Why Are Some Conservatives Rooting for the GOP to Lose the Senate?
Yes, many Republican politicians have behaved badly. But a Biden presidency with Democrats control of Congress could yield a torrent of progressive policies.
In April 2008, as beleaguered Republicans trudged toward an ultimately doomed presidential election, P.J. O’Rourke took to the stage at Minneapolis’s Northop Auditorium to offer tepid support to fellow conservatives.
“Americans could end up with a Democrat as president and they will control the Congress,” O’Rourke told the crowd. “That scares me. … They could all get together and try to do things. Then, we’re screwed.”
“Republicans deserve to lose, but do we deserve the Democrats?” he asked.
At the time, there was a strong view among conservatives that punishment at the polls would correct the GOP’s ideological drift leftward. Traditional conservatives had seen eight years of George W. Bush expanding Medicare, approving government regulation of political speech, and pouring money into the federal government, leaving many feeling their Republican pParty was no better than the Democrats.
In 2006, even up-and-coming Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan spoke of the need to purge the “bad apples” from his Republican Party. “We don’t need a feather duster; we need a fire hose,” he said about cleansing the party of “RINOs.”
Those who believed making Republicans the minority in all levels of the federal government would “teach them a lesson” got half their wish—by 2008, Democrats ran the House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate, and held the presidency.
But the only lesson Republicans took away was that when Democrats are in charge, progressive floodgates will be opened that can never be closed. Most notably, purging the “RINOS” from the party simply gave Democrats the numbers they needed to pass Obamacare.
In the ensuing years, the GOP drove itself to madness trying to repeal the law. Republicans needed someone who didn’t play by the rules of “the swamp” and who could affect change simply by aiming a verbal flamethrower at the nation’s problems. They needed someone who would “fight.”
Enter Donald Trump.
In 2020, some influential traditional conservatives are once again rooting for the GOP to be taught a lesson through electoral defeat. They rightly recognize the populist damage Trump has inflicted on the Republican Party and want to rescue the GOP from the Trump hijacking.
But for others, Trump’s defenestration alone will not suffice. Columnist George F. Will, for decades the most prominent voice of traditional conservatism in the nation’s newspapers, believes Trump’s poison has seeped so deeply into the Party of Lincoln that voters should also throw the president’s “enablers” in the Senate out in November.
“Senate Republicans must be routed, as condign punishment for their Vichyite collaboration, leaving the Republican remnant to wonder: Was it sensible to sacrifice dignity, such as it ever was, and to shed principles, if convictions so easily jettisoned could be dignified as principles, for ... what?,” wrote Will in early June.
Last week, the Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump GOP super PAC, began buying television advertising time supporting Democratic Senate candidate and current Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. The Lincoln Project is run by a cadre of notable Republican campaign managers so disillusioned with Trump they’re willing to oppose incumbent Republican Sen. Steve Daines.
“We chose Steve Bullock because he's a competent, moral leader who thinks of his constituents first,” Lincoln Project communications director Keith Edwards told NBC News last week. “Steve Daines is just another rubber stamp for Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell.”
For more Republicans than will openly admit, it will be cathartic to see gutless Trumpian lickspittles in the Senate get their comeuppance on election night. If Trump loses and Republicans drop the Senate, it will be vindication for all those who spent years cautioning senators against chaining themselves to a nuclear reactor of a president.
But then what?
Once in place, a Biden presidency and a Democratic-led House and Senate could unleash a torrent of progressive policies on America. In fact, just days ago, House Democrats began pushing the Green New Deal as a remedy for George Floyd-style police misconduct.
It is undeniably true that many Republicans have behaved terribly. Watching Ted Cruz willfully misunderstand the First Amendment to soothe Trump’s feelings about being fact-checked by Twitter is enough to make one build a Ted Cruz statue for the sole purpose of tearing it down.
But for those who still believe America’s greatness lies in small government solutions, the best scenario under a President Biden would be to have Sen. Mitch McConnell suiting up as the federal government’s goalie, swatting away the big government wish list the House will fire at him.
If Trump loses and the Senate remains intact, McConnell will effectively become the Republican Party’s de facto leader. But if the Democrats take over the free-for-all to determine the national face of the party will descend into Trumpian, populist madness. With no leader of any consequence, the race to commandeer the 35 percent of Trump’s true believers will be on—driven even further into fringe, conspiracy territory as Trump broadcasts to his followers from his perch at Mar-a-Lago.
But with a firm parliamentarian like McConnell at the helm, the party can retain some balance, influencing both legislation and judicial appointments. Sure, both Team MAGA and the NeverTrumpers alike have issues with McConnell—but the fact is, “Cocaine Mitch” has been primarily responsible for virtually every conservative victory Republicans have seen during the Trump era (Neil Gorsuch, tax cuts, outmaneuvering Democrats on shutdowns, etc.).
Of course, rooting for a Trump loss but a McConnell win is a bit like counting on an inside-straight in poker—if Trump’s numbers continue to decline, he will most likely drown the entire Senate with him.
As O’Rourke said 12 years ago, Republicans certainly deserve to lose. But for those who recognize obstructionism as a virtue, the GOP is America’s insurance against the more extreme elements of the Democratic Party.
In politics, there is no winning by losing. “Creative destruction” simply leads to “destruction.”
Photograph b Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images.