“Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party” isn’t just a typing drill.
The Republican party may not seem to be in need of rescuing. In fact, the GOP seems to be riding pretty high at the moment: presidency, House, Senate, a dominating position in state legislatures and governorships. Even the mayor of San Diego, where you live, is a Republican. (It’s nice out there in La Jolla, isn’t it? But if you think Massachusetts was tough for a Republican, don’t even think about California.) Republicans have been on a roll.
Democrats think that Trump’s low poll numbers mean Republicans are headed for a midterm massacre. I’m not so sure about that. The Republican party doesn’t need saving from an electoral avalanche. No, what the Republican party needs saving from is the Republican party.
The last time I gave you a little free political advice — advice you did not take, I note — I suggested that you loosen up about being a rich guy and stop acting bashful about your money, maybe get a new Rolls with a “RMONEY” vanity plate and park it in that car elevator in La Jolla, where you live. In that column, I noted in passing that I don’t think Americans are really very much inclined to class warfare, that they may envy the rich but they admire them more than they resent them. I pointed to the fact that Americans are so fond of rich guys that they routinely turn on their televisions and tune in to watch Donald Trump recreationally fire people on The Apprentice.
Yeah. I didn’t think so, either.
The Republican party desperately needs an alternative to Trump in elected office in Washington.
It isn’t just Trump, of course. Trump is a symptom, not the main cause of the current state of affairs in the GOP. The tsunami of disgust and outrage that has swept over the Republican party is like that ugly gold hotel in Las Vegas: Trump didn’t build it, he just put his name on it and profited from it. The Right has always had our rage-monkeys: the Birchers, the televangelists, the Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan types. But the combination of a few new developments — social media, talk radio, Fox News, the class resentment unleashed by the bailouts, economic stagnation, the messianic pretensions of Barack Obama — has transformed the GOP. What was once the party of admittedly uptight up-and-comers, the Alex P. Keaton conservatives who saw in Ronald Reagan (another California transplant, there) a politics of optimism and confidence, has today embraced an ethic of constant outrage and “Real America” resentment. It sneers at the successful coastal cities (and at cities categorically) and insists that the only authentic America is to be found in moribund postindustrial towns and sleepy farming communities. Today’s Republican party is Hee-Haw without the music or humor. It’s become a caricature of itself.
The Republican party desperately needs an alternative to Trump in elected office in Washington. Utah’s probably going to have a Republican senator one way or the other, whether you spend a few more days of the year in Deer Valley or a few more in La Jolla. That’s not the issue. The issue is that you can go to Washington by way of Utah and set an example, to remind people that the GOP and the conservative movement that animates it can still speak to our hopes rather than to our fears, to our highest public purposes rather than our basest political instincts.
You’ll be in for it, of course: Trump will savor pointing out that he won the presidency and you did not. (Voters. Inexplicable. Hyperion to a satyr and all that.) Trump doesn’t like criticism, but he needs it. The Republican party needs to hear it, and to hear it from you. You can show them a different kind of Republican. If you don’t, Trump will be the only kind anybody knows. I can’t see a way that will end well.
Do it, Mitt.
— Kevin D. Williamson is National Review’s roving correspondent.