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Jonah Is Right
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Jonah Is Right

It’s time to start thinking hard about a new conservative party.

Earlier this week my friend and colleague Jonah Goldberg kicked up a bit of a hornet’s nest by arguing that a third party could “cure what ails the GOP.” Rather than taking the advice of some of our friends and voting for Democrats to punish the Republicans for Trumpism, and rather than taking the contrary counsel of other friends to fight hard against Trumpism in the primaries but then unite against the left in the general election, Jonah charts a third way:

Specifically, a third party with a simple, Reaganite conservative platform combined with a serious plank to defend the soundness of elections? For simplicity’s sake, think of it as a GOP minus the Trump personality cult.

If a Republican candidate met its requirements, a new party of the right could endorse the Republican, the way New York’s Conservative Party does. If not, a non-Trumpy candidate could play the role of spoiler by garnering enough conservative votes in the general election to throw the election to the Democrat.

I agree with Jonah on two counts. First, as he wrote in a follow-up piece, these issues are hard. There is no obvious clear path forward for conservatism, and conservatives should have grace for each other as we try to navigate past Trump and past Trumpism. I might be wrong on the best path. I question myself about it all the time.

Second, as hard as this question is, I think Jonah has the best of the argument. He’s right for the reasons he stated, and he’s right for the reasons that my friend and former National Review colleague Charlie Cooke is wrong. In his response to Jonah, Charlie writes eloquently that “elections are not merely about which party holds power; they are also about what is done with that power.” 

I agree completely. We have to analyze how parties use power. And what does this newest iteration of the GOP do with its power? Things like this: 

That’s Greg Abbott, ladies and gentlemen, the very definition of an establishment Republican. Texas is America’s second-most populous state and possesses the world’s ninth-largest economy. He’s trampling the rights of private business owners, and he’s doing so at the expense of their good judgment about the health and well-being of their employees, their customers, and their community. 

Let’s also not forget what the most recent GOP president tried to accomplish. Trump led the effort to overturn the election, culminating in attempts to strong-arm his vice president into declaring him the victor and to force his Department of Justice to coerce states into reversing election results. The overwhelming majority of the current GOP House helped Trump try to block certification of the election.

We’re fortunate that there were just barely enough honorable Republicans left to stop the Republican president from precipitating the greatest constitutional crisis since 1861. He placed the very existence of the U.S. as a united nation at stake for the sake of his personal pride and ambition. 

And if you try to reassure me that the single most important fact isn’t that the Republican president attempted to overthrow a democratic election (with the support of the majority of the House GOP), but rather that courageous and honorable Republicans stopped him, remember that the GOP grassroots and much of right-wing media have been spending the months since January 6 trying to purge those honorable Republicans from the party.

Jonah says “the point [of a third party] is to cause the GOP some pain for its descent into asininity.” Yes. Yes, it is. But there’s an even greater purpose–to advance the political positions and values that best govern this great nation. And if you think for one second that my problem with the GOP is Trump, and if Trump is gone then we can hold hands again, then think again.

How do I distrust the GOP? Let me count the ways.

I don’t trust the GOP on election integrity. I do in fact believe that it is infected almost top to bottom by a combination of conspiracists and cowards who would, in fact, try to steal an American election (again).

I don’t trust the GOP on free speech and civil liberties. It’s a party that’s busy passing state laws that override the free speech rights of private corporations. It advocates speech codes in public schools (and sometimes beyond) to stop the spread of ideas it dislikes. It has dug in its heels in support of qualified immunity, a doctrine that permits public officials to violate the civil rights of its citizens without compensation. And parts of the GOP are digging in their heels against property rights, economic freedom, and freedom of association by using the power of the government to prohibit private corporations from mandating vaccines in a pandemic.

I definitely don’t trust the GOP on foreign policy. After Trump threatened American alliances, lavished praise on Kim Jong-un, and cut a disastrous peace deal with the Taliban with the enthusiastic support of many in his party, I no longer believe the GOP possesses a sound strategic approach to American national security. 

I don’t trust the GOP on debt and deficits. During Trump’s presidency the party abandoned the pretense of fiscal responsibility. This is an old problem, of course. Republicans are notorious deficit hawks until the very instant they seize the White House. The Trump administration increased deficits year-by-year even during an economic expansion. He’s the only president in a generation to generate a higher deficit in every year of his presidency.

Should I trust the GOP on public health? Well: 

I definitely don’t trust the GOP to navigate America’s racial divisions. In many ways the virulent “anti-woke” emotion in the grassroots is every bit as toxic as the most toxic intolerance that’s infected the left. I live in a community (one of the most powerful and prosperous Republican counties in the country) that’s made national news because, among other things, activists are seeking to ban books such as Ruby Bridges Goes to School, My True Story from elementary school instruction. Those same activists even filed a complaint under the state’s “anti-CRT law” that objected to a Norman Rockwell painting

And I don’t trust the GOP on immigration. I grew up a member of a Republican Party that understood that immigrants contributed immensely to the cultural and economic vitality of the nation. Yes, I know that the precise amount of legal immigration is a matter of good-faith, prudential debate. I also believe a nation should do its reasonable best to secure its borders. But the directional posture of the country and the party should be favorable to immigration and particularly welcoming to refugees. 

To be extremely clear, my lack of trust in the GOP does not indicate trust in the Democratic Party. I am pro-life, and the Democrats’ abortion extremism is extremely troubling. The Democratic House passed an extraordinarily broad abortion bill that would sweep aside most state restrictions on abortion and place the United States as a world outlier on abortion rights.

I can work with Democrats on issues of common concern. I’m especially happy to work with Democrats on pro-life policies (such as child allowances) that could decrease the demand for abortions. I am close friends with Democrats who disagree with me on abortion and a host of other issues. I cannot, however, vote for Democrats who support their party’s position on abortion rights. 

I’m also extraordinarily troubled by the rise of illiberal authoritarianism on the cultural left. Extreme diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) measures violate civil rights laws, and the Democratic Party often shares the GOP’s hostility to corporate free speech rights. Moreover Democrats often show gratuitous hostility to religious liberty.

If anything, the party is less fiscally responsible than the GOP, and it’s own foreign policy—while more hospitable to international alliances than “America First” Trumpism—just handed over Afghanistan to the Taliban and forced American arms into a shocking military defeat. 

So, if I’m still conservative, yet neither Republican nor Democrat, then what do I believe? Earlier this summer I wrote an extended piece articulating exactly why I no longer consider myself a Republican. My version of conservatism has two axes, ideological and dispositional. What is the ideology?

I stood (and stand) much closer to the libertarian side of the conservative spectrum. This meant defending civil liberties (including the right to life of the unborn), respecting economic freedom, and defaulting power to local levels as much as possible . . . I was (and am) deeply skeptical of central planning, and I believe limiting the power of the state over human liberty is a just and wise policy goal all by itself. In international affairs, however, I believed in American power and presence. Strong treaties. Forward deployments.

By “disposition” I meant the way in which a person approaches the public square and the way in which a person conducts his affairs. Here I put a high premium on decency, good character, and an open mind. 

There are members of both parties who demonstrate the necessary disposition. There are fewer politicians who possess both the necessary ideology and disposition. There are more Republicans than Democrats who advocate for the policies I support, but the party itself is in a terrifying moral free-fall, and its ideology is both incoherent and increasingly authoritarian.

So yes. It’s time to seriously ponder third-party options. It’s time to stop thinking about binaries. Readers, parties have to earn your support, and if they don’t share the disposition or ideology that you think is best for the nation you love, then it’s time to find (or create) the party that will. Jonah is right. Conservatives don’t owe either party their vote. 

One last thing …

Ok, I’ve divided and perhaps ticked off all my readers. So it’s time for us to come together around something all good people can enjoy—an Alabama football loss. Let the healing begin:

And if you missed this bit of wholesome awesomeness, here is a shot of Texas A&M kicker Seth Small’s wife, Rachel, weeping with joy as the ball passed through the uprights. Very good times:

David French is a columnist for the New York Times. He’s a former senior editor of The Dispatch. He’s the author most recently of Divided We Fall: America's Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation.