WASHINGTON – I find myself wandering in an unfamiliar place. As a pro-life conservative, I am honestly happy – no, positively elated – that pro-choice Democrat Doug Jones won Alabama’s Senate election.
It is an odd position for me, and a complicated one. This change may impose costs to causes I care about. And Democrats did not make my shift of sentiments any easier. A pro-life Democrat (there used to be herds of such unicorns before they were hunted to near extinction) would have won the Alabama race going away, and left me entirely unconflicted.
But even so, it was not a close decision. In reality, the chance that the flip of this seat would somehow determine the fate of Roe v. Wade is vanishingly small. And political leadership does not consist entirely of checking policy boxes. What needs to be considered is the net effect on the country and the cause. And the Alabama election was like looking into the abyss. Roy Mooreism was distilled Trumpism, flavored with some self-righteous moralism. It was all there: the aggressive ignorance, the racial divisiveness, the disdain for governing, the contempt for truth, the accusations of sexual predation, the (just remarkable) trashing of America in favor of Vladimir Putin, the conspiracy theories, the sheer, destabilizing craziness of the average day.
Trump and his admirers are not just putting forth an agenda; they are littering the civic arena with deception and cruelty. They are discrediting even the good causes they claim to care about. They are condemning the country to durable social division. In Trump’s GOP, loyalty requires corruption. So loyalty itself must be reconceived.
What would weaken the grip of Trump on the GOP? Obviously not moral considerations. The president has crossed line after line of decency and ethics with only scattered Republican bleats of protest. Most of the party remains in complicit silence. The few elected officials who have broken with Trump have become targets of the conservative media complex – savaged as an example to the others.
This is the sad logic of Republican politics today: The only way that elected Republicans will abandon Trump is if they see it as in their self-interest. And the only way they will believe it is in their self-interest is to watch a considerable number of their fellow Republicans lose.
It is necessary to look these facts full in the face. In the end, the restoration of the Republican Party will require Republicans to lose elections. It will require Republican voters – as in Alabama and (to some extent) Virginia – to sit out, write in or even vote Democratic in races involving pro-Trump Republicans. It may require Republicans to lose control of the House (now very plausible) and to lose control of the Senate (still unlikely). It will certainly require Trump to lose control of the presidency. In the near term, this is what victory for Republicans will look like: strategic defeat. Recovery will only be found on the other side of loss.
Even if moral arguments do not suffice, the political ones are compelling. Trump and his allies are solidifying the support of rural, blue-collar and evangelical whites at the expense of alienating minorities, women, suburbanites and the young. This is a foolish bargain, destroying the moral and political standing of the Republican Party, which seems complicit in its own decline. It falls to Republican voters to end this complicity.
For conservatives, the ultimate goal is not the victory of Democrats, who, in different ways, are mistaken and offensive (on economics, the role of government, entitlement reform, the protection of the unborn, and much else). The common cause of Trump’s political repudiation is necessary but temporary. It is the emergency method for Republicans to detach themselves from Trump, create a new party identity and become worthy of winning.
In GOP losses such as the Alabama Senate race, it is not rogue Republican voters (or non-voters) who are at fault. It is the blind ideologues who gave them an impossible choice. Similarly, if Republicans lose the House, the Senate, the presidency and (for a time) the country – and incur some policy losses in the process – Trump’s Republican opponents would not be to blame. It would be Trump and his supporters, who turned the Republican Party into a sleazy, derelict funhouse, unsafe for children, women and minorities.
A healthy, responsible, appealing GOP can only be built on the ruins of this one.
Such political disloyalty to the president is now the substance of true loyalty to the Republican Party – and reason enough to welcome Sen. Jones with cheerful relief.
Michael Gerson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.