Four weeks from this Wednesday (the day after the midterm elections), sorry, will commence the lead-up to the 2020 presidential race. Any Republicans thinking of challenging President Trump because they recoil from the party of Trump is, I hate to break it to them, out of luck. The party wants the mocking cruelty, the attacks on the press and on women, the protectionism and the white nationalism. These things define it.
Are we then destined to have only a choice in 2020 between President Trump (or a clone) and the Democratic Party nominee? Perhaps, and if so, we should pray Democrats pick a unifying figure, one who can restore our institutions and rebalance our politics. And what if the Democratic Party selects Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)? Well then, it’s time for Plan B.
Perhaps a potential ticket independent is waiting to be constructed from among the few Republicans who have refused to join the Trump cult. There are center/right governors — John Kasich (Ohio), Charlie Baker (Mass.), Brian Sandoval (Nev.) and former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels. Democrats such as Gov. Steve Bullock (Mont.), Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), and Gov. John Hickenlooper (Colo.) would be solid additions on a ticket if you wanted to go the bipartisan route — perhaps with the promise of a one-term “reset” to rinse out the toxic remnants of the Trump era. Alternatively, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) — a true independent voice — would be on any short list for vice president.
What would the Plan B ticket offer? It should start with what is plainly missing in politics — restraint, respect and reform.
Starting with reform, the executive branch under Trump has become corrupt in every sense of the word. Long overdue are substantial reforms to provide transparency into the finances of the president, vice president and all senior officials — including the release of 1o years of tax returns. Conflicts of interest, holdings in private or public companies, nepotism, the use of public office to benefit private interests, foreign interference (be it through unregistered lobbyists or election meddling), micromanaging of Justice Department investigations (as well as enforcement actions) and strong limits on taxpayer-reimbursed expenses need to be addressed.
Reform extends beyond the executive branch. Criminal justice reform, voting reform to expand access, student debt restructuring and elimination of partisan gerrymandering fall within this category, as well. Money in politics erodes faith in the democratic process, accentuates polarization and increases apathy. Whether by expanding fundraising ability of parties (that can return to the role of moderating factions), requiring instantaneous and complete transparency, taxing “dark money” or some other stratagem, reform is long overdue in this area.
Respect and restraint are fostered by personal example, but also by actions that enhance our institutions and goodwill toward fellow Americans. A bipartisan Cabinet and defense of the free press and independent judiciary (with a robust advice-and-consent process to produce nominees who can garner more than bare minimum support) are essential. We badly need respect for facts (including adherence to scientific data and credible economic analysis), and respect for allies (rather than public insults and contempt for international agreements). Respect must extend to our own intelligence community and include repair of our oversight process (which the Republicans have torn asunder).
Restraint must also include fiscal policy, debt and elimination of cronyism or revenge-seeking by favoring or disfavoring a company. Respect entails fostering room for state and local authorities (federalism) to carve out their spheres of influence.
In foreign policy, respect and restraint go hand in hand with defense of human rights, strengthening the post-World War II international architecture (including trade agreements) and opposition to tyrants and aggressors (who are often one and the same). Congress must also reaffirm its power to declare war and preserve civilian control.
Taking a step back, a slew of issues command super-majority support from Americans — legalization for “dreamers,” infrastructure repair and enhancement, reducing the gap between urban and rural prosperity and restraining drug prices. These should be priorities rather than the issues on which one side can prevail without buy-in from the opposing side.
These priorities, positions and habits of governing used to have a home in mainstream conservatism and in the Republican Party (which was the former’s political vessel) — and they still do, to a large extent, among Republican governors of either blue or purple states. Respectful and clean government, values-based leadership of the free world, responsible stewardship of the environment and a commitment to reform are no longer on the GOP agenda. The Trump sycophants, every bit as incoherent and bullying as the president, run the place.
This dismal state of affairs leaves a gap in our national politics, which underscores the need for an alternative to the Republican Party. Who’s game? Could a presidential ticket adopt at least some of what we’ve suggested? Let’s wait and see. The 2020 campaign, sigh, is just around the corner.