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Detrumpification: A Modest Alteration to Jonah Goldberg's Proposal
We can adopt the spirit of Goldberg's proposal while departing from the difficulties of its letter. Instead of a new party, we can establish ourselves as Platform Republicans and Values Voters.
In a recent column for the Los Angeles Times, Jonah Goldberg suggested a plan to "impose some pain on the Trumpified GOP" by establishing local and regional "Reaganite" third-parties who could either throw their support behind acceptable Republican candidates or run their own candidates as spoiler campaigns if Republicans nominate an unacceptable candidate. He further defended this plan in a members-only Dispatch newsletter.
As a veteran of third-party efforts, independent campaigns, and "principled conservative" movements, I came out quickly and steadfastly against Jonah Goldberg's plan (an usual position for myself to be in since, for the most part, I have a "Jonah is my co-pilot" sticker embedded quite solidly on my political soul). My objections are perhaps best reflected in the replies penned by Jonah's former colleagues at the National Review, though I don't subscribe to every particular critique (here, here, here, and here).
(If you'd like an extended journey into my reasonings for returning to active engagement in the Republican Party and my steadfast determination to stay there, you can read these various past Self-Evident newsletters: Twitter Rants, How the Center Lost Its Mind, I'm Not Retreating This Time, Standing With Liz, Prudence Over Principles?, and Dems Aren't Saving the Constitution).
Suffice to say, I'm a dedicated, non-Trump conservative who has nevertheless come full circle and has determined his place is within the Republican Party trying to be a force for good. I've faced the grim reality that the two major political parties constitute the pipelines through which people are chosen to fill political offices in America. Either I engage in the process that exists and try to insert my ideals and principles into the selection of candidates, or I end up living with the choices made by others (who are happy to wield such power without my input or opposition within the party structure).
My initial skepticism and opposition to Jonah Goldberg's proposal are two-fold. First, it's been my observation and experience that third-party efforts are untenable if there isn't a general appetite for them. Second, it's been my broader observation that our major parties have shifted to the margins because most reasonable Americans have checked out and no longer engage in party processes.
Too many Americans skip past the primaries and only show up when they have to choose between the two candidates imposed upon them by the radicalized few who still engage in and control the parties. I have grown highly skeptical and, indeed, hostile to any effort that further encourages an exile from participation in party processes which, I feel, only further entrench and embolden the extreme elements (who are more than happy to wield power without any pushback within the parties).
My experiences and observations over the last half-decade have convinced me that the best and most effective way for American citizens to engage in politics is to determine which major political party best fits their values and then bring their perspective into that party and be a force for good. I've come to feel that any movement, effort, or plan that has the opposite effect and further convinces the reasonable majority to abandon the two major parties will only compound the problem. The only result I see from this happening is the further entrenchment of the marginal factions that have gained control of the parties.
So, when I began to work on my rebuttal to Jonah Goldberg's proposal, I initially set out to respectfully but forcefully reject it and lay out my reasons for doing so. However, after listening to most of Jonah's recent Remnant Podcast, where he discusses the issue with one of his detractors from the National Review, it occurred to me Jonah may actually be on to something. His conceptualization of a working solution only lacks a subtle shift towards a different form of political organization.
Who's to say we can only accomplish Jonah's goal of punishing the kooks in the GOP and forcing a principled renewal without further enabling a progressive mandate (which we should be equally opposed to) through a political party?
After all, I agree with Jonah's key premise: voting for Democrats until the GOP learns its lesson is not a sustainable path if what we seek is truly a restoration of the principles and values of the American founding. This will only lead to further emboldened progressivism in the Democratic Party and further entrenched reaction and nationalism in the Republican Party.
I also agree that closing our eyes, voting for Republicans in a negative partisan gambit, and hoping Trump and his enablers just fade away on their own isn't a realistic path either. The silence of the decent in the ranks of conservatism is enabling a resurgence of Trumpism and could very well lead to the second coming of Donald Trump in 2024. Clearly, something different needs to happen to alter the country's trajectory under these two major parties.
Jonah's prognosis seems spot on, even if his prescription may need some tweaking. We need a way to oppose both progressivism and nationalism. We need to push back against Trumpism without enabling the Woke Left, and vice versa. Jonah's scheme of finding a way to offer support for acceptable Republican candidates and only opposing clearly unacceptable candidates may be just the way to split the difference, once we move past the idea of establishing a new political party.
My modest suggestion for an alteration to Jonah's proposal is, instead of creating new parties, to establish local and state Platform Committees or Values Caucuses (and call ourselves Platform Republicans or Values Voters). We can stake out our ground based upon pre-Trump Republican Platforms or certain declarations of values, declare our intentions to engage in the GOP's primaries and processes to champion the platform and/or declared values, and pledge to withhold our support of Republican candidates who betray the platform and/or declared values.
This path would solve several of the problems with the third-party route:
We could still participate in the Republican Party and wouldn't further abandon the party to the very forces we wish to curtail.
We would be encouraging more participation in the party processes instead of further enabling control of the processes by those we oppose.
We wouldn't be seen as a rival or spoiler political party.
We wouldn't be operating from the get-go as a spoiler effort.
We would have clear organizing principles and, especially, could demonstrate a contrast to the party's current direction given that they adopted no actual platform under Trump's leadership.
We could both endorse acceptable Republican primary candidates and actively work to get them through the process.
There would be nothing keeping us from endorsing acceptable Republican candidates who lost in the primaries as independent candidates should the eventual nominee prove to be wholly unacceptable, or throwing our support behind other independents or even third-party candidates from such places as the Libertarian Party or other already established local third parties.
The declared platforms and/or declarations of values would hopefully keep such organizations from moving to support Democrats unless the Democratic candidate moved to accommodate us as a more moderate alternative in the mold of Manchin or Sinema.
I think this approach could accomplish what Jonah is proposing while answering the concerns many have had with his proposal, including myself. There have long been various caucuses within both political parties and many other organizations and lobbying entities who support or withhold their support of party nominees based on declared principles. We wouldn't be doing anything new or threatening, and we'd be engaging in ways that would still accomplish the goals that Jonah puts forward, arguably in more effective ways given that we'd still be engaging in the GOP itself without other Republicans easily dismissing us as a rival or spoiler party. We could force a genuine debate on principles and vision that could transcend Trump and Trumpism instead of becoming a reflexive opposition that loses its intellectual grounding in the struggle of the general election.
And besides, doesn’t Platform Republican and Values Voter just have a good ring to it?