Saturday, August 24, 2019
By Dick Polman
Winston Churchill understood that in times of national emergency, it was imperative to forge alliances with anyone willing to help – no matter how odious those allies might be. As the British prime minister famously declared in 1941, “If Hitler invaded hell, I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.”
In politics, as in international warfare, you win by addition, not subtraction. You win by welcoming anyone who wants to join the ranks. That’s how successful coalitions are built. But it’s amazing how so many litmus-test Democrats seem impervious to reality.
The other day, Oliver Willis, a senior writer at the liberal media website ShareBlue, tweeted his disdain for three prominent anti-Trump Republicans: ex-GOP Congressman Joe Walsh, and conservative commentators Bill Kristol and David Frum, all of whom have signaled their willingness to make common cause with Democrats.
“Joe Walsh isn’t good. Bill Kristol isn’t good. David Frum isn’t good. These people are not worthy allies,” Willis wrote. “They’re working to undermine what is good. They’re just embarrassed at Trump for saying the BS out loud.”
Willis was applauded by many in the lefty Twitterverse. But prominent Trump critics on the right – including George Conway, Max Boot, George Will, and Peter Wehner – give voice to the restiveness within Republican-friendly ranks. According to recent polling, it appears a sizable number of reality-based Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are loath to vote for Trump again – not necessarily because they now oppose him on policy, but because his tweets and reckless antics have simply exhausted them.
For instance, Tom Nichols is a Republican who teaches at the U.S. Naval War College who is begging for any reason to vote Democratic in 2020. He wrote last week: “I don’t care if Sen. Elizabeth Warren is a mendacious Massachusetts liberal. She could tell me that she’s going to make me wear waffles as underpants and I’ll vote for her ... I don’t care if Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is a muddle-headed socialist from a rural class-warfare state ... He could tell me he’s going to tax used kitty litter and I’ll vote for him.”
Why? Because Nichols is fed up with Trump’s “compulsive lying, fantastic and easily refuted claims, base insults, and bizarre public meltdowns ... It is a sign of how low we have fallen as a nation that ‘rational’ and ‘not compromised by an enemy’ are now my only two requirements for the office of the president of the United States.”
And Boot, an ex-foreign policy adviser to John McCain and Mitt Romney, is rooting for a blue victory. Earlier this month, he pleaded: “Don’t mess this up, Democrats. To preserve American democracy, we need to get rid of Trump. Then we can return to debating our normal policy differences.”
But because these people have toiled for the red team – George Conway (who calls Trump “a sociopath”) helped investigate Bill Clinton’s sex history during the 1990s, and Bill Kristol was a cheerleader for George W. Bush’s Iraq war – they’re deemed to be unacceptable allies in 2019. As one liberal magazine, The Nation, contended recently, “They’ve had their day. Democrats don’t need their votes.”
Really? If I’ve learned anything while covering national politics for the last 30 years, it’s the axiom that a campaign or a party needs all the votes it can possibly get. That’s not exactly rocket science. And fortunately, during that Twitter spat the other day, some Democrats seemed to get it.
Neera Tanden, a former Hillary Clinton adviser who now runs the Center for American Progress, wrote, “Our democracy is under siege. Make allies wherever you can. We can disagree again when Trump is gone.”
Elizabeth Bennett, a former congressional staffer, added: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend, at least while our mutual enemy is still a threat. Maybe we should just graciously accept the help b/c they can speak to people who won’t listen to us.”
Or as the old saying goes, “Politics makes strange bedfellows.” That’s still true – unless purist Democrats spurn the Republican migrants by building a wall.
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at WHYY in Philadelphia and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Pennsylvania.