My View colleague Ramesh Ponnuru has an excellent column about the huge differences among anti-Trump Republicans. As he points out, they can’t even agree on a label, with some embracing the #NeverTrump hashtag and others finding it not quite correct.
They may be united in opposing Donald Trump, but they are divided on immigration, guns, taxes, health care and almost everything else. So what is the basis for cooperation — and for avoiding disasters like the 2016 Republican nomination fight?
It’s not my job to give advice to either party (which doesn’t exactly stop me), but it’s unlikely that we’ll see a healthy Republican Party again until its leaders, activists, officials, politically aligned media and other actors can agree that the party has become dysfunctional and why.
Here are five propositions that might unite the anti-Trumpers:
First, it didn’t start with Trump. The Republican Party has been running off the rails for some time. Even if not all anti-Trump Republicans can agree on an entire set of complaints about the party’s past, pretending that Trump came out of nowhere and that the party is otherwise hunky-dory just doesn’t get it done.
Second, healthy politics in the U.S. requires compromise within and between the parties. Not only have the Republicans been rejecting compromise. They have also turned the rejection of compromise into a principle.
Third, democracy also usually requires respect for institutional norms — the unwritten rules of politics that are part of the texture of the rule of law. Upending norms for momentary partisan advantage may be tempting, and every party does it at some point. But constantly exploiting the gaps between written and unwritten laws is corrosive for democracy.
Fourth, the Republican emphasis on discrediting the so-called mainstream mass media has been harmful on balance. Whatever partisan bias the “neutral” press may have does not merit ignoring it or encouraging rank-and-file Republicans to ignore it.
And fifth, all Republicans who label themselves “conservatives” are entitled to use that label. The competition over who is the True Conservative and who is a RINO is self-destructive.
This may not be a complete list, and maybe the propositions can be modified. Some might argue that explicitly rejecting the Republican strategy of exploiting bigotry, an approach that goes back to Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy,” should be included. Others might have other suggestions. The key idea is that repairing what’s wrong with the party requires a commitment to the democratic values inherent in the Constitution and the political system that grew up around that document.
(And, yes, I fear the strains among the Democrats that oppose compromise, that do not respect norms and that only listen to their own voices could become more central. I don’t agree that this has already happened, though.)
A Republican Party that accepted these basic approaches would have been far less likely to nominate Donald Trump — and far more likely to have better, more effective politicians at every level of government. It still might be extremely conservative by almost any measure.
That would depend, as it always does, on internal party battles that are perfectly normal. In any case, it would be a lot more capable of governing.
Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.