Since President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, one question has been repeated over and over: With Democrats lacking any real governing power, are there a few good elected men or women in the Republican Party who will stand up to the president’s abuse of power as their predecessors did during Watergate?
And this question will surely get louder with the report that Trump asked Comey in February to halt the investigation into the president’s former national security adviser. But we already know the answer: No.
The GOP never would have embraced someone like Trump in the first place — an indecent man with a record of multiple bankruptcies, unpaid bills and alleged sexual harassments who lies as he breathes — if there was any possibility for the answer to ever be yes. Virtually all the good men and women in this party’s leadership have been purged or silenced; those who are left have either been bought off by lobbies or have cynically decided to take a ride on Trump’s Good Ship Lollipop to exploit it for any number of different agendas.
It has not been without costs. Trump has made every person in his orbit look like either a “liar or a fool,” as David Axelrod put it. So call off the search. There will be no GOP mutiny, even if Trump resembles Captain Queeg more each day.
That’s why the only relevant question is this: Are there tens of millions of good men and women in America ready to run and vote as Democrats or independents in the 2018 congressional elections and replace the current GOP majority in the House and maybe the Senate? Nothing else matters — this is now a raw contest of power.
And the one thing I admire about Trump and his enablers: They are not afraid of, and indeed they enjoy, exercising raw power against their opponents. They are not afraid to win by a sliver and govern as if they won by a landslide.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had the power to block President Barack Obama from naming a Supreme Court justice and he did not hesitate to use it, the Constitution be damned.
Trump had the power to appoint climate deniers to key environmental posts and he did it — science be damned. And Trump had the power to fire Comey, even though it meant firing the man investigating him for possible collusion with Russia, and Trump did just that — appearances be damned.
Democrats and independents should not be deluded or distracted by marches on Washington, clever tweets or “Saturday Night Live” skits lampooning Trump. They need power. If you are appalled by what Trump is doing — backed by House and Senate Republicans — then you need to get out of Facebook and into somebody’s face, by running for Congress as a Democrat or an independent, registering someone to vote for a Democrat or an independent, or raising money to support such candidates. Nothing else matters.
The morally bankrupt crowd running today’s GOP are getting their way not because they have better arguments — polls show majorities disagreeing with them on Comey and climate — but because they have power and are not afraid to use it, no matter what the polls say. And they will use that power to cut taxes for wealthy people, strip health care from poor people and turn climate policy over to the fossil fuel industry until someone else checks that power by getting a majority in the House or the Senate.
Personally, I’m not exactly a rabid Democrat. I’m more conservative on issues of free trade, business, entrepreneurship and use of force than many Democratic candidates. I think the country would benefit from having a smart conservative party offering market and merit-based solutions for our biggest challenges — from climate to energy to education to taxes to infrastructure — that was also ready to meet Democrats halfway. But there is no such GOP today. The party has lost its moral compass.
Just think about that picture of Trump laughing it up with Russia’s foreign minister in the Oval Office, a foreign minister who covered up Syria’s use of poison gas. Trump reportedly shared with him sensitive intelligence on ISIS, and Trump refused to allow any U.S. press in the room. The picture came from Russia’s official photographer. In our White House! It’s nauseating. And the GOP is still largely mute. If Hillary had done that, they would have shut down the government.
That’s why for me, in 2018, the most left-wing Democratic candidate for House or Senate is preferable to the most moderate Republican, because none of the latter will confront Trump. And Trump’s presidency is not just a threat to my political preferences, it is a threat to the rule of law, freedom of the press, ethics in government, the integrity of our institutions, the values our kids need to learn from their president and America’s long-standing role as the respected leader of the free world.
That’s why there are just two choices now: chicken or fish — a Democratic-controlled House or Senate that can at least deter Trump for his last two years, or four years of an out-of-control president. This GOP is not going to impeach him; forget that fantasy. Either Democrats get a lever of power, or we’re stuck emailing each other “SNL” skits.
So, I repeat: Run as, raise money for or register someone to vote for a Democrat or independent running for House or Senate on Nov. 6, 2018. Nothing else matters. It’s chicken or fish, baby. It’s just chicken or fish.
Thomas Friedman writes for The New York Times.