Mitch McConnell, Roy Moore, and the Party of Lincoln
I’ll get this out of the way early. I have basically zero faith in the Republican establishment to rein in or even try to fight the disgusting festering extremism that is bubbling up in their party.
My frustration lately has been that they’ve seemed more willing to bow out and “fight” with no election in their future. Though how scrappy that “fight” will actually be remains to be seem (I’m not holding my breath).
When trying to move forward, conservatives and moderate (i.e. not nationalist zealots) Republicans should consider the origins of their party.
As the Whig Party became divided over the issue of slavery, anti-slavery Whigs grew frustrated with the party’s increasing acquiescence to Southern slave power and unwillingness to confront it directly. They organized into various “Free Soil” parties, ran candidates, and they put their beliefs on the ballot. They lost, then they gained, then they began dismantling the Democratic Party in the North along with various nativist parties, and by 1858 they were emerging as the major party challenger to the Democrats with slavery and free labor as their main unifying issue. They won the presidency in 1860.
Following Jeff Flake’s decision not to run for reelection to his Senate seat in Arizona, conservative columnist Ross Douthat wrote in the New York Times:
“In the end, if you want Republican voters to reject Trumpism, you need to give them clear electoral opportunities to do so — even if you expect defeat, even if it’s all but certain.”
Conservative Republicans cannot nurture nationalist, racist, and cultural grievance politics for eight years, back out of the fight when it gains electoral power, and then complain that their voters keep putting abhorrent politicians in office. If they have principles and beliefs then they need to put them on the ballot, give their voters the opportunity to vote for them, expect the split vote to put more Democrats in office than they would like, and rebuild a functional conservative party.
Today Mitch McConnell took the first step in that direction (or, rather, turned to face the right direction and started to think about lifting his foot). In the wake of allegations of molestation, abuse, and irresponsible sexual behavior level against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, McConnell stated that he believed the allegations and that Moore should step aside. He even floated the idea of pushing the party apparatus to support a conservative write-in campaign.
I’ll believe it when I see it, but if McConnell follows through, then he’s making the first painful step toward building the party he wants (or at least the party we want to think he wants). To be clear, Roy Moore only crossed the line when he was alleged to have had a sexual encounter with a fourteen year old. Endorsing Republicans knew his views were repugnant long before they knew that his personal behavior was as well.
My hope is for the Republican Party to decide that homophobic and racist politicians like Roy Moore are abhorrent because of their homophobic and racist politics. My hope is that, one day, they draw a line on the other side of Keith Ellison and disavow anyone who tries to argue that he can’t serve in Congress because of his religious beliefs. But I guess that’s a pretty big ask these days.
When the Republican Party affectionately calls itself "The Party of Lincoln" they are calling themselves a party of statesmen who put their sense of right and wrong ahead of their politics. They're calling themselves a party of people who see that losing seats this year, losing the presidency down the road, and scratching and clawing for years later can be necessary to build a better country.
For now, McConnell and the Republican Party need to start with the rudimentary first step and just put their principles on the ballot. If it takes the prospect of a credibly alleged sexual abuser of underaged girls representing their party in the United States Senate for them to do that, then so be it. I guess that’s where my expectations are.
The Party of Lincoln was the party of Charles Sumner, William Seward, Thaddeus Stevens, and Benjamin Butler. Imperfect men who damned the odds, advocated their principles, and changed the country for the better a million times over.
The Republican Party of 2017 has no claim to that title. Mitch McConnell's decision to explore running a normal candidate against an avowed homophobe and bigot and alleged sexual abuser is a good thing, but it also illustrates how far his party has fallen. I guess that's where my expectations are. But they have to start somewhere and if they don’t start with someone as reprehensible as Roy Moore then they never will.