A Trump Administration promises to scramble the poles of our political universe. Despite the usual claims of a mandate, election results were an indecisive muddle. Trump “won” by losing the election, and it wasn’t close. Clinton beat him by a whopping three million votes. He finished half a point ahead of Michael Dukakis’ 1988 blowout disaster. Republican Congressional candidates earned a similar asterisk over their win. They racked up a lackluster 48% of the vote while still retaining their majority. Geography, not popularity, handed Republicans control of Washington.
Our political system was the big loser of the 2016 Election, defeated by the rise of celebrity politics and white nationalism. Republicans are no longer the party of conservatism. Democrats are no longer the party of “Third Way” centrism. New alignments are clearly in the works, though they remain hazy. Our way forward is shrouded by the smoke hanging over the ruins of the Third Republic.
From chaos comes opportunity. Prepare to see new faces and hear new voices. As we begin what will likely be a long, painful struggle toward the Fourth Republic, these seven people may have interesting roles to play.
Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse is an unusual Republican. After earning an undergraduate degree at Harvard and a PhD in history at Yale, he became a professor while also serving in several advisory positions in government. In 2009, he took over leadership of a small Lutheran College in his home state before being elected to the Senate in 2014. His career arc, his youth, and his manner invite comparisons to Barack Obama.
Not unusually for a Republican, Sasse is deeply religious and his beliefs play a powerful role in his politics. However, Sasse was the first Republican in the Senate to openly reject Donald Trump and unlike others, he never wavered. Also unlike others, Sasse follows his religious convictions all the way out to their logical conclusions. He is pro-life is the truest sense of the term, not only opposing abortion, but opposing racism and promoting justice. Integrity and humility have been his trademarks.
Most importantly for this blog, Sasse grasps the technology-driven economic transformation that is shaking our world. He has chided Trump and others in both parties for backward-looking economic policies while pointing to the role of automation in job losses.
His career so far points to the emergence of a new generation of principled conservatives, offering hope for our future. What should you watch for with Sasse: How will he respond to calls for welfare reform and a basic income?
More than 150 years after the Civil War, there is still a Southern Baptist Church. Long after the Methodists and Presbyterians made peace with their Yankee brethren, Southern Baptists are still defined, down to the name on the church-sign, by their 19th century decision to support slavery.
When Southern Baptist professor and theologian Russell Moore became the head of the SBC’s public policy arm in 2013, it put the domination on a collision course with that heritage. Southern Baptists as a denomination have lined up on the wrong side of every major development in the march toward justice and civil rights. Moore has tackled that history in a very vocal way without watering down the church’s commitment to personal righteousness.
Moore has spoken out against the use of the Confederate flag. He has criticized politicians on the religious right for their anti-Muslim demagoguery. Moore has encouraged Christians to embrace refugees, take compassionate stands on immigration, and condemn police brutality against African-Americans. Most controversial of all, Moore challenged evangelicals in very strong language to resist Donald Trump.
Moore has maintained doctrinal consistency on concerns Baptists like to emphasize while pressing Baptists to address the concerns Jesus liked to emphasize. It will be interesting to see if he keeps his job against the resistance building against him inside the denomination.
Someone needs to explain Texas to the rest of the world. Ideal translation would come from a smart, sane, articulate commentator who, by some magic, still somehow likes the place. That’s where Texas Monthly writer Erica Grieder finds her special niche.
Grieder made her big splash as the author of Big, Hot, Cheap, and Right: What America Can Learn from the Strange Genius of Texas. Her book celebrates the qualities that inspired me to leave the place, the same traits that put me on the edge of nausea whenever I return. Where I see a political tradition of corrupt indifference and calloused bigotry, she sees a “business friendly culture” and a “socially moderate electorate.” She has become the most persuasive apologist for that awkward Confederate legacy Texans mistake for “small government.”
When Republicans lose the likes of Erica Grieder they’ve entered uncharted territory. Grieder wrote favorably of Ted Cruz all through the primary season. After Trump’s nomination, she backed Hillary Clinton. She is far and away the smartest, most honest proponent of the Texas political model. No one else has described Texas’ unique contributions to our politics in a way that combines so much insight with admiration. As such, her criticism of Texas Republicans carries particular weight. Grieder stuck to her guns in opposition to Trump (unlike some Texans) and has held other Republicans accountable for their compromises.
Her articulate defense of Texas’ unique model paired with her commitment to integrity place her in an opportune position at the dawn of the Trump years. She could become a pivotal commentator if a rational Republican coalition begins to emerge from the South’s increasingly contested suburbs.
William Barber II
North Carolina has emerged in recent years as ground zero in a campaign by southern conservatives to roll back the gains of the civil rights movement. One of the last Confederate states to complete the switch from one-party Democratic rule to one-party Republican rule, the Tar Heel state is racing to make up lost time.
Pastor William Barber has become a leading voice in the effort to protect basic civil rights in North Carolina. In 2013, he helped organize the Moral Mondays protests drawing attention to the legislature’s actions. His campaign has taken an interesting and provocative strategy that makes him a unique figure of interest in 2017.
Barber has picked up the theme of King’s very controversial “Poor People’s Campaign,” King’s final great push that was cut short by his assassination. True to King’s last ambition, Barber is trying to transcend traditional racial politics to build a new interracial coalition around class. This places Barber squarely at the center of the left’s most promising and volatile emerging strategy, one that could transform the Democratic Party if it takes hold.
As she approaches the end of a second relatively quiet term, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar is a due for a more prominent role. She carries a reputation as a classic Minnesota liberal, a potential new force on the party’s left. Her record, however, has been pragmatic and her voice has been muted. Having promised to run for re-election in 2018 rather than entering the Governor’s race, it is likely she will speak out more in 2017. It is unclear exactly what we will hear.
She seems to be angling toward a more prominent role as a critic of the Trump administration. This may explain the alliance she seems to be forming across the aisle with Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. That alliance could prove awkward for her though if she expects to court the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party. Klobuchar traveled with McCain and Graham to Ukraine and Georgia this week, a high-profile move with military implications. It will be interesting to see how Klobuchar plays the hand she’s being dealt as the pressure and attention on her mounts.
When a collection of “NeverTrump” Republicans announced they would field a conservative challenger to the Republican nominee a lot of hearts raced. When they finally introduced their guy, everyone was left scratching their heads. No one had ever heard of Evan McMullin, a former CIA agent, Congressional staffer, and Goldman Sachs investment banker with no previous campaign experience.
Everyone dismissed McMullin…at first. When polls showed him in a three-way tie in Utah things began to change. The election is over now, but McMullin still hasn’t left the field. He is campaigning against Trump as aggressively now as he did last fall. At the start of his campaign he had about 100 Twitter followers. Now he is closing in on 200,000.
With flawless conservative messaging, a lot of charisma, and dogged determination, McMullin is emerging as a rallying point for the right’s resistance to Trump. There is, however, one little concern.
A previous post explored the implications of a breakdown in executive branch credibility likely to accompany the Trump era. One of those implications is the possibility of more open and dangerous rivalry among our security services, especially between the FBI and the CIA.
To place that concern in perspective, let’s look again at the McMullin campaign. In a certain light, it looks as if the CIA fielded a candidate for President – a candidate who was in fact one of its own clandestine agents. And that candidate has continued his campaign against the winner – a winner who was supported and assisted in the election by the CIA’s main domestic political rival, the FBI.
Pay close attention to how McMullin’s continuing campaign against Trump plays out in the context of that inter-agency rivalry. This could get interesting.
Politics has not been kind to the Reformicons. For years they pressured Republicans to devote some minute level of interest to questions of real-world policy. They crafted nuanced positions on climate change, entertained semi-credible market alternatives to the ACA, and devised plans for wage support and welfare that might address the problems of working class Americans. In other words, they wasted a lot of time and ink.
Prospects of an electoral debacle at the hands of Trump offered a glimmer of hope. Perhaps a party chastened by failure might warm to a new, more credible set of reality-based ideas.
Then, you know, that thing happened.
For now, the political sun has apparently set on figures like David Frum, Reihan Salam, Josh Barro and Yuval Levin. Trumpian Republicans have little use for a bunch of poindexters sporting plans so complex that they might take a whole minute to read. Whatever part of Making American Great Again that can’t be executed from Trump’s Twitter account probably isn’t in the cards.
Avik Roy is still trying. If Republicans are serious about replacing the ACA with a real thing rather than just passing some sham of a repeal, he may get a chance to help Paul Ryan build it. Working through a new think tank he co-founded in Austin, the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, Roy has developed one of the few credible alternatives to the ACA. If you start seeing a lot of pictures of Roy with Congressional Republicans, it may mean that Republicans have decided to pass some grown-up legislation. We’ll see.
Who has lost relevance?
Who isn’t likely to matter politically 2017? Republican or former Republican figures like me who have been dissenting for years. There is just no organizational structure remaining in which we can leverage any influence.
Actual Nazis now carry more potential influence with the Republican base than most former Reagan officials, or even former Republican Presidents. If you aren’t white, don’t hear the audible voice of Jesus, and/or have your own white supremacist newsletter, your chances of guiding GOP policy in 2017 are pretty slim.
Perhaps the saddest irrelevant figures in 2017 are the ones who planned to cash in on a Trump victory. Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani are learning the hard way what they should have already known about the man they decided to serve. Trump apparently passed over John Bolton because of his mustache. Seriously, I’m not making this up.
For now, resistance to Trump and hope for a return to political sanity rests largely with people like those above. Disagreements aside, they all carry my best wishes and support.