“Burn it down” is rarely a wise or prudent sentiment.
A cadre of Republican opponents of President Trump is nonetheless calling for a purifying fire to sweep through the GOP in the fall, taking down as many Republican officeholders as possible.
Only this willy-nilly bloodletting will teach the party the hard lesson it needs to learn for accommodating Trump over the past four years. As a Soviet commissar once put it: “We must execute not only the guilty. Execution of the innocent will impress the masses even more.”
These Never Trumpers, as my colleague Ramesh Ponnuru puts it, are becoming Never Republicans. Their ranks run from columnist George Will, to Charlie Sykes of the anti-Trump website The Bulwark, to the operatives of The Lincoln Project.
Their hoped-for GOP electoral apocalypse doesn’t make sense on its own terms, and their advocacy for one bears all the hallmarks of this perfervid time in our politics — it, too, is rageful and extreme, but satisfyingly emotive.
Let’s stipulate that Republicans have often excused or looked past the inexcusable during Trump’s presidency, and almost every Republican senator has a dimmer view of Trump than he or she will let on publicly. GOP officeholders have been especially loath to speak of the character defects that blight his presidency.
All of this deserves to be called out, but should the party of Lincoln be leveled?
The Never Republicans refuse to account for the practical calculations of practical politicians hoping, in difficult circumstances, to achieve practical results.
Was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell supposed to say after Trump’s election, “I can’t work with him,” and, to borrow a phrase, burn down any chance of achieving anything constructive during a rare instance of unified Republican control of Washington?
McConnell obviously bites his tongue about the president all the time, but his main project has been working with the White House to confirm judges to the bench who are thoroughly committed to faithfully interpreting our laws and Constitution and will be doing their jobs when Trump is a distant memory.
Even if you think McConnell should have played it differently, what would defeating him and every other Senate Republican accomplish?
Back in the Tea Party era, purists insisted on nominating in 2010 the flagrantly unelectable Christine O’Donnell to run for the U.S. Senate from Delaware to stick it to the Republican establishment. Sure enough, she lost to Democrat Chris Coons, who is well on his way to a stress-free 30-year career in the Senate.
If Susan Collins loses her Senate seat in Maine this year in a burn-it-all-down conflagration, it will play out the same way. Put aside that she is hardly a Trumpist. If she goes down to defeat, Republicans are never winning her seat back. And it doesn’t matter who the next Republican president is — an anti-Trump moderate or Don Jr. — the Democratic senator from Maine will be there to oppose whatever he or she is doing.
What the Never Republicans are hoping for is the least resistance to the most progressive president of our lifetimes to give him the greatest possible running room on abortion, conscience rights, health care, judges, climate, immigration, policing, gun rights, campaign finance, taxes and spending.
This is a high cost to pay, not just for the GOP, but for the country — at least, that’s what you think if you are a conservative who believes progressives are deeply wrong on all these questions.
It’s not even guaranteed that the posited purifying loss will purify. It’s entirely conceivable that a post-Trump party will be more Trumpist, i.e., more populist, than before. Regardless, even after a landslide, the Republican Party will be made up of the same voters and officeholders who steadfastly supported Trump.
If the Never Republicans want a party untainted by these people, there is one available, and if they get their wish, it will be at the zenith of its power next year.
Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review.