Joshua Claybourn: Republicans face a great fork in the road
Thursday, February 02, 2017 9:40 AM
EVANSVILLE – We have reached a great fork in the road in the history of the Republican Party. The party’s bombastic leader and president has a passionate grip on many voters, giving them control of all branches of government. The coattails of success extend beyond Washington and in Indiana helped keep Republican control of every office and body of state government as well as an overwhelming majority of the state’s municipalities.
Faced with such success, many of our Republican friends decided to strike a deal with the devil and urge loyalty and unity with Trump. In their minds, a little immaturity on Twitter is a fair price to pay to finally rein in Democratic policies and get things done. Besides, they say, Donald Trump the candidate or Donald Trump the showman is different from the sane man who will actually govern.
Nearly two weeks into the Trump presidency, we now know they are wrong. The unprecedented beginning for the administration included purposefully picked battles with the intelligence community, immigrants, and foreign allies; illegal executive orders; elevation of political advisers over military and foreign policy experts; gaslighting and lies; and a general chaotic and bumbling approach to executive organization. This presidency is everything we feared and it will only get much worse.
The focus now turns to our Republican friends who are the only ones with any real power to do something about it: What will you do as it inevitably gets worse and Trump pushes the boundary of what is right or constitutional? Where is your red line that cannot be crossed? Your answer to those questions will color not only your own legacy and the party’s, but also the country’s.
Conservatives will understandably cheer Trump’s nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch, but it may cause some to momentarily overlook and forget Trump’s dangerous and destructive approach to the law. Trump’s entire career, as well as his campaign, show him to be someone who knows little and cares less about the U.S. Constitution as a constraint on what government can do; an open, repeated, boastful abuser of legal process against the weak and those who have crossed him; an explicit advocate of the use of regulation and prosecution for political score-settling; someone with open contempt for the ideals of impartiality, the ethical use of legal process, and the rule of law as something that must restrain the powerful as well as the common. He did not flinch at the idea of giving unlawful orders to the military and expecting them to be obeyed. This was Donald Trump the candidate, and if we have learned anything during these first two weeks, it is that Donald Trump the president is the same man with the same approach. How much longer will Republicans allow it to continue? As conservative icon David Brooks wrote in the New York Times, “With most administrations you can agree sometimes and disagree other times. But this one is a danger to the party and the nation in its existential nature. And so sooner or later all will have to choose what side they are on, and live forever after with the choice.”
Sadly, the decision point for too many of our Republican friends will come only when public opinion polls or electoral results shift. Perhaps that will work to keep them in office, and perhaps their red line is simply the risk of electoral defeat. But that is cowardice, not leadership.
I believe some Hoosier Republicans have the courage to stand up on principles, decent behavior, and the rule of law. We see glimmers of hope from former Gov. Mitch Daniels, state representative David Ober, and LaPorte Mayor Blair Milo, who have each in their own way shown leadership and courage in standing up for what is right. We must fan those flames and encourage them.
As former Bush administration official Eliot Cohen wrote in The Atlantic, “All can dedicate themselves to restoring the qualities upon which this republic, like all republics depends: On reverence for the truth; on a sober patriotism grounded in duty, moderation, respect for law, commitment to tradition, knowledge of our history, and open-mindedness.”
We have reached a fork in the road. Now is the time to determine which path you will take. History will judge you, and all of us, for the decisions Republican officials take in the coming months and years. We are praying it is the right one.
Claybourn is a Republican attorney in Evansville.