We have gone from a robust two-party democracy to one in which the Republican Party has lost moral legitimacy, intellectual honesty and fidelity to the Constitution, while the Democratic Party flirts with socialism, tribalism and isolationism. What is someone on the center-right or center-left, or just a plain old centrist, to do?
For starters, you call out the Republicans with brutal honesty — as the good folks at the Bulwark and other NeverTrump voices have done. When Republicans quiver and shy away from rebuking President Trump’s unconstitutional power grabs, when Trump lavishes praise on dictators, attacks the First Amendment and the idea of truth, and spouts economic nonsense, you speak out again and again, because each time you do, Trump’s malfeasance is revealed, his enablers are embarrassed and his opponents are emboldened. You root for the Trumpized GOP to lose, not only because it endangers the country but because only in utter defeat can it regenerate.
You do not spare Trump’s enablers from criticism, but rather expose and embarrass them as intellectual frauds and partisan bullies. Highlighting daily their refusal to put country above party and to take ownership of the most dangerous and objectionable administration in history is an important part of disabling Trump’s support system. (Their howls of protest signify that the attacks have hit home.)
You also celebrate the tiny green shoots — 13 House GOP members and a few Senate Republicans who vote for a resolution halting the emergency declaration, a congressman who asks an appropriate fact-finding question at a hearing into Trump’s misconduct, sponsors of legislation to protect the special counsel and other Republican dissidents trying to preserve truth and decency in a party virtually devoid of both. You praise new groups such as Checks and Balances or Republicans for the Rule of Law, which do the daily work of blocking and tackling in the battle against Trump and Trumpism.
If you are intellectually creative and honest, you work at places such as the Niskanen Center to devise a wholly different intellectual framework and a new agenda to replace the antiquated and counterproductive platform that drove the GOP into an intellectual cul-de-sac.
You support Republican primary challengers to Trump (as well as challengers to his sycophantic enablers) who are willing to call out Trump’s attacks on democratic norms and to defend principles such as free trade, speak honestly about climate change and provide an example of sane, responsible governance.
You support the many fine state attorneys general and third-party groups litigating against Trump on the emoluments clause, the Muslim travel ban, the phony emergency declaration, First Amendment violations and more. You call out Republican voter suppression techniques and bogus claims of massive voter fraud, all designed to perpetuate power for a declining segment of the electorate.
You size up the Democratic Party, knowing in all likelihood that the race will come down to a choice between its nominee and Trump. You recognize the role of moderate Democratic voices who are able to win primaries and flip seats. You call out extremism and foolishness exhibited by the party’s far-left fringe, whose ideas are unworkable and scary — and whose favorite candidate, if nominated, would very likely enable Trump’s reelection. You encourage Democrats to adopt sound national security ideas, and you warn against protectionism and other populist inanities. You criticize their flirtation with tribalism and those who condone bad behavior in their own camp. By encouraging more centrist voices and calling out the same maladies that afflicted Republicans, you can help encourage Democratic primary voters to choose wisely and, whenever possible, encourage center-left/center-right alliances on everything from support for human rights to defense of the rule of law.
What don’t you do? You don’t worry whether it’s “working"; rather, you persist in fighting the good fight, knowing that today’s failures might lay the groundwork for tomorrow’s victories. You don’t allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good (or even the adequate). You don’t return to the clutches of a thoroughly rotten Trumpized Republican Party just because Democrats might follow the GOP’s example. And you don’t exclude the possibility of a third party or a replacement party. You surely don’t imagine that there is only one way to solve the problem of an unhinged Republican Party.
No one should be under the illusion that the Trumpian fever will break on its own. It is only by cultivating democratic (small "d") antibodies that there is the opportunity for the recovery of functional, pluralistic democracy. Considering Trump’s extraordinarily high disapproval numbers, the string of administration defeats in court, the 2018 midterm results, the plethora of investigations into Trump (for which there is majority support) and the upsurge in participatory democracy, it’s hard to argue that the Trump opposition is “failing.” In fact, over the past couple of years, there has been a whole lot of winning.