At Vote Common Good, we regularly get the question, “How can you campaign to flip Congress and still call yourselves nonpartisan?”
Easy. We do not advocate for a party. We are calling for the Common Good. This year, in this election, in these circumstances, the Common Good means flipping Congress.
We’re not alone in this belief.
In 2018, principled Republicans are finding themselves forced to do the unthinkable: endorse voting for a Democrat. The Party of Trump has simply gotten so bad that the only viable moral option is to stop voting Republican this time.
In just the last few weeks major GOP donors have not only left the party, they are putting real money toward the other side. On September 15, the New York Times announced that billionaire Seth Klarman, who had donated more than $7 million to Republican campaigns in 2016, is giving as much as $9 million to elect Democrats in 2018. Klarman insists that his fundamental values have not changed. He did not suddenly wake up a liberal after years of supporting conservative causes. He simply cannot bear to see “spineless” Republicans in Congress fail to stand up to a “runaway presidency.” Klarman wants to see an actual constitutional check and balance working in Washington, and flipping Congress is the way to do it.
Also this month Leslie Wexner, owner of L Brands (Victoria’s Secret, Bath & Body Works) and reputedly Ohio’s wealthiest citizen, publicly disavowed the Republican party. He, too, remains a committed conservative, and has no plans to embrace the Democratic party. Yet, Trump’s outrages have pushed him out of the GOP.
His disgust with the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” march led him to make a special presentation in 2017 to his hundreds of employees. “Personally,” he told them, “I feel dirty, ashamed” by the march—and Trump’s lame response to it.
On September 15, he made a more decisive move. “I just decided I’m no longer a Republican,” he announced. “I’m an independent. I won’t support this nonsense in the Republican Party. I’ve been a Republican since college, joined the Young Republican Club at Ohio State.” But for Wexner, enough is enough. He is taking his vote, and his campaign coffers, elsewhere.
In just one month, two major financial supporters of Republican candidates have joined the movement to stop the Party of Trump. They join a growing chorus of conservative voices calling for a Congress more in line with the Common Good.
Here are some examples of other Republicans, and now-former Republicans, who have publicly urged their fellow conservatives to change their votes.
Michael Gerson may be Donald Trump’s most consistent, most prominent evangelical critic. A former advisor at the Heritage Foundation, Gerson worked with Dan Coats and Bob Dole before becoming George W. Bush’s chief speechwriter from 2001 to 2006. He wrote Bush’s second inaugural address. He then became a Senior Policy Advisor to the president.
Gerson has also deep roots in the evangelical community. A graduate of Wheaton College, Gerson has written widely and openly about his faith and the role he believes faith must play in public life. In 2005, Time magazine listed him the 9th most-influential Evangelical in America.
In 2018, Gerson has been urging regular Republicans to vote for a Democrat for Congress. “To save the GOP, the party will have to lose,” he declares. He goes on to explain how a pro-life conservative can countenance a Democratic Congress:
Trump and his admirers are not just putting forth an agenda; they are littering the civic arena with deception and cruelty. They are discrediting even the good causes they claim to care about. They are condemning the country to durable social division. In Trump’s GOP, loyalty requires corruption. So loyalty itself must be reconceived.
What would weaken the grip of Trump on the GOP? Obviously not moral considerations. The president has crossed line after line of decency and ethics with only scattered Republican bleats of protest. Most of the party remains in complicit silence. The few elected officials who have broken with Trump have become targets of the conservative media complex — savaged as an example to the others.
This is the sad logic of Republican politics today: The only way that elected Republicans will abandon Trump is if they see it as in their self-interest. And the only way they will believe it is in their self-interest is to watch a considerable number of their fellow Republicans lose.”
He concludes with a ray of hope for Republicans who love their party, their country, and the Common Good:
The common cause of Trump’s political repudiation is necessary but temporary. It is the emergency method for Republicans to detach themselves from Trump, create a new party identity and become worthy of winning. . . . A healthy, responsible, appealing GOP can only be built on the ruins of this one.”
The conservative thinker and writer Peter Wehner has been tied to some of the most influential Republican institutions since the 1980s. He served in the Reagan administration and with both presidents Bush. He was a speechwriter for Bill Bennett, and went on to serve as Executive Director for Policy at the conservative powerhouse Empower America (which later became part of FreedomWorks). Later, he was an advisor to Mitt Romney.
Wehner has also been open about his evangelical faith. In 2010, he and Michael Gerson published, City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era. Notably, he has criticized both evangelical leaders and believers who he believes put too much emphasis on the Sermon on the Mount. “Mike and I are not pacifists and we don’t believe that the Sermon on the Mount is a political philosophy,” he told an interviewer. “Often Christians make the mistake of assuming the words of Christ and the individual commands, or commands that apply to individuals, apply to governments as well.”
Wehner is no left-winger. Still, he wants to see Congress flip in 2018. As he told an audience:
I do hope Democrats win the House. I say that not because I’m a liberal or pro-Democrat, but because it’s important for the Republican Party and for the country. For the sake of conservatism and the party, it’s essential that Donald Trump’s grip on them be loosened and Trumpism be repudiated. The best way to do that is for Republicans to lose because they’ve been associated with Trump.
Second, because of the nature of our government right now, what I consider the worst elements of the American left’s agenda are not going to be implemented, because Trump is President and because of the makeup of the Senate. So it’s not as if I’m endorsing a liberal or progressive agenda. But we’ve seen enough to know that Republicans in Congress are not going to exert a check on the worst impulses of Donald Trump, and Democrats will. It’ll make things contentious and ugly, but that’s just the way it’s going to be during the Trump era. It’s going to be better for the country if Republicans don’t have control of every branch of the federal government.
. . . as long as Donald Trump is in power and has strength and authority, those necessary changes can’t happen. Loosening his grip and diminishing his role is a necessary but not sufficient condition for renewal of American political life.
One of the most important conservative thinkers of the last half century, George Will has consistently been a bellwether of Republican thought. So, it was an earth-shattering moment in summer 2016 when he announced to a meeting of the influential Federalist Society that he had switched to “unaffiliated.”
In an even more unprecedented move, this past June he urged, “Vote Against the GOP This November.” He spelled out in detail why it is necessary for Congress to be in other hands:
The principle: The congressional Republican caucuses must be substantially reduced. So substantially that their remnants, reduced to minorities, will be stripped of the Constitution’s Article I powers that they have been too invertebrate to use against the current wielder of Article II powers. They will then have leisure time to wonder why they worked so hard to achieve membership in a legislature whose unexercised muscles have atrophied because of people like them.”
In today’s GOP, which is the president’s plaything, he is the mainstream. So, to vote against his party’s cowering congressional caucuses is to affirm the nation’s honor while quarantining him. A Democratic-controlled Congress would be a basket of deplorables, but there would be enough Republicans to gum up the Senate’s machinery, keeping the institution as peripheral as it has been under their control and asphyxiating mischief from a Democratic House. And to those who say, “But the judges, the judges!” the answer is: Article III institutions are not more important than those of Articles I and II combined.”
Senator Gordon Humphrey
As he tells it, Gordon Humphrey started his adult life as a liberal but became a conservative through “the force of my own logic.” He became an activist in the local Republican party during the Carter years, and in 1978 was elected to the Senate where he served for the next decade. He played a major role in making sure that a pro-life candidate, Dan Quayle, was added to George H. W. Bush’s team. He has retained his identity as a conservative, but Trump pushed him away from the GOP. The day after the 2016 election, he declared as an independent.
In 2018, Humphrey stepped even further away from Trump’s party. In a March 2018 USA Today piece, he proclaimed, “Conor Lamb got my first donation to a Democrat in 50 years. It’s time to stop Donald Trump.” As he sees it, Democrats like Conor Lamb represent a healthy corrective.
This could mean Lamb is the leading edge of an anti-Trump wave that could wash away many Republicans in November, if Democrats nominate moderates.
That would be healthy, given that Republicans in Congress — with few praiseworthy exceptions — increasingly kowtow to a president who is utterly without principle or decency, a demagogue who trades in the basest human emotions, whose chaotic persona and bizarre conduct strongly suggest a dangerously unhealthy mind.
As a former Republican who is still a Reagan conservative, I believe we need more Conor Lambs as an antidote to Trump’s poison. This is no time to obsess over party labels. Electing candidates of either party who will stand up to Trump is the first step in restoring a normal, decent, civilized America. It’s the first step to making America great again, in the best sense of that expression.
The second step is to dump Trump in 2020. Many hope the president will be removed before then. But even if special counsel Robert Mueller survives the daily attacks by Trump and his staff and produces incontrovertible evidence of an impeachable offense, it’s doubtful enough Republicans would do their constitutional duty and support impeachment and conviction. Too many have drunk too much Trump-Aid.”
Steve Schmidt has not just been loyal to the Republican Party, he has been one of its more ardent enablers. His career has been devoted to putting Republicans in office. For three decades, he has worked consistently to shape debate, promote ideas and people, and make sure that Republicans would hold power in this country.
This past June, however, he called it quits. Above all, he is disgusted by the congressional Republicans’ failure to live up to their responsibilities. He told the Washington Post:
The reality is that our Founders always predicted that one day there would be a president like Trump, and that’s why they designed the system of government the way they designed it. What they never imagined is the utter abdication of a co-equal branch of government, which we’re seeing now.
Like some other Republicans, Schmidt cannot bring himself to register as a Democrat. For now, however, he believes that only a vote for a Democrat makes sense, both pragmatically and morally. As he put it, today’s Republican party is “a threat to the American republic and to liberal democracy.”
If you have heard the phrase, “Axis of Evil,” then you know David Frum’s work. The former speechwriter for George W. Bush has been a fixture in conservative circles since his time with that administration. He has also become a vocal critic of Trump and his choices. He has been clear that he believes having Democrats in control of Congress offers hope against the nation’s politics becoming ever darker.
My hope for 2018: that Adam Schiff replaces Devin Nunes as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and that we have an honest investigation of the intrusion of foreign powers into American politics, and that we root out the penetration of the American government, but not just the American government, by foreign powers.
My own advice to everyone is to be mentally prepared for the worst even as you hope for the best. Think like a pessimist but act like an optimist. It is going to be a hard struggle, and whatever fate awaits Donald Trump, I don’t think his removal automatically fixes everything. Donald Trump emerged from the society, not just the political system. And societal ills are not corrected by parties or political fixes; they’re corrected by social changes.”
Rick Wilson’s GOP bona fides include working for George H. W. Bush’s campaign, serving under Dick Cheney, and going on to work on campaigns for Rudy Guiliani and other Republicans. He was a critic of Trump during the primaries, and he has maintained his critical vision. Most recently he published the book, Everything Trump Touches Dies: A Republican Strategist Gets Real About the Worst President Ever.
In an August interview with Stand Up! with Pete Dominick on Sirius XM, Wilson told guest host Matt Welch
We are no longer a party that believes in fiscal discipline. We are increasingly a party that doesn’t believe in the law. And we’re less and less a party that thinks that conservatism is about principles and policies, and more about a man and a mob.
Wilson does not fully join Vote Common Good in calling for wholesale rejection of Republican candidates this year. But he is asking his fellow Republicans to reject blind loyalty.
There was a little brouhaha last week—I had given an interview, and [other Republicans] were like, “Well, do you want Democrats to win the House?” I’m like, “I want people to go on a case-by-case basis.” Because increasingly there are a number of Democrats this year in the field who are more conservative than their Republican counterparts when it comes to economics, which blows my mind to say.
These days, James Comey’s battles with Trump are so prominent, that it can be easy to forget that Comey had been proud to be a Republican most of his adult life. He was originally appointed as a US Attorney by George H. W. Bush. He left government service to work in the business world until President Obama appointed him to head the FBI in 2013, the post he held until Trump fired him. Throughout, he was open about his affiliation as a Republican. Some Democrats have believed that Comey’s loyalty to the Republican party cost Hilary Clinton the 2016 election.
So, it is notable that Comey can now be counted with among the conservatives calling on voters to flip Congress this year. Like so many others, he faults the officeholders for failing to honor their calling.
This Republican Congress has proven incapable of fulfilling the Founders’ design that “Ambition must … counteract ambition.” All who believe in this country’s values must vote for Democrats this fall. Policy differences don’t matter right now. History has its eyes on us.
Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Bret Stephens remains comfortable as a conservative. It has been his lifelong position. “Until last year,” told MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle in 2017, “I voted Republican in every single election.” But the Trump-loyal party has caused him to change his vote, if not his principles.
I think I speak not only for myself but for many other people that I could never vote ever again for a party that is making an open endorsement of a man against whom there are credible accusations of pedophilia [i.e., Roy Moore] . . . Democrats should be put in office in November.
He followed it up with a tweet, reiterating his commitment to his party—and also to his country.
PS I’m a Republican. But also a republican. Latter more important.
Max Boot echoed George Will. He had been critical of Trump, but he put it all on the line in his article, “I Left the Republican Party. Now I want Democrats to Take Over.”
Should I stay or should I go now?” That question, posed by the eminent political philosophers known as the Clash, is one that confronts any Republican with a glimmer of conscience. You used to belong to a conservative party with a white-nationalist fringe. Now it’s a white-nationalist party with a conservative fringe.
Trump’s party, Boot explained, bears no relation to the conservative that had motivated him as a lifelong Republican. Worse, he sees little point in trying to vote for the “good” Republican candidate.
A vote for the GOP in November is also a vote for egregious obstruction of justice, rampant conflicts of interest, the demonization of minorities, the debasement of political discourse, the alienation of America’s allies, the end of free trade and the appeasement of dictators. . . .
That is why I join [George] Will and other principled conservatives, both current and former Republicans, in rooting for a Democratic takeover of both houses in November. Like postwar Germany and Japan, the Republican Party must be destroyed before it can be rebuilt.
The Columbus Dispatch
Individual columnists can decide to take an individual stand, but things move to another level when the entire editorial department at a major newspaper does it. Since its founding in 1871, the Columbus Dispatch has been a stalwart voice for Republican politics. Until it refused to endorse Donald Trump, the last Democrat it had supported was Woodrow Wilson for his re-election in 1916. The Dispatch supported Nixon, Ford, Reagan, H. W. Bush, Dole, W. Bush, McCain, and Romney. Donald Trump was simply too much, however. In 2016, the editorial board wrote,
The Dispatch traditionally has endorsed Republican presidential candidates, but Trump does not espouse or support traditional Republican values, such as fiscal prudence, limited government and free trade, not to mention civility and decency. We are disappointed that so many Republican leaders have accommodated a narcissistic, morally bankrupt candidate who is so clearly out of step with those values.
Two years later, the Columbus Dispatch has doubled down on its conservative values. It is calling out its own Republican congressmen, and urging Congress to exercise its constitutional duty to limit a dangerous president.
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and other Republicans in Congress, with their majority, should be using the powers available to the legislative branch to rein in this president and limit the damage. Their failure to do so, or even to say they disapprove, is a threat to democracy. . . .
Add to these the president’s profound lack of understanding of the constitutional limits on his power — he has asserted that he can’t be accused of obstructing justice and can pardon himself of crimes — and it becomes clear that only the Republicans who control Congress can stop this president from further damaging America’s standing in the world and well-being at home.
Unfortunately, Republican criticism of Trump’s destructive and autocratic ways comes mostly from those who are leaving Congress.
While Sen. Rob Portman expressed concern that the Canadian tariffs could hurt Ohio workers, he has done little to address Trump’s manifest unfitness for the office.
Outrageous behavior by this president is so common that Americans are becoming numb to it. The assault on civility, integrity and the rule of law is constant, and the danger is that our civic decency is like the frog in the pot of slowing heating water: Will the damage become irreparable before enough Americans realize the danger?
Tom Nichols has an impressive resume. Some may be impressed that he is a professor at the U.S. Naval War College and has written seven books, but he may be more famous as a champion on Jeopardy! He is also a committed conservative. In early 2018, however, he published an article in USA Today titled, “I’m still a Republican, but my party needs to be fumigated.” He laid out his hopes for creating a better party by defeating the current one in 2018:
Today’s Republicans, however, are a party of bellowing drama queens whose elected representatives blow up spending caps, bust the deficit, and attack America’s law enforcement and national security agencies as dangerous conspirators. Their leader expects banana republic parades, coddles the Kremlin, protects violent men in positions of responsibility, and overlooks child molestation. The rank-and-file GOP members who once claimed that liberals were creating a tyrannical monarchy in the Oval Office now applaud the expansion of the presidency into a gigantic cult of personality.
But for now, I really am a Republican In Name Only, because I actively want to see the Republicans defeated — soundly — in 2018 (and in 2020, if the president is not primaried out of his seat). Where I was once unaffiliated but quietly cheering on conservatives, I am now a member of a party I want to see cast into the political wilderness for a few years — or longer, if that’s what it takes to break the fever. . . .
My answer is to see whether enough of my fellow conservatives agree with me in 2018 to accept that the party needs to be purged of the New Know-Nothings. Perhaps Republicans like me need a new name: I am not a “Never Trumper” so much as I am a “Republican in exile,” as I wait for an end to the occupation of the party by people who never cared about its history or beliefs.
Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson served in Vietnam, went on to study and teach at the Naval and Marine war colleges, and eventually served as Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff. He may be the person most responsible for shaping Powell’s testimony to the United Nations before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In the years since, he has been increasingly critical of the US involvement in that country. Yet, he has remained a Republican and committed conservative.
He has also been vocal in his criticisms of both the Trump administration and Republicans who won’t hold it to account. Calling the president and his family “mafia-like,” he has publicly called for impeachment. Wilkerson holds particular scorn for those who think that simply having a Republican in the White House will advance the party’s larger agenda.
And it is going to take a while for my political party [i.e., the GOP] because they think . . . they are going to accomplish all these goals while this guy is running around the White House because he is a Republican. It is going to take a while for them to realize that they aren’t going to accomplish a thing — that what they are doing is hurting the country.”
This November, Wilkerson is endorsing Democratic congressional candidates who he believes will serve the interests of the country rather than the whims of one powerful person.
Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin’s move away from the Trump mainstream has brought her attacks and vitriol, yet she remains steadfast in her attachment to conservative politics, both in the US and abroad. She, too, has publicly called for Congress to flip. In a panel discussion with fellow Post writer E. J. Dionne, she made this argument:
Dionne: Last question. Who do you really want to win the 2018 elections?
Rubin: The Democrats, overwhelmingly, absolutely. Republicans’ adherence to supply-side as a tax policy and as a mindset was terribly unpopular. The bigger problem is, they do not have an attractive, reasonable alternative vision of what conservatism should be. I’d like it to be the Reformicon one, but something tells me it’s a little too wonkish for a party, too many dependent clauses. The real challenge is what takes the place of a center-right, reform-minded party. Maybe it ceases to exist, and we go through a period of Democratic dominance. Maybe the reformers capture the Republican Party, or, because we’ve broken every other rule in American politics, there is a rise of a replacement party.
“I have never voted for a Democrat for a federal or state office in my life,” writes conservative columnist John Ziegler. “This year, much to my amazement and disappointment, not only will I be likely be voting for Democrats at that level, I will actually be rooting for Democrats to win back at least the House of Representatives.”
He goes on to explain why with arguments that will resonate for anyone interested in the Common Good.
I never expected great courage from elected Republicans, but even with very low expectations I have been profoundly disappointed in people I respect like Marco Rubio, Lindsay Graham, Paul Ryan, and Mitt Romney(just to name a few), all of whom clearly know what a danger Trump is to our nation and to conservatism. And yet their muted criticism of him has been like that of a hen-pecked husband whose balls have been in their wife’s handbag so long that they have forgotten what they used to feel like.
As for the voter base, my worst fears have been realized. While I was always a bit mystified as to who the bedrock Republican supporter really was, I had always defended them against what I perceived at the time to be ugly and unfair allegations by the news media of racism, sexism, and anti-intellectualism.
It turns out that, like the overturning of a large rock that reveals a swarm of creepy-crawlies underneath, Trump has exposed the GOP base for what it really is. Ironically, it turns out that Hillary Clinton was mostly right about her infamous “basket of deplorables” charge. Based on my experience on Twitter and Facebook, she might actually have been a bit too kind. . . .
So, because the GOP is now no longer a force for good, or even one which can be relied upon to mitigate evil, there is no longer any choice than for it to be greatly damaged for the good of the nation. Please keep in mind that I say this as someone who, before 2016, honestly thought that Republican control of Congress was vital to the future of our nation and my two small children.
If Republicans maintain their majorities in both houses of Congress–which I believe to still be very possible–Trump not only will not be impeached (there is already very little chance he will ever actually be removed), but we will likely never even know the full truth of what really happened in the 2016 election, or about the many scandals which the Trump administration has perpetrated. Meanwhile, the Republican Party will believe, not without good reason, that embracing Trumpism has no electoral downside and that this philosophy, far more consistent with third-world dictatorships than with the United States of America, should be the way of the future.
Seeing Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer in power again would literally pain me (the existence of both of them, especially Pelosi, is actually greatly harming the Democrats’ chances of regaining their majorities). However, that price would likely be smaller than the long-term risk of allowing Trump and his movement to fundamentally and forever alter not just the GOP, but our international alliances and the nature of our politics/culture.
I am all too aware that my view is held by a tiny (though vocal) minority of conservatives and that, especially in this era of extreme partisanship and tribalism, there is no chance of it catching on. As a true conservative, however, my primary motivation is always based on what is in the best long-term interest of my country, and my family.
I can’t believe it has come to this, but I am now sure that this means actively hoping that the Republican Party gets crushed in November, which is probably a better result than it actually deserves.
Conservative columnist at the Daily Beast, Matt Lewis, provides a round-up of conservatives hoping for a GOP loss this Fall. In his conclusion, he gives a rationale for this counter-intuitive position. We find that his logic resonates with many of the people joining Vote Common Good:
Still, we’ve come to the point where half-measures haven’t worked. Two years ago, I wrote an essay titled “Jesus Take The Lever.” In that piece, I argued that sitting out the presidential election was an honorable compromise. With Hillary Clinton out of the picture, and with Trumpism reaching new lows, it is increasing difficult to make this argument today.
The fact that so many once-loyal Republicans are seriously hoping Democrats win in November tells you all you need to know.
Flipping Congress in 2018 is not a partisan endeavor. As so many of these conservatives make clear, it is a necessary move to promote the Common Good.