The New York Times reports that some Republicans may be contemplating either a presidential run if President Trump isn’t on the ballot in 2020 or some type of primary challenge. Those Republicans who have cheered Trump incessantly and who might run as the heirs to Trumpism (Vice President Pence, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton) in 2020 would carry the burden of Trump’s policies and morals. They’d need to explain their willingness to go along with Trump’s xenophobia, incessant lying and attacks on the rule of law.
More interesting than the Trump-wannabes are the Republicans who might run against the Trump legacy if Trump did not run, stage primary challenges, create a third party or run as independents. (Those who have been passive, kept their heads down and refused to take hard votes to defend principles wouldn’t be in this category.) The anti-Trump center-right would need to do more than denounce Trump. What would they offer? Reversion to far-right conservatism of the type embodied in Obamacare repeal proposals and in tax plans designed to give big breaks to the rich has already proved intensely unpopular with voters. We suggest 10 basic planks or principles for the anti-Trump aspirants:
1. Character matters in public life, and those who have demonstrated a propensity to lie, bully, discriminate, eschew personal responsibility, put personal interests over the public good and embrace know-nothingism have no place in elected office.
2. American institutions, including an independent judiciary and free press, must be defended against demagogues. Separation of powers requires Congress to assert its rightful authority as a check against the executive. States cannot be dragooned into executing federal initiatives (e.g., immigration raids) that conflict with policies and priorities in areas reserved to the states (e.g., local policing). Attacks on the legitimacy of the courts and threats not to follow their rulings are inimical to the rule of law.
3. Equality before the law is enshrined in the Constitution. Politicians who pander to sexists, racists and xenophobes and echo their hateful and divisive rhetoric have no place in public life.
4. The laws of the United States should be enforced without resort to mandatory minimum sentences, civil forfeiture, extended detention, incarceration of nonviolent drug criminals (who should be routed to anti-addiction programs) or harassment of journalists.
5. Free trade, reasonable regulation, legal immigration, and a tax code free from special corporate carve-outs and subsidies are essential for economic growth. Refusing to accept globalization or trying to close off America from the world is impossible and counterproductive. Myths and falsehoods about trade, climate change, immigration and other economic realities should be rejected.
6. Moderation — not mushy compromise but humility, balancing of interests, aversion to divisive and polarizing rhetoric — is a virtue.
7. A secure social safety net must operate alongside a market-based economy with the goal of enabling non-elderly, non-disabled adults to enjoy the rewards of work. Safety-net programs should not be slashed for the sake of saving money; but reform and modernization of existing programs should be undertaken with the sole purpose of helping their recipients enjoy productive lives.
8. Globalization cannot and should not be reversed, but new resources and focus must improve Americans’ ability to compete in the 21st-century economy through K-12 school reform, apprenticeship programs, alternatives to four-year college, and continuous worker training and retraining.
9. American leadership in the world is required to preserve the international liberal order that has existed for 70 years. In conjunction with allies, the United States should use all levers of soft power and, when required, the judicious use of military power, to defend our interests. Support for human rights, democratic governments and free peoples is part and parcel of our national identity and a necessary component of our foreign policy. We cannot separate our national values from our foreign policy. Our democratic norms and institutions must be reinforced at home if they are to serve as models for others.
10. Government must be transparent and free from conflicts of interest, cronyism and nepotism. Public officials must disclose all financial information and divorce themselves from holdings and activities that create even the appearance of a conflict.
Sadly, the Trumpified GOP does not stand for any, let alone all, of these. That leaves a void in the center of American politics that must be filled by anti-Trump voices, be they in one of the two major parties or in a new party or movement. If the GOP cannot be recaptured from Trump and Trumpism, it should be discarded for in its current state it represents a threat to the republic.