people who step out of line on the left (they can’t attack anyone on the right, because their attacks only work on humans who have a concept of shame and conscience.)
If voters head into November seeing the Democrats as willing to stifle expression, ideas, opinions and freedom and Biden isn’t taking a stand against that? Trump will seem like the lesser evil. Americans value their freedom more than anything else — whichever side stands up for that will win every time. This election is a referendum on Trump. If it becomes a referendum on the “radical left” it might be too much for an already exhausted and demoralized country to take.
Trump is as bad as any one man can be, but look around at how bad people can be when they form a mob, and ask yourself what Americans can live with and what they can’t.
The culture war can’t be won because it, as in 1972, doesn’t know where its endpoint is. That era collapsed after tragedies like the Manson murders and the Kent State shootings, and Nixon won anyway. All it did was lead a movement towards tuning out and giving up. Reagan took over and America changed.
Removing Trump will at least right the ship before it hits the iceberg. Right now, the Democrats would be headed for a landslide loss were it not for a lending hand of the people we were all taught to hate.