That’s because Trump has won the heart of the Republican base. He may be unpopular with the public at large, but among Republicans, nothing he and his supporters said or did during his first year in office drove his Gallup approval ratings significantly below 80 percent. Forced to choose between their support for Trump and their suspicion of Russia, conservatives went with Trump. Forced to choose between their support for Trump and their insistence that character matters, evangelicals went with Trump.
It’s Trump’s party now; or, perhaps more to the point, it’s Trumpism’s party, because a portion of the base seems eager to out-Trump Trump. In last year’s special election to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat in Alabama, Republican primary voters defied the president himself by nominating a candidate who was openly contemptuous of the rule of law—and many stuck with him when he was credibly alleged to have been a child molester. After initially balking, the Republican Party threw its institutional support behind him too. In Virginia, pressure from the base drove a previously sensible Republican gubernatorial candidate into the fever swamps. Faced with the choice between soul-killing accommodation and futile resistance, many Republican politicians who renounce Trumpism are fleeing the party or exiting politics altogether. Of those who remain, many are fighting for their political lives against a nihilistic insurgency.
So we arrive at a syllogism:
(1) The GOP has become the party of Trumpism.
(2) Trumpism is a threat to democratic values and the rule of law.
(3) The Republican Party is a threat to democratic values and the rule of law.
If the syllogism holds, then the most-important tasks in U.S. politics right now are to change the Republicans’ trajectory and to deprive them of power in the meantime. In our two-party system, the surest way to accomplish these things is to support the other party, in every race from president to dogcatcher. The goal is to make the Republican Party answerable at every level, exacting a political price so stinging as to force the party back into the democratic fold.
The off-year elections in November showed that this is possible. Democrats flooded polling places, desperate to “resist.” Independents added their voice. Even some Republicans abandoned their party. One Virginia Republican, explaining why he had just voted for Democrats in every race, told The Washington Post, “I’ve been with the Republicans my whole life, but what the party has been doing is appalling.” Trump’s base stayed loyal but was overwhelmed by other voters. A few more spankings like that will give anti-Trump Republicans a fighting chance to regain influence within their party.
We understand why Republicans, even moderate ones, are reluctant to cross party lines. Party, today, is identity. But in the through-the-looking-glass era of Donald Trump, the best thing Republicans can do for their party is vote against it.
We understand, too, the many imperfections of the Democratic Party. Its left is extreme, its center is confused, and it has its share of bad apples. But the Democratic Party is not a threat to our democratic order. That is why we are rising above our independent predilections and behaving like dumb-ass partisans. It’s why we hope many smart people will do the same.
This article appears in the March 2018 print edition with the headline “Boycott the GOP.”