Monday, December 25, 2017

The Republican Apostates

I left the Republican Party years ago when I saw the beginnings of the monstrous thing the GOP has become, fueled in large party in my view by the rise of the Christofascists within the party base and a willingness of the party leadership to prostitute itself to those sought to undermine American democracy and force their beliefs (and often racism) on all of society.  Now, the Christofascist trait of lying about virtually everything has metastasized through out the GOP.  How else to explain for example Paul Ryan and the GOP's claims that the Trump tax bill is good for average Americans?  The same holds for claims that granting licenses to Christofascists is about protecting "religious liberty."  When I left the GOP, it wasn't pretty, especially since I had also "come out."  I was dragged through the mud by former "friends" and my past efforts for the party and reputation for "doing my homework on issues" all meant nothing.  Now, many others who held far loftier positions than I in the GOP who have put morality ahead of surrendering to Trump/Pence and the toxic GOP base are finding themselves likewise treated as apostates.  Some have formally left the GOP which has proven what I figured out long ago: it cannot be reformed from within.  Unlike some of these people, I always opposed the Iraq War. A long piece in Esquire looks at this new group of Republican exiles/apostates.  Here are excerpts:
Some of the guests were liberal journalists whose faces were as familiar as their bylines: Jane Mayer and Elizabeth Drew, Andrew Sullivan and David Corn. But among them, too, was a cadre of the uprooted and displaced, writers, intellectuals, and pundits who, had they gathered in Paris or London—well, Ottawa, anyway—might have worn the haunted glamour of émigrés and exiles, though in this case they are strangers in the same precincts where they once felt very much at home. Call them Republicans with a conscience, conservatives without a party, or simply, as most do, the Never Trumpers. 
Liberals and conservatives have always commingled easily in Washington, but a year into the presidency of Donald J. Trump, old lines are blurring and new alliances are forming in remarkable ways. Exhibit A is the owner of the grand house on Foxhall Road: David Frum, a former hardcore conservative and speechwriter for George W. Bush. It was Frum who, with another Never Trumper, Michael Gerson (now a Washington Post columnist), coined the phrase “axis of evil” in 2002 and promptly entered the annals of liberal infamy. These days, however, Frum is better known as a heretic and outcast, primus inter pares of the Never Trumpers. The week that had just ended was no more or less lurid than many others in the first year of Trump’s America, that bottomless tasting menu of national debasement. . . . . it didn’t seem odd to be celebrating, near a lighted pool with fountain spouts on a warm Indian-summer night, the publication of Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine (sample chapter: “Starvation: Spring and Summer, 1933”), which had just that week gotten a rave in The New York Times. . . . the book’s author, Post columnist Anne Applebaum, gave brief remarks. She thanked her “beloved friends the Frums,” who “care about the things I care about,” Today, it is the Never Trumpers who are holding out against “forced collectivization”—imposed by the leaders of their own party—and feel locked in an epochal struggle, with a great deal riding on the outcome. To them Trumpism is more than a freakish blight on the republic. It is a moral test. “We’ve seen a moment before when holders of property gambled that their best hope of retaining their property was to disenfranchise fellow citizens,” Frum told me. “We’ve seen before when important parts of society put their faith in authoritarianism. Because Americans have emerged safely at the other end of some pretty scary pasts, they think no one has to do anything—‘It’ll just happen automatically.’ ”
This is not the sort of thing Frum said in his former life, as a wunderkind of the American Right. But for him, as for many of the guests at his party, the rise of Trump changed the old refrain “It can happen here” into something more dire and pressing: “It’s happening now and must be stopped.” . . . . it’s a sign of how far things have come that these insiders have now become outlaws.
[A] small but influential band of Republicans, not yet called Never Trumpers, were warning that he was an authentic global menace. One august figure on the Right, the Post columnist George Will, renounced the Republican party in June 2016, declaring himself unable to witness its submission to Trump.
What was missed was the message the Never Trumpers were trying to send, and how genuinely alarmed they were. “There wasn’t a single conservative I talked with at the beginning of 2016 who thought Donald Trump was a remotely acceptable candidate for president,” says Max Boot, a neoconservative foreign-policy writer who served as an advisor to John McCain in 2008 and Marco Rubio eight years later. In March 2016, as Trump closed in on the nomination, another neocon, William Kristol, a founding editor of The Weekly Standard, tried to engineer a third-party escape hatch. It went nowhere. Two years on, Boot has quit the Republican party and says of his Never Trump confederates, whose numbers seem to shrink by the day, “Right now we could all fit in my living room.” Boot’s tone, plaintive but defiant, is common among the Never Trumpers. . . . This latter group sometimes sounds like liberals, but its members are in fact counter-Republicans who mean to take their party back, or blow it up.
His [Frum's] bill of particulars against the movement and the party he once championed long predates Trump and Trumpism. In the essays and columns he writes for The Atlantic, in his fluent commentary on MSNBC, in his smart Twitter observations (he has close to six hundred thousand followers), and in his new book, Trumpocracy, Frum’s sharpest jabs are aimed not at the “kleptocrat” Trump but at House and Senate Republicans whose “ideas for replacing Obamacare bubbled with toxicity” and were a “radical attack on American norms of governance.” His pages on the “Rigged System,” the Republican campaign to disenfranchise African-American voters in no fewer than twenty states, burn with the white-hot anger we would expect to read in The Nation, . . .
The Never Trumpers have their own history to live down. Many were lusty cheerleaders for the second Iraq War, the event above all others that cleared the path for Trumpism.

Jewish conservative intellectuals, with a few exceptions, have been pretty stalwart.” That’s not surprising, given the anti-Semitic odor that clings to the alt-right pockets of Trumpism. It also stirs troubling memories of the long history of white ethnocentrism on the American Right, from the Depression-era demagoguery of Father Coughlin through the “Christian Front”–style offensives against the civil-rights movement in the fifties, up through Pat Buchanan’s attacks on the pro-Israel “Jewish lobby.”
This may explain the Never Trumpers’ defensiveness. “I’m a registered Republican,” Frum told me recently, as if trying to convince himself that the party he once belonged to still exists . . . somewhere.
Frum dates his apostasy to the 2008 election, which he wrote about as a conservative journalist (for National Review) and policy expert (for the American Enterprise Institute, the Beltway’s premier conservative think tank). Everyone knew it was going to be a tough year for the Republicans. . . . The Democrats had a charismatic presidential candidate in Barack Obama. John McCain, the Republican nominee, was overmatched and showing his age. In desperation, he selected Sarah Palin as his running mate.
McCain’s team hadn’t vetted Palin with any rigor, but Frum did, informally. “YouTube was still a very new thing,” he recalls, “and I remember watching all the video I could find. There wasn’t much, maybe three hours.” It was enough to see the obvious. “She was just out of her depth, even when she talked about Alaska.”
Palin’s ignorance alone was disqualifying. Even worse, Frum remembers, she had a brilliant but disturbing campaign style. “She had a genius for finding the stress points in American society and turning people against people,” he says, meaning her insinuating praise of small-town “real America” and her accusation that Obama, the nation’s first black presidential nominee, had been “palling around with terrorists.” Palin didn’t invent this style of demagoguery. But she was, in Frum’s telling, the purest practitioner.
After the election, he began to rethink. The trouble wasn’t McCain’s drubbing. It was the conservative embrace of Palin, which seemed tied to “the collapse of support for the Republican party by the young and the educated,”
Conservative opponents of the ACA were well aware of the bill’s provenance. But since attacking Obamacare worked at election time, they pretended otherwise, inventing the fiction of “repeal and replace.” The same dishonesty explains why they couldn’t come up with a workable substitute: Obamacare was the GOP plan.
All of this is obvious today, but Frum saw it happening in real time. Though he is by temperament and talent an intellectual pamphleteer, he’s also a first-rate wonk. His book Dead Right, published in 1994, stripped bare the myth of Ronald Reagan as the vanquisher of big government.
As he was pushed further out of the circle, something inside him was freed up. He began to reinvent himself as a conscientious objector to the Republican party, criticizing it from within. In 2011, he wrote a blistering cover story for New York magazine in which he said the GOP had “lost touch with reality.” All its policy ideas, he said, boiled down to a single fetish: “more tax cuts for the very highest earners.” (Six years later, Trump’s GOP made a prophet of him with its tax “reform” bill.) Frum also wrote a takedown of Rush Limbaugh in Newsweek.
“Conservatives have decided they are a tribe,” says Jennifer Rubin, the conservative Washington Post writer who has declared war on both Trump and his GOP. “They’re not Americans first. They’re Trump defenders first.” It is ideological groupthink, the Right’s own political correctness. And it gives credence to the old argument, rooted in the culture wars of the nineties, that a great many conservative writers and policy experts are intellectuals manqué, tightly leashed by wealthy donors, just like the Republican politicians they promote.
The good news is that the Never Trumpers are getting a close hearing. Whatever mistakes they made in their time of devotion, they have emerged as the best exegetes of the conservative god that failed. No one else understands it so well—its means, its ends, its methods, its costs. “The problem with the devil’s bargain is that the devil never delivers,” Frum says. “That’s the point of the story.”
 Like me, these people, all strong conservatives, are finding that they GOP they thought they knew is dead and that they party in reality left them, not vice versa.  I hope they continue the fight. Would that more of them had begun it sooner.

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