The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Next up for Never Trumpers

Brian Jenkins of Orem, Utah, is dressed as President Abraham Lincoln as he visits the Lincoln Memorial in September. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
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The first and essential goal for Never Trumpers — the general description for the loose affiliation of former Republicans and anti-Trump Republicans who worked on behalf of President-elect Joe Biden — was accomplished with the defeat of President Trump. That was the overriding objective for the past four years. Having succeeded, however, Never Trumpers’ work has just begun.

For starters, whether they now identify as independents, as Democrats or as Republicans in exile, Never Trumpers can offer assistance and counsel to Democrats based on their lifetime of experience “on the other side.” During the campaign, that took the form of Lincoln Project and Republican Voters Against Trump ads. That can continue into the 2022 election cycle, as Never Trumpers work to complete the task of eradicating today’s GOP (more about that in a minute) by helping to defeat Trump toadies such as Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). They can also lend a hand in exposing the abject hypocrisy of Republicans on everything from their treatment of nominees (now Republicans are pearl-clutching over nominees’ tweets or ties to the financial community?) to their investigations of fake scandals.

Never Trumpers can also bring the best of the conservative sensibility to public debate, namely an awareness of the risk of unintended consequences, an appreciation for federalism (as a way of maneuvering around Republican obstructionists in Congress) and a deep appreciation of the necessity of America’s international leadership (in contrast to isolationists on the right and left). At its best, conservatism is not a laundry list of policy positions but a set of preferences — for compromise, for partnership with civil society, for executive branch restraint.

Actor John Lithgow, author of the 'Trumpty Dumpty' poetry books, explains how he got mean — and empathetic — to write about the "despotic age" of Trump. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Design: Danielle Kunitz; Art: John Lithgow; Photo: Getty/The Washington Post)

In this vein, Never Trumpers should lend support to bipartisan compromise efforts that seek to undermine Senate Republican obstruction. The $908 billion stimulus proposal is less important for what is in it than as a harbinger of potential progress on issues such as infrastructure, prescription drug prices and investment in struggling rural communities.

Never Trumpers should also champion reforms that would refurbish our democratic institutions and norms. These would include efforts to depoliticize the Justice Department (e.g., limit contacts between White House political players and the Justice Department on individual enforcement actions and investigations); repeal of “emergency” measures embedded in statutes that give the president sweeping powers (e.g., to snatch money from the Pentagon to pay for the wall); enhanced subpoena powers (with expedited review and enforcement) for Congress; serious penalties for Hatch Act violations; and a statutory requirement for the president and vice president to release their tax returns. Never Trumpers should promote serious review of necessary amendments to the Electoral Count Act (to prevent the shenanigans we saw this year), reform of the judiciary (considering 18-year term limits for Supreme Court justices) and consideration of defects in the 25th Amendment.

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Never Trumpers can also lend a hand to wider pro-democracy efforts in states and localities to promote voter access, spread civic education, encourage innovations such as ranked-choice voting, eliminate gerrymandering and re-enfranchise nonviolent ex-felons. The goal must be a more active and informed citizenry.

Finally, Never Trumpers should continue the fight against the right-wing populism that has enveloped the GOP — the politics of race-baiting, irrationality and authoritarianism. At the same time, it is time to begin considering what kind of second party alternative to Democrats we need. For believers in the two-party system, a functional second party is very much required. Are the old tenets of conservatism — supply-side tax cuts, “small government” — feasible or is there a model of “radical centrism” that incorporates the best of free markets with support for nimble government action to promote the common good? (The Niskanen Center is among the leading lights in this effort.)

In sum, Trump is leaving, but Trumpism remains an ongoing threat to multiracial democracy. Freed from tribal loyalties, Never Trumpers can prioritize measures that restore and strengthen the foundations, habits and norms of democracy — an undertaking worthy of the aim to “form a more perfect union.”

Read more:

E.J. Dionne Jr.: Two cheers for the Never Trump conservatives

Edward B. Foley: Congress must fix this election law — before it’s too late

E.J. Dionne Jr.: Biden reaches out. The GOP slaps him in the face.

Max Boot: Never Trumpers played a critical role in beating him. The numbers prove it.

Michael Gerson: Republicans, it isn’t too late to stand up for the nation