Well, it’s over. With the certification of votes in Michigan, Donald Trump has lost the election and has ordered his administration to cooperate with the transition. He hasn’t conceded and right-wing networks like OAN are reporting that he still has a good chance of winning, but Trump will be playing to an even smaller base. The rest of the media will largely ignore whatever antics the president has in store for us.
I have a sense of relief, though I know it will be temporary. Trump’s most ardent supporters are not going away. They will continue their grievance campaign, complaining about minorities and immigrants freeloading off the country and liberals taking away their guns and threatening their religious freedom. Elected Republicans who refused to stand up to Trump will try to mimic his demagoguery to further their own careers and may even hone his tactics to undermine our democracy. Still, for now, I’m going to breathe easier and let down my guard for a few weeks.
I am proud of the constant pressure Democrats and their progressive allies kept on Trump and the Republican Party that he remade in his image. They turned the Women’s March into an organizing tool that led to the highest turnout in a midterm election in decades. They built a political infrastructure that will be needed to compete in an evenly divided country. They did not give up on democracy, even if Trump and allies sought to undermine it.
I am also inspired by the Never Trumpers and believe many people take for granted the difficulty of their decisions. They came from the campaign battlefield and the policy world. They are movement conservatives and public intellectuals. They are people at the top of their careers who have spent their lives promoting Republican politics and conservative ideals. They walked away because they believe our country and our democracy are more important than loyalty to a party led by a would-be despot. They made a sacrifice that cost them friends, colleagues, and jobs.
As someone who has spent most of my life waging battles against their candidates and ideas, I have tremendous respect for the commitment they made to fighting what they believe is a budding authoritarianism. Some of the most astute critiques and assessments of the Trump administration and remade GOP have come from them. They see clearly the threat to our democracy through eyes not influenced by ideological differences. They are looking at their former allies and political comrades.
Yesterday on twitter, David French, a former National Review writer, laid out the crimes of Donald Trump that Republicans have tried to suppress. He reminded us that the Mueller Report did not exonerate Donald Trump and his campaign but that Republicans covered up the misdeeds, distorting Mueller’s findings to suit their needs. He laid out the case for Trump’s impeachment, noting that the president asked a foreign government to interfere in our elections and the GOP refused to hold him accountable in any way.
David Frum, a former George W. Bush speechwriter, took to task those Republicans downplaying the president’s attempt to steal the election. He noted that not until the plan had failed spectacularly with convoluted fantastical conspiracy theories did most of the GOP finally concede and admit Biden’s victory. “Perhaps some excited person did over-react to something. That happens. But if you’re one of those belittling what the country just went through … The people who worried – they saved your country without you,” he tweeted.
Progressives believe the Lincoln Project was a grift to make money for disheartened Republicans consultants. I saw it as people alarmed by Trump and the capitulation of the GOP to his authoritarian instincts using the skills they had to fight back. Did they make money? Sure. Good for them. A lot of consultants just got rich off a campaign cycle that saw almost $8 billion in expenditures. The Lincoln Project did as much to get under the skin of Donald Trump as anybody and forced the Trump campaign to address their attacks.
I have no illusions that I still have strong policy disagreements with the Never Trumpers. I believe we need universal health care, an expanded social safety net, more affordable college, a higher minimum wage, stronger protection for the environment, a shift to green energy, criminal justice and police reform, and more liberal immigration policies. I don’t think many of the Never Trumpers would agree with much of that and that’s ok. Those are fights I’m glad to still have.
My respect for the Never Trumpers comes from a belief that our country should be bigger than the political ideals of our political parties. Our system of government is one of checks and balances and that our way of choosing leaders is one of those checks. Democracy is not to be subverted to promote a political agenda.
I’m not saying the Never Trumpers did more than anybody else to defeat Trump, but I am saying they had a more difficult choice. They set an example that we all should examine. Can we see clearly enough beyond our policy preferences to put country before party in an extremely polarized environment? I hope my answer is yes, but I also know that I have not been faced with that choice yet.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >