I don’t think of myself as someone who scoffs at people. But it’s gotten pretty hard not to do a whole lot of scoffing at the Republican establishment as it grapples with the rise of Donald Trump. And that brings me to Michael Gerson’s column in The Washington Post last week, What Are Anti-Trump Republicans To Do? Here Are Four Options. It’s pathetic in so many ways, but the blunt stupidity is this: it doesn’t mention the one thing that the anti-Trump Republicans have consistently said they will do: support Trump. And we know Republicans: they will support Trump because it is axiomatic: anyone calling themselves a Republican is better than anyone calling themselves a Democrat.
But I was most taken with his idea of getting a representative of “civil rights Republicanism” to run as a third party candidate. Who are these rare creatures that make up so much of the Republican Party? You would think that if there were even a decent number of them, there would have been a presidential candidate to represent them. You know: like Bernie Sanders came into the Democratic nominating contest because there were a lot of liberal (and even socialist) Democrats? But not one person decided to go after this brand of Republican — probably because it is largely or completely a myth.
That’s not to say that Michael Gerson doesn’t have a candidate in mind. It’s the candidate that all Republicans keep in their back pockets to fight off the charge of racism and sexism: Condoleezza Rice. She’s black! She’s a woman! She’s a Republican! The Republican Party is therefore not a grand bastion of hatred and ignorance used in support of the rich and powerful. No, Condoleezza Rice proves that isn’t the case because, after all, she was a powerful member of a Republican administration that’s sole claim to (positive) fame is that the week after 9/11, George W Bush didn’t set up concentration camps for every American Muslim.
Note that Michael Gerson was part of that very same civil rights loving administration. That’s the same administration that brought back systemic torture to our federal government. And what did Michael Gerson have to say about that? He said that an explicit ban on torture (which was a bi-partisan thing as recently as 1988 under Ronald Reagan) might be admirable, “But holding this view is not an option for those in government…” Because, you know, you can defeat the Nazis without torture, but not any old threat that comes along today that the Republican Party can demagogue!
Of course, Michael Gerson isn’t proposing himself as this civil rights Republican who will save us all. I’m all in favor of saints without being one. The problem is that Condoleezza Rice supports torture too. So it turns out, she’s just an African American woman who happens to be your typical Republican. As I recall, that includes being incompetent at both her jobs in the Bush White House, but that is a subject for another day.
I’ve picked torture because it is the most obvious example of the Republican Party’s lack of commitment to civil rights. It’s not that I’m unaware of what Michael Gerson is really getting at: he wants a Republican who will talk like civil rights were fixed in 1965. This is a game that people in the Republican establishment like to play. They like to pretend that they are high minded. They are all Edmund Burke in their minds. (Not that Burke was ultimately anything but an apologist for the power elite.)
But most of the things that Trump has said that have so outraged the likes of Michael Gerson are a good deal less horrible than things Michael Gerson’s old boss and his mythic civil rights Republican Condoleezza Rice actually did. As Glenn Greenwald noted yesterday in a brilliant article, Trump is gauche, but not in any categorical way worse than the Republican establishment (and much of the Democratic establishment too). I thought this was particularly apt:
Yes, Michael Gerson thinks it would be better to support people who actually ordered torture than to support a man who talks about it in such an open and vulgar manner. The truth is that the only thing that separates these supposed civil rights Republicans and the bigots who support Trump is style. It would seem that if the Republicans are to become the party of “civil rights,” all they have to do is send about half their voters to finishing school.