The latter argument is a curious position for people, including myself and millions of Americans, who think Trump is an existential threat to the United States. Someone wants to open up a new front, a rear-guard action against Trump in the war to save democracy, and you say, “No, thanks”?
Let’s look at the objections.
First, the naysayers assert neither Walsh nor former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld (an eminently reasonable liberal Republican who is pro-choice, committed to fighting climate change and critical of Trump’s manic economic policies) nor former South Carolina governor and congressman Mark Sanford (who’s considering a run) is a viable candidate. But the problem is that no one else in the Republican Party — not Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) or Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) or former ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley — is willing to run. If there is a more viable opponent, please, find him or her. The thing is that the “good Republicans” aren’t good these days, or even intellectually honest. (One need look no further than Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse to find a profile in cowardice.)
Second, the critics seem to assert that a failed challenger is unhelpful to the cause of ousting Trump. Had Sen. Eugene McCarthy thought as much in 1968, he wouldn’t have run against incumbent Lyndon Johnson on an antiwar platform, and Johnson might have been renominated. Likewise, Sen. Ted Kennedy would have never run against Jimmy Carter in 1980. Challengers to an incumbent president run to signal something is terribly wrong, to shake the electorate awake and to stir doubt about the incumbent. It’s a demonstration that party loyalty should not be paramount. For progressives who run all sorts of candidates for a cause without regard to electability, this is a peculiar grounds for opposing Trump challengers.
Moreover, the incumbent Democratic Party lost in both 1968 and 1980, as the Republicans did in 1992 when Pat Buchanan ran against President George H.W. Bush. And that’s exactly what Trump opponents want, right? I would have thought Democrats would like media veterans such as Walsh going on air day in and day out reminding Republicans what a disaster Trump is.
A third line of argument is that running a challenger will somehow let Republicans who vote for him off the hook. But if no one is going to vote for these guys (see the objection above) then no one’s getting away with anything, right? Moreover, the vast, vast majority of Republican officeholders will have no excuse for their continual support of Trump. They won’t be able to say “Trump was better than Hillary” or “but judges …” Having each and every one of these Republicans on record preferring a racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, recession-tempting president, one so obviously unfit to run anything, will serve as an excellent marker. Their support will identify those politicians most responsible for the Trump phenomenon, and, hence, mark them as unfit for future office in a post-Trump Republican Party (or whatever party arises on the right). I can attest that Republicans who want a full-scale housecleaning of the GOP and construction of a sane and relevant center-right agenda — exactly what Democrats say they want as well for a healthy two-party system — would appreciate affixing a red letter to these politicians' chests.
No one is suggesting Democrats and independents vote for these candidates in a general election, nor that Democrats should cross over to vote in the Republican primary rather than stay to pick the best candidate in their own contest. It’s also quite possible to highlight and amplify the Trump challengers’ indictments of Trump while also encouraging Democrats to pick the very best, most electable candidate (who in my book is not necessarily a moderate white guy). I, for one, intend to do both.