Members of the Republican establishment who refused to throw their support to Donald Trump spent the four years of his presidency hoping first that he would lose his bid for re-election and then that things would return to something approaching the pre-2016 normal once he was gone. But the appalling events of Jan. 6 and its aftermath have shattered that hope. As David Frum points out in The Atlantic, most of these Never Trump Republicans have now become Never Republican Democrats.
This could be very good for the Democratic Party, which (unlike the GOP) can’t win national elections while pursuing a base-mobilization strategy. As Frum explains, the progressive Democratic “base is not cohesive or big enough, and does not live in the places favored by the rules of U.S. politics.” That means Democrats need to build broad coalitions to win, and voters fleeing the now-thoroughly Trumpified GOP can be a big part of that.
How might refugees from the “cultural core” of the GOP change the Democrats? Frum lists five ways: They will keep the party focused on preserving free and fair democratic elections, especially for the residents of deep-blue cities within deep-red states. They will ensure that Democrats proudly remain the party of expertise. They will bolster the Democratic commitment to championing the values and policies of globalism on immigration and trade. They will insist that the Democrats stake out moderate positions on the economy, social programs, and spending. And they will reward the party for deploying a political rhetoric of civility and inclusion (over and against the outright insults and demonization that now dominate on the right).
Most of that makes considerable political sense — though I wonder whether it’s really a good idea for Democrats to risk alienating rust-belt voters (and losing crucial Midwestern swing states) by doubling down on free trade and liberal immigration policies just to run up the margins in the already solidly blue suburbs where most former Republicans live. The same might be said, given demographic realities, of emphasizing deference to expertise. It’s college graduates who are most inclined to defer to experts, but most Americans are not college graduates. Yes, Democrats should consult experts in formulating policy, but they needn’t brag about it or condescend to those less inclined to trust the most highly educated and credentialed among us.
Democrats should welcome former Republicans with open arms. But precisely because the party is broad and diverse, it needs to strike a careful balance in appealing to any one member of the coalition. That very much includes those understandably seeking political asylum from a morally degraded GOP.