“I joined [the GOP] because I was a conservative, and I leave it for the same reason: I’m a conservative,” George Will said on Fox News Sunday.
Will joins many Republicans, myself included, who refuse to vote for Donald Trump under any circumstances. His exit from the Republican Party, though, is wrong, even if understandable.
Every day arise new reasons for we members of the #NEVERTRUMP movement to despair that Trump is the Republican presidential nominee: He knows virtually nothing about conservatism, and he cares even less. His most tepid supporters, like Dennis Prager, argue that his potential for choosing conservative Supreme Court nominees serves as reason enough to hold one’s nose and pull the Trump lever. However, we fear that even as Mr. Trump indicated that he would fill the Supreme Court with conservative judges (some of whom whose names he could not properly pronounce), his tendency to renege on promises undermines his credibility. Moreover, the Supreme Court means little if the liberal world order that America created unravels as a result of trade wars and unnecessary rivalries. In November, Americans faced with the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, will recognize that Clinton would make a better president than Trump, and will wisely choose her to lead the nation.
Adding to our humiliation, #NEVERTRUMP, suffers routine castigation from many of our fellow Republicans. Presidential candidate, Ben Carson, accuses us of demonstrating an “incomprehensible level of arrogance.” Former House Speaker, Newt Gingrich, argued that we threaten to harm the country. Grant Strinchfield wrote a particularly regrettable piece in The Federalist calling us “anti-American” hypocrites.
Then, House Speaker, Paul Ryan, endorsed Trump, opening wide the door for Will to exit the Party. WIthout a doubt, Ryan’s endorsement dealt a serious blow to the GOP’s credibility. Ryan, who built his career on the moral authority of conservative principles, was a glimmer of hope that the GOP hadn’t completely gone Ann Coulter-Crazy. The dim light extinguished, Will left the political party he so honorably shaped.
“After Trump went after the ‘Mexican’ judge from northern Indiana then Paul Ryan endorsed him, I decided that in fact this was not my party anymore,” he told an audience at a Federalist Society luncheon.
Shared disconsolation notwithstanding, George Will should not have left the Party.
For starters, we will undoubtedly lose in November–make no mistake about it. But the GOP is greater than any single presidential nominee. If Republicans finally learn the lessons we should have learned after the 2012 election, and not repeat this mistake again, we can rebuild and bounce back. If those of us who detest Mr. Trump leave the GOP, then only the irresponsible will remain, and the Party will collapse. There will be very little hope of returning it to the timeless conservative principles it needs to rescue America from the postmodern Democrat Party.
Secondly, Will should understand that the pressures on Paul Ryan (the highest ranking Republican in America) to endorse Trump differ dramatically from those on him (an unelected commentator) to do the same. Ryan took over the Speakership in a badly divided House, and has been working heroically to keep the focus on policy ideas, messaging and making meaningful progress. In spite of his efforts, there is a cadre of Republicans waiting to undermine him, and they would have their chance if they could blame him for Trump’s loss in 2016. Furthermore, given Trump’s propensity to declare war on those who do not endorse him, Ryan needed whatever leverage he could muster to make a semi-respectable candidate of the insecure buffoon that is Donald Trump. His endorsement, therefore, fused some in the responsible wing of the Party with those in the irresponsible wing of the Party in order to keep peace through what will certainly be a calamitous election, and to try to steer Trump, as best he can, toward the Party mainstream. Absent these implications, Will’s refusal to endorse Trump bears little gravity.
Finally, every Republican has to acknowledge that unity matters most in 2016. While we cannot agree to support our presidential nominee (I, certainly, will not), we should encourage as many people as possible to support Republicans in races further down the ticket. A Clinton presidency with a principled Republican Congress is better than both, a Clinton presidency with a complicit Democrat Congress, and a Trump presidency with a lapdog Republican Congress. Will said so, himself, at the Federalist Society luncheon. Rather than leave the GOP, Will should have turned his eye from the top of the ticket to the principled Republicans who need support in spite of Mr. Trump.
Of course, I understand Will’s impulse. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve stayed up late nights, and have even wept, lamenting this election and its implications for the conservative movement. But, the GOP and the nation needs principled conservatives right now. That means you, too, Mr. Will. The Cubs are doing great this year. The GOP is till “your party”–our party–and it needs your valuable attention now more than ever.