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Democrats Should Welcome Those Fleeing Political Violence

In northeast Ohio.
by Liam Kerr
September 21, 2021
Democrats Should Welcome Those Fleeing Political Violence
Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio (Photos: GettyImages / Shutterstock)

Representative Anthony Gonzalez’s decision not to seek re-election has crystalized the need and opportunity for Democrats to aggressively recruit disaffected Republicans in order to put more House seats into play for 2022.

It is difficult to be shocked anymore, but for a moment, consider Gonzo’s announcement in conjunction with George W. Bush’s speech at Shanksville a few days earlier, where Bush named and framed Americans’ duty to confront the January 6 insurrectionists:

We have seen growing evidence that the dangers to our country can come not only across borders, but in violence that gathers within. There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and those at home. But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit, and it is our duty to confront them.

Within days of Bush’s call to confront the foul spirits, Gonzalez announced he would not try to rejoin the “toxic” GOP caucus.

Gonzalez made clear that his decision was related to the threats of violence against not just him, but his wife and children, following his vote to impeach Donald Trump.

“He recounted an ‘eye-opening’ moment this year: when he and his family were greeted at the Cleveland airport by two uniformed police officers, part of extra security precautions taken after the impeachment vote,”the New York Times reported.

And as Rep. Agam Kinzinger said hours before his colleague’s announcement, such political violence “seems like it might be the new normal.”

So what is to be done?

Kinzinger and some allies on the center-right have called on leaders such as Gonzalez to compete in and win GOP primary elections.

But there is another way.

Consider the traditional Republican-leaning voter who believes in science and democracy. Let’s call this group the Vaccinated Republicans. These voters made the difference in the 2018 congressional midterms, in the 2020 presidential elections, and in the 2021 Georgia runoffs.

These Vaccinated Republicans are the key to defeating authoritarianism. Just look at the math:

To regularly win GOP nominations, Vaccinated Republicans must constitute 51 percent of primary voters.

But to regularly win general elections, even in “Safe Republican” seats like Gonzalez’s, Vaccinated Republicans can make the difference by comprising just 7 percent of the electorate.

In other words, if Democrats can build a big enough tent to welcome these Vaccinated Republicans, then they can leverage Trump’s primary dominance against him. Because as the Vaccinated Republicans leave their party, the remnant becomes even more Trumpy—which should make the acceptance of the Vaccinated Republicans easier to swallow for the Democrats.

The truth is that a small group of Vaccinated Republicans winning just a handful of seats by running as Democrats would upend American politics.

There is a precedent. In fact, this is the the pathway forged by both the Tea Party and the Justice Democrats who beat the establishment by finding races where relatively few voters could elevate leaders whose brands were differentiated from their national party. Those wins put a name and a face to previously untapped sentiments. And the victories put the next tranche of marginal legislators on notice.

Building a Justice Democrats for the Center will cause some backlash.

Some on the left will point out that Anthony Gonzalez did not reject Trump until after January 6. And that’s true.

But it’s also exactly the point.

Those for whom January 6 was the last straw are the next logical members of the coalition. They are the next “future former Republicans.”

Barack Obama, a Democrat married to one of President Bush’s good friends, has an approach to such purity tests and Twitter objections: “You should get over that quickly. The world is messy. There are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws.”

Back in March I wrote that this future would be like a platypus: small, ugly, and hard to picture. But with Rep. Gonzalez’s announcement last week, it got a little easier to picture. It’s time for Democrats to welcome principled leaders and encourage them to run as Democrats.

Gonzalez stated in his announcement that most of his political energy will go towards denying Trump power. That’s good news. Because he’ll have a mid-December filing deadline after Ohio’s redistricting is finalized.

Democrats should welcome the Vaccinated Republicans and put our democracy on offense.

It’s time to Draft Gonzo.

Liam Kerr

Liam Kerr is a co-founder of The Welcome Party, which engages independent voters and advocates for a big-tent Democratic party, and @TheWelcomePAC, which supports centrist Democrats who can win over swing voters. Follow him @LiamKerr.