Like many Americans, I imagine I’ll be doing a lot of reflecting after this 2016 nightmare is finally over. How exactly I react will depend on the outcome, of course, but I’ve already noticed that this election has changed my political views in at least one way I couldn’t have possible have foreseen.
My ideology itself hasn’t changed — I’m still every bit as liberal on policy as I was before all of this started. What has changed, though, is my opinion of a certain subset of Republicans who I once loathed. I’m talking specifically about Republicans and conservatives who, despite massive pressure from their peers, have spoken out against Donald Trump and refused to support his candidacy. They’re a rare breed, but they exist, and as much as I never thought I’d be saying this a year ago, they’ve earned my respect.
I’m talking about Republican operatives like Rick Wilson, Tim Miller and Stu Stephens. All are staunch conservatives — Miller worked for Jeb Bush, Stephens managed Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign — and all have put their professional careers at risk to speak out, in various capacities, against the man running on their party’s ticket.
I’m also talking about conservative journalists like Bill Kristol, Erick Erickson, and Ben Howe, who’ve been warning about the dangers of Trump for the better part of a year. Kristol spearheaded the effort over the summer to draft a conservative Trump alternative, while Howe wrote and directed a film about Trump, which he titled The Sociopath. Longtime conservative columnist George Will went so far as to leave the Republican Party over Trump.
And last but not least, I’m talking about the actual Republican officials who’ve denounced Trump in the name of the greater good. Ohio Governor John Kasich is the most prominent example here. He’s one of the few Republican primary candidates, along with Carly Fiorina and Jeb Bush, who refused to endorse Trump after he clinched the nomination. Going even further, Kasich also refused to attend the Republican National Convention — which was held in his state — and reportedly turned down an offer to be Trump’s running mate.
There are more Republicans that deserve mention here — Jonah Goldberg, John Podhoretz, Congressman Richard Hannah, and Mitt Romney. What they all have in common is that they looked at the racist, misogynist demagogue running for president and determined that, party loyalty notwithstanding, they couldn't support him. They were even willing to risk several Supreme Court seats in order to reject him.
Of course, it’s easy for a Hillary Clinton supporter to heap praise upon Republicans who aren’t supporting Trump. But what strikes me about the aforementioned people is that it includes a whole lot of Republicans for whom I had nothing but seething contempt before this election. To be sure, I still disagree with a lot of them about a whole lot. I imagine those disagreements will be revived shortly after this election, and that I’ll resume viewing these Republicans as political adversaries.
But I will no longer see them as actual enemies of America. The simple fact is that the prospect of a Trump presidency has given me new perspective on just how morally abhorrent and dangerous an American political candidate can feasibly be. I used to think supply-side economics was bad; now, we’ve got a mainstream presidential candidate who’s suggested banning an entire religious group from entering the country. Those simply aren't comparable.
For reasons I’ve enumerated in the past, Trump is a categorically different level of threat than anything the Republican Party has been produced over the last eight, 16 or 30 years. Yes, I strongly oppose the GOP’s positions on reproductive rights, entitlement spending, taxes, health care and just about every other issue of public policy — but at least those positions are compatible with liberal democracy and civil society itself.
The same can’t be said of Trump. This is a man who endorses actual, physical violence against people who don’t support his candidacy — a man who’s promised to throw his general election opponent in prison if he’s elected. Trump, unlike any presidential candidate in recent history, supports laws limiting the free press, one of the most important pillars of open democracy. And he’s refused to denounce white supremacy “I don't know anything about what you're even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists,” he told Jake Tapper after receiving the endorsement of a Ku Klux Klan leader in Virginia.
And so, I must offer sincere gratitude to the #NeverTrump Republicans. I know that some of them did it for reasons that don’t resonate with me — in fact, many of them think Trump is too liberal to be president. But never mind — at this point, the reasoning doesn’t matter. Working to stop the election of a fascist when you face massive political pressure to do otherwise is a respectable and noble thing to do, regardless of why you're doing it. And if Ted Cruz — who, to be clear, I hate — hadn’t folded and eventually endorsed Trump, I’d be thanking him as well.
Alas, Cruz did fold, and unfortunately, so did most of the GOP. The stench of Trump will follow them for quite some time; regardless of what excuses folks like Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan give in the future, history will remember that they supported the election of a racist demagogue to the presidency solely because he had an “R” next to his name. They were given a once-in-a-lifetime chance to take a heroic stand in the face of evil, and they passed it up. I suspect Democrats won’t let voters forget this anytime soon.
But to the conservatives who’ve rescinded their endorsement of Trump: Thank you. While we still disagree on many things, we agree that Trump is fundamentally unacceptable, and that is more important than all of the other things. I promise that when this election is over, I’ll be nicer than I was before.