The GOP, and the nation, narrowly dodged a bullet last night after accused pedophile Roy Moore lost to senator-elect Doug Jones in Alabama. Thankfully, Moore will not have a national platform from which to heave his unconstitutional, bigoted refuse.
But a Republican loss in Alabama, of all places, following the party’s miserable performance in Virginia last month, should send a clear warning to party leadership: continue to appease President Donald Trump’s populist, nationalist movement at your peril.
Though the GOP will now be spared the worst potential consequences of Moore’s candidacy, his nomination and loss say much about the state of the party. Moore’s nomination was evidence that the election of an admitted sex abuser to the White House last year was not an anomaly, but a ruinous trend for the GOP.
Moore was defeated by “a coalition of the decent,” a term Republican strategist Steve Schmidt coined after Ed Gillespie lost his Virginia gubernatorial race last month following a nativist, fear-infused campaign. This coalition is comprised of principled Republicans, independents and Democrats; with two significant wins under the coalition's belt already, GOP leaders should understand that an urgent course correction is needed.
Most right-wing thought leaders have long stressed the importance of traditional values. But, in a shameful unveiling of their indecency, some now suggest that depraved figures like Trump, Stephen Bannon, and Moore represent the country’s best interests.
For a growing number of principled Republicans, the repugnant hypocrisy has become unbearable.
Compromising in the name of party unity is one thing. But for a growing number of principled Republicans, this repugnant hypocrisy has become unbearable and they are looking elsewhere.
GOP leaders now face a predictable development: A shrinking base. The Public Religion Research Institute’s American Values Survey revealed last week that nearly one fifth of self-identified Republicans have not and will not support Trump. Another 23% once supported him, but will not again. Meanwhile, fewer Americans even consider themselves Republicans, especially among minorities and Millennials.
Republican voters won’t simply wander away. Some will become Democrats. Others will declare their independence. But many, even if they remain with the GOP, will find their way to the coalition of the decent, which will only grow stronger in time should the GOP remain on its current path.
This problem was long in the making, though it’s reached a crescendo now. For years, Republican leaders tolerated the party’s far right strains, appeasing them through policy and messaging signals. In 2016, those leaders went a step further, embracing the “silent majority,” while stoking fear and anger as a means of overcoming candidate Trump’s weaknesses.
But even after consolidating most of Washington’s power, the GOP is left peering into the abyss of long-term political impotence. Most leaders still seem to believe that they can tolerate surging extremism in the base just a little longer in order to preserve their Congressional majorities, but Alabama suggests otherwise.
Some have tried to slow the party’s decline by digging in their heels against Trump and Bannon’s pull towards white nationalism, snake oil populism and indecency. They have tried, through gentle steps in the other direction, to chart a more desirable course. But incremental policy adjustments and measured statements of concern have failed.
If the GOP is to be saved, it will require an unconditional rejection of Trump, Bannon and Moore.
Meanwhile, Trump has not grown into his new job. He has not adopted the stated values of the party, or the country for the matter. It is the party that has accommodated his contemptible character as he drags it, and the nation, into a chasm of coarseness, isolation, and weakness.
In 1964, Republicans enthusiastically responded as Reagan declared it “a time for choosing.” But in this moment, the Republican time for choosing has long passed. It is now a time for fighting: A time to fight for the soul of the party and the future of our country.
If the GOP is to be saved, it will require unconditional rejection of Trump, Bannon, Moore, and others, such as nativist Congressman Steve King of Iowa. It will require a recommitment to timeless, American principles and ethical leadership.
Republican leaders cannot simply wait for the base to do this on its own because a portion of the base will leave, perhaps permanently, if they do. Leaders must lead. Appeasement has never been a winning strategy for good over evil. Only in the fight can good prevail.
If no one rises to lead the party on a principled foundation, it will be unable and unworthy to lead America in the future. As it shrinks in size, the party will likely become more extreme and opposed to the ideals, norms and institutions necessary for free society until it becomes wholly irrelevant.
Before Democrats bask in the glory of the GOP’s ongoing immolation, all should understand that this is not merely one party’s existential crisis. Democracy is most vibrant and secure when multiple parties compete while sharing commitment to liberty, equality, and truth. Without such competition, the left will be prone to unaccountability and an inverse extremism that could carry them further away from the people they represent as well.
Republican leaders’ tolerance of Trump gave us Roy Moore. They must now fight vigorously for the soul of the party or watch it die a destructive death in the years ahead.
For the sake of the nation, I hope they’ll choose the former even if the latter now seems all but destined.
Evan McMullin is a former CIA operative who ran for president in 2016 as an independent. He is the co-founder of @StandUpRepublic.