Politics & Policy

What Are Elected Republicans Good For?

(Jim Young/Reuters)
They’re useful as human shields in the culture war — and not much else.

Donald Trump Jr. has now given effective speeches at two consecutive presidential-nominating conventions. You may have noticed, however, that he has a tendency to overpromise.

“Imagine the life you want to have — one with a great job, a beautiful home, and a perfect family,” he said last night, “You can have it!” It’s a nice thought, but a nice thought is all it is. President Trump can’t give me a perfect life. He can’t even ensure that my kids leave our beautiful home each morning for instruction at school, instead of staying in for COVID-necessitated distance learning.

Elsewhere in last night’s speech, Don Jr. invited us to imagine a world “where the evils of Communism and radical Islamic terrorism are not given a chance to spread — where heroes are celebrated and the good guys win.” Again, a nice thought — and nothing more. You might recall that at the start of this year, his father was touting a fantastic deal with the Chinese Communist regime, which would keep American consumers financing Beijing’s expansionary adventures.

Clearly, these goals are beyond the president and the Republican Party. We need something less ambitious. Republicans must answer a simple question this week: What’s the point of us?

The true answer is that the best conservatives can hope for is divided government. And I don’t mean just the formal constitutional offices being held by two parties. Even if Republicans occupied every seat in the House and Senate and Trump occupied the White House, the result would still be divided government.

Why? Because the Left has captured much of the permanent government. All of the culturally formative institutions of American life — public education, academia, the entertainment industry, and, increasingly, the rest of corporate America — are controlled by progressives, and as such are a gravitational force dragging the country leftward.

Don’t believe me? Neil Gorsuch ruled earlier this year that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects transgender rights, even though it was passed years before academics invented the concept of transgenderism. The Big Tech companies are run by progressives. The sports leagues are bending the knee too. Major international corporations, while willing to meet with Republican politicians and occasionally throw a max-dollar contribution to a GOP congressmen to keep the regulators off their backs, will turn around and give a seven-figure donation to a progressive NGO or activist group.

The last four years should have proved that Republican officeholders — and Trump in particular — cannot achieve conservative aims in this environment. They can’t keep the Little Sisters of the Poor out of federal court. They can’t stop public schools from adopting the 1619 Project as the basis of their history curriculums. They can’t stop the government from funding “social science” that is designed to portray allegiance to family, place, and faith as fascistic, dangerous, and oppressive. And they can’t stop the riots. Trump can’t end the interminable foreign wars other Republicans started, and he can’t get the intelligence community or the military to stop leaking embarrassing information to the press. He can’t even get a cabinet confirmed.

In short, there is almost nothing the modern GOP can do. There is no principle this party, particularly as led by Trump, is capable of defending. The one thing it can do, beyond passing tax cuts, is deprive progressives of unified control of government and civil society. Given how unpopular some GOP policy goals are, I suspect that this may be the only reason Republicans continue to win office.

If Republicans can’t do anything useful with political power, they can at least occupy elective offices as a sour reminder that the rest of the governing institutions are resented and lack democratic legitimacy. And, in exchange for the perks of the job — great federal health-care benefits, the insider information that leads them to make such profitable decisions with their investment portfolios, and the illusory feeling of being important — they can serve as human shields in the culture war. Being what they are and representing who they do, they draw fire that would otherwise be unloaded on the remaining conservative institutions and citizens.

If honesty were the object, Republican congressional candidates’ pitch could be, “Elect us, and let the media investigate and resent our existence, rather than hounding you directly.” With us in office, the organized left will dedicate slightly less energy and fewer resources to smashing Chick-fil-A, Catholic hospitals, Evangelical colleges, and whatever it is the Mormons have come up with as an alternative to the Boy Scouts. Trump’s argument for reelection could be, “As long as I’m here, they will spend their time hating my tweets and trying to remove me from my job, and they will have less time and attention to spend hating your tweets and trying to remove you from your job as a mid-level administrator, high-school civics teacher, or car-wash professional.”

If the culture war is a free-fire zone, I think it’s only fitting that elected Republicans should take the bullets first, don’t you? Any of them who are tired of getting used this way can always find some other idiot who owns a black SUV and likes fundraising to take the heat in his stead. And if some day they all get tired of being used this way, maybe the party will grow up and figure out how to advance a conservative agenda worth a damn.

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