The Corner

Elections

Voting Against Good Republicans Won’t Save the GOP

President Trump speaks with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House, March 13, 2018. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Writing at the Washington Post, Michael Gerson has joined some of his other colleagues in arguing that even conservative voters should punish the GOP by voting Democratic in House races, no matter the character or quality of the Republican candidate. He justifies the argument by declaring that “American politics is in the midst of an emergency.”

I’ve written about this before, but short-term emergency thinking (let’s call it “Flight 93ism”) is one the reasons why politics is so dysfunctional. It’s one of the reasons why Donald Trump gained the GOP nomination and one of the reasons why he is president today. Voters have fully imbibed the idea that they must swallow their objections and vote for deeply flawed candidates for the sake of advancing urgent larger goals. American politics wasn’t in a do-or-die crisis in 2016. And Donald Trump hasn’t created that kind of emergency in 2018. I’ll repeat what I wrote last month:

It is simply a mistake to obsess over Donald Trump and to base your political decisions entirely around his presidency. Like every American president before him, he is but passing through. Treating each election as an emergency is poisoning our politics. Our national destiny hinges not so much on the outcomes of individual elections but rather on longer-term cultural trends. Taking the long view exhibits greater wisdom and understanding of the nation we love than “charging the cockpit” every time the polls open.

I refuse to vote against a politician I respect, a person I’d ordinarily happily support for the next decade or more to enable Democrats to subpoena Trump’s tax returns or the like. If voters want to hold Trump accountable, vote against Trump. They’ll have that opportunity soon enough. If, however, a GOP House candidate possesses a quality character and a sincere commitment to conservative values, then voting against that person will be a vote to degrade Congress, not improve it.

Moreover, Gerson’s advice (again, justified by alleged emergency circumstances) fails to fully account for the multiple, overlapping ways in which many of Trump’s worst mistakes have been checked and constrained, even in a time of unified Republican control. A potent combination of judicial oversight, public outcry, and — yes — congressional pressure have fundamentally altered a number of Trump policies. Even in the arena where he exercises the most unilateral authority — foreign affairs — his team has adeptly maneuvered past many of his worst blunders.

In fact, while Trump of course remains Trump, his cast of advisers has largely improved since his inauguration (remember when Steve Bannon and Michael Flynn sat close to the seat of power?), and most of his policies have reflected establishment Republicanism more than they’ve advanced insurgent populism.

None of this is to discount Trump’s multiple flaws (which I’ve written about at great length), but I remain convinced that one of the best ways to improve American politics is by dialing back the rhetoric and rejecting now-routine claims of constant crisis. Make no mistake, there are GOP representatives who do not deserve your vote, and voters in those districts (including one here in Tennessee) should seek alternatives. But I still have yet to read a compelling argument why American politics will be improved by telling conservatives to vote for candidates who advance policies they reject.

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