Writing for The Washington Post on Independence Day, Rep. Justin Amash, I-Mich., bemoaned the rise in partisanship: “True to (George) Washington’s fears, Americans have allowed government officials, under assertions of expediency and party unity, to ignore the most basic tenets of our constitutional order: separation of powers, federalism and the rule of law. The result has been the consolidation of political power and the near disintegration of representative democracy.”
He continues: “With little genuine debate on policy happening in Congress, party leaders distract and divide the public by exploiting wedge issues and waging pointless messaging wars. These strategies fuel mistrust and anger, leading millions of people to take to social media to express contempt for their political opponents, with the media magnifying the most extreme voices. This all combines to reinforce the us-versus-them, party-first mind-set of government officials.”
Amash, therefore, declared that he is done with the Republican Party. And he wants voters to follow him. (“I’m asking you to believe that we can do better than this two-party system — and to work toward it.”)
He did the right thing, but for the wrong reason.
The problem isn’t two-party politics; the problem is President Donald Trump and the Republicans who have abandoned their principles to support him.
The Republican Party has adopted the trappings, language and behavior of right-wing nationalist governments in Europe, complete with a fondness for executive power. (Republicans now cheer using executive action as a lame effort to get around the Supreme Court’s ruling on the census, which, of course, applies equally to an executive order.)
They have also adopted Trump’s penchant for lies, xenophobia, fiscal sloth, erratic isolationism mixed with bouts of bellicose warmongering, racism and know-nothingism. Not a single Republican member of Congress other than Amash has reached the inevitable conclusion of the Mueller report that the president obstructed justice and that it’s Congress’ job to do something about it.
There is no fighting a party in the grip of a mentally, morally and emotionally unfit figure such as Trump. You cannot break up a cult from the inside. You must leave it and then draw others away.
In the context of the Republican Party, despite the good efforts of former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, there is no significant opposition to Trump’s renomination and zero interest among GOP members of Congress in fulfilling their constitutional obligation to consider impeachment.
Yet, the barriers to a third party are well known and considerable — ranging from ballot access to funding to historical habit. A new party can replace an old one as the birth of the Republican Party demonstrated, but so long as the GOP is going strong, the oxygen for a new party is absent.
So what is the best course for those disgusted with the Republican Party?
First, one must bear witness, reveal and condemn the spineless and immoral conduct of Republicans who enable Trump. The pathetic excuses (“But Gorsuch!”), the hypocrisy and willful refusal to recognize his threat to our democracy cannot be sloughed off or regarded as business as usual.
Second, Trump and his enablers up and down the ticket must be defeated. Only when Trump and his ilk are drummed out of office can something take the place of the Republican Party.
Below the presidential level, it may be possible to recruit primary opponents for Trump’s enablers. For president, however, the only viable alternative is the Democratic nominee. Perhaps if Amash runs as a third-party or independent candidate, he could siphon off Trump voters in a state such as Michigan.
At the end of the primary process, the choice, in all likelihood, will come down to either Trump or a Democrat. Some conservatives might root or vote for more moderate contenders, but they are a sliver of the primary electorate. The best they can do is echo those moderates’ arguments about the dangers of a far-left nominee. Then it is a simple choice:
Level the GOP so something better can emerge or saddle the country with four more years of Trump.