In one sense, this doesn’t matter. Democrats will win the District of Columbia, just as Democrats always win the District of Columbia. And we won’t get any representation in Congress, in any case. I’m glad to have participated in a bedrock civic ritual, but as for practical effect, I would have probably done more for the republic by staying home and boosting the economy with a little online shopping.
So why am I telling you all this? Because I’ve watched so many disaffected conservatives and libertarians explain why they think the Republican Party can only be redeemed by its utter destruction in Tuesday’s elections. And as that wish might be on the brink of coming true, I think it’s worth explaining why at least a few of us aren’t rooting for it at all.
Like many people, I didn’t really vote for Biden; I voted against President Trump. But I have no hope that doing so will somehow teach the Republican Party not to mess with crypto-racist buffoons who have authoritarian instincts and an itchy Twitter finger.
That sort of lesson is the kind of thing that party elites can and do learn, as they maneuver toward a winning electoral coalition. The famous, failed Republican “autopsy” of its 2012 loss was a more explicit written version of something political leadership does after every rout, sifting through policies and rhetoric, deciding which new voters to woo, and how to keep the familiar ones content while they’re out a-courtin’.
But are those kinds of lessons going to be absorbed by ordinary Republican voters, who never engage that deeply with the minutiae of politics or policy? I doubt it. Nor have I seen any evidence that they’re interested in being schooled by me, or anyone else living in the rarefied air of a coastal megalopolis. And even if they were, I’m not sure what lessons they’d absorb from such “discipline.”
The “teach them a lesson” model of voting seems to repeat and enlarge the mistake that we #NeverTrumpers made for decades before: thinking of politics entirely in terms of elite opinions and our own insular debates. If you’re mainly concerned with the battles between different factions of conservative elites, then, yes, a really bruising loss might hobble some of the Trumpiest competitors. But elites were not the problem in 2016, and they aren’t now; the party’s establishment hated Trump, and to varying degrees, they all resisted his rise. Ordinary voters prevailed. It was to them, not Trump, that the politicians ultimately capitulated.
For those voters, a bad loss at best will stigmatize the man, not the inchoate populism he harnessed. At worst, it will mean the party loses all its moderate seats, leaving the Trumpiest faction even more firmly in charge of a shrunken party. And whatever happens, the conservative movement won’t seek advice, or leadership, from people who were actively rooting for Republicans to lose everything.
Myself, I’m voting against Trump with no hopes of a Free-market Restoration, but only for the mundane reason that he isn’t fit to hold the presidency — because of character faults I’ve been listing for five years and am too tired to list again. However, I consider Biden fit only in comparison, and I like his running mate, who lacks any instinct for bipartisan comity, still less. I didn’t approve of what the Obama administration got up to when they had both White House and Congress, and expect to disapprove even more strongly now that Democratic partisans are openly noodling about court-packing and adding states. Thus, I’d prefer that they win as little power as possible — just enough to save the Republic from Trump, and no more.
So I voted for divided government as much as I could, and that’s what I’ll be rooting for, fervently, on Tuesday night. Though also hopelessly, if the polls are to be believed; as of this writing, it looks like Trump is going to be a one-term president, and take the GOP’s Senate majority with him when he goes.
I can’t say I’m surprised that it’s come to this — or that the Republicans don’t deserve to lose after enabling this fame-addled mountebank. But no matter how I might rejoice to see the last of Trump, I cannot look forward to what will likely follow.