The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The 2020 choice for ex-Republicans

Candidates participate in the fifth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season in Atlanta on Nov. 20, 2019. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)
Placeholder while article actions load

Almost four years ago I checked out of the Republican Party, recognizing that the moral rot, intellectual dishonesty and authoritarian tendencies that led it to embrace President Trump were a threat to our democracy. Events since then have proved my initial assessment horribly accurate.

I was driven away not merely because the Republican Party’s policy notions had atrophied; because it ceased to accept 21st-century realities (as if global warming does not exist, income inequality is not a problem, supply-side tax cuts have not proved illusory and racism has evaporated); because it stubbornly refused to learn the lessons of the Iraq War. I rejected a party that insisted power is the only objective and that truth, empathy and decency are for suckers. Yes, intellectual rigidity and lack of experiential learning are problems; affection for authoritarians is a sin.

At the precipice of a vote to willfully ignore compelling evidence of Trump’s impeachable acts and with a frightful conviction that anything the president does to seek his own reelection is legitimate, Republicans have fully transformed themselves into an authoritarian cult.

We see the culmination of the Trumpist mentality, one that afflicts not simply elected leaders, the Washington right-wing establishment, the mockable right-wing pundits (whose intellectual contortions would be hysterical if not so deeply dangerous), pseudo-sophisticates left scrambling to catch up with the right-wing mob (and who have lost the ability to formulate coherent arguments after stagnating in the mosh pit of anti-intellectualism) and the Fox News propaganda machine. (Disclosure: I am a contributor to MSNBC.) The authoritarian mentality afflicts many of our fellow citizens who, contrary to their self-image, are not victims, but are victimizers who gleefully incite racism, cheer cruelty and light fire to our democratic institutions. We should not feel compelled to sympathize with them nor infantilize them by ignoring their agency; we should denounce them. Sadly, we must acknowledge that they are the root of the problem.

David Axelrod, senior advisor to former President Barack Obama, says the presidential nominating process is flawed but should not change too much. (Video: Ben Derico/The Washington Post, Photo: Daniel Acker / Bloomberg/The Washington Post)

So what is a pro-human-rights, pro-legal-immigration, pro-rule-of-law, pro-free-trade former Republican — who understands that conservatism means to conserve what is good and reject what is unnecessary, appreciates the law of unintended consequences and believes compromise and gradualism are worthy of celebration — to do in the 2020 elections? The first and only goal must be to support a moderate Democratic nominee with the best chance to beat Trump. A second Trump term would be disastrous — so disastrous that if presented with a risky Democratic candidate and a less risky candidate, it is incumbent to go with the latter (understanding that assessment of “risky” is subjective).

Follow Jennifer Rubin's opinionsFollow

The same approach applies to Senate seats. Every seat needs a competitive Democratic contender, if only to force Republicans to spread their resources. A Republican Senate under the auspices of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is a lawless, amoral and destructive body. It has made clear that fairness, truth and the Constitution are subordinate to the exercise of raw power and the population of the judiciary with unqualified and partisan judges.

The necessity of dislodging, and yes, leveling the Trump Republican Party might require ex-Republicans to re-register to participate in primaries and caucuses. It might require them to vote for a progressive Democratic nominee with whom they have many policy disagreements. (Don’t worry: The ability of a president to enact his or her legislative objectives without both houses of Congress is highly constricted.) There is simply no comparison between any Democratic contender and Trump, whose damage to civil society and politics has been immense.

And then? If we are lucky enough to wake up on Nov. 4 to find a Democratic Senate majority and Democratic president, there are robust discussions to be had about what a modern, sane economic policy should look like, the powers of the executive branch, the deployment of hard power and reform of our immigration laws. But first, the impeachment non-trial has made clear, the job of all patriotic and democratic-loving Americans requires we throw the constitutional arsonists out. All of them.

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: Republicans are pursuing acquittal in the worst possible way

George T. Conway III: Don’t let the defense fool you. This impeachment is all about corruption.

Dana Milbank: The impeachment trial hurtles toward its worst-case conclusion

The Post’s View: If Senate Republicans give Trump the coverup he wants, his acquittal will be worthless

Jonathan Capehart: If there are no witnesses in the Senate trial, it’s a miscarriage of justice, Kamala Harris says