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It’s Time to Speak for America

The Republican party and the conservative movement must now choose: Trump or America.
January 3, 2021
It’s Time to Speak for America
(GettyImage / Shutterstock)

I was surprised to hear nothing from Mr. Chamberlain during the whole of September 2, which was a day of intense crisis. . . . However, when Parliament met in the evening a short but very fierce debate occurred, in which the Prime Minister’s temporising statement was ill-received by the House. When Mr. Greenwood rose to speak on behalf of the Labour Opposition Mr. Amery from the Conservative benches cried out to him, “Speak for England.” This was received with loud cheers.

—Winston Churchill, The Gathering Storm

How many articles, posts, tweets, texts, and email exchanges has one already seen today on what this moment means for the future of the Republican party? For the fate of the conservative movement?

I have some thoughts about the Republican party. I have some experience in the conservative movement. I don’t disdain discussion of either of these topics. There’s much to be thought about, much to be learned, from many of the contributions on both fronts.

But speaking only for myself, and only for the current moment, and perhaps only for the next couple of days: Enough. Enough talk about the Republican party. Enough talk about the conservative movement. They are subordinate issues. They ultimately don’t matter all that much.

What matters? America. So America first, if I can appropriate for an honorable cause a phrase unfortunately otherwise associated with dishonor.

We are in the midst of a genuine constitutional crisis.

Not since 1876—a crisis that followed from a recent civil war, and whose resolution legitimized a disastrous retreat from American principles in at least a part of the reunited nation—have we seen a moment like this. The president of the United States, aided and abetted by major figures in his party, is trying, after the votes have been certified, to overturn the results of the recent election. Major figures in the Republican party seek to hijack legal and legislative forms, and to call people into the streets, against a core element of our constitutional form of government. Just an hour or so ago, we learned of a new presidential phone call that is unequivocally grounds for impeachment.

It is false reassurance to be comforted that these efforts will fail. Because who is to say that these efforts are not a harbinger of things to come? They certainly look more like the future of our politics than a last gasp of a fading past. And what they seem to suggest is that one can have no great confidence that one of our two major political parties will remain a constitutional and republican party.

This decline is not just of parochial concern. The defection from lawfulness and democracy by the Republican party is not just a Republican problem. It’s an American problem.

And the acquiescence in this defection—if not encouragement of it—by major parts of the conservative movement is not just a conservative problem. It’s an American problem.

But those conservatives and Republicans who know better have the first responsibility to speak up. They need to make clear that responsible conservatives and Republicans cannot follow the president’s lead or remain silent as he violates his oath of office. They need to make clear that responsible conservatives and Republicans cannot vote against the legally certified electors on January 6.

It is time for the organs of American conservatism—from the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, to the leaders of the Federalist Society, to, even, the talking heads at Fox News—to speak clearly and unambiguously for America.

It is time for former and current Republican office holders—from George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Paul Ryan to today’s members of Congress, governors, and mayors—to speak clearly and unambiguously for America.

It is time to make clear that they will not sit by quietly; that they will not accept; that they will not acquiesce in, a terrible blow to the American experiment in constitutional self-government.

To use a phrase Republicans and conservatives may recognize: It is a time for choosing.

William Kristol

William Kristol is editor-at-large of The Bulwark.