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The Case for Not Burning It All Down

If Republicans have some governing responsibility, they'll have some skin in the game. And having a Republican Senate would also give Biden leverage with the Democratic left.
August 5, 2020
The Case for Not Burning It All Down
(Hannah Yoest / Shutterstock)

There is quite a debate raging in the Never Trump Republican battalions about how we should cast our down-ballot votes this year. I have little to add, since I’m still torn and still deciding.

But I do have one thought.

The emotional vote is easy. Throw ’em all out! After many decades in politics I didn’t expect much from the GOP—politicians in both parties orbit the lone sun of holding office at all costs and especially fear primaries. But even as cynical as I am, I was disappointed at the speed of the surrender as the Republican party crumpled into a worthless scrap ball faster than a Trump University degree.

It’s not like we were asking these federal paycheck cashiers to go land on Anzio beach or do something hard. Are the cheap haircuts in the Senate barber shop really worth such a complete abandonment of principle? Yet, they disappointed: ethically, ideologically, constitutionally. They deserve the consequences. It’s appealing to throw them out and start again.

But starting again is hard. We have an existing right-of-center party with a long and, until these grim years, proud history. The GOP has been, as we say, The Franchise. Having worked for The Cause for 30 years, I do feel the tug of loyalty.

So I tell myself it’s probably worth trying to save it post Trump.

Still, that chore seems unappetizing because I know that for most of D.C.’s governing Vichy Republicans the plan has always been cynical survivalism: Bury the flag in the basement, limply salute Trump, cower, outwait him, and then emerge to go back to business under the GOP banner.

The worst part? After Trump is gone, many of his enablers will return to running the GOP as if nothing ever happened. Their cowardice and cynicism will actually be rewarded, when what they deserve is a good show trial.

It’s disgusting. And as I think about it, the tug of party loyalty lessens.

So I’m left with one final thought that attracts me to still hope for a (one-vote) Republican Senate majority. It is not a grand-scheme-of-things sort of principle, but rather a smaller item of tactics and practical politics for the next four years.

A Senate controlled by the GOP—by one vote—could be a good outcome. If the Democrats win a real edge in the Senate (which is now possible) and control the House, I fear they will run wild over centrist Biden. To his credit, the current Democratic nominee did oppose Medicare for All and a few more of the Democratic left’s other Certifiably Bad Ideas.

And Biden is, at heart, a bipartisan Senate dealmaker. In the best sense, he is in many ways the Bob Dole of the Democratic party. A single-vote Republican majority in the Senate would give a President Biden more leverage with his party’s left wing.

And that would be a good thing.

Now this scenario relies on Mitch McConnell putting away the Dracula cape and evolving back into the dealmaking legislator he has been in the past. But if the GOP majority in the Senate was hanging by a one vote thread, McConnell would understand that getting a few reasonable things done would easily be in his caucus’s best political interest.

And McConnell and Biden have a decent relationship; they’ve done deals before.

This outcome would also give Republican senators a path to try, well, governing, which is something they haven’t done much of since 2006.

On the other hand, what happens if the Republican Senate lapses into the minority and full-time opposition to a President Biden? The odds are high the Senate Republicans would just double down and turn into a Fox News affiliate, with crank attacks on Biden and endless standing ovations for Donald Trump Jr. at toadying Senate GOP lunches.

I’d rather our grim Trump nightmare have a path to ending.

Maybe this scenario is too hopeful in our era of zero-sum, destruction-first, executive-driven politics.

But it seems to me a better alternative than an all-powerful Democratic party running ideologically amuck under a president they privately see as a one-term lame duck. And I’m far from confident that “reasonable” Democrats will stand in the way—Republicans are not the only politicians who melt into shivering cowardice at the sight of a risky primary. Democrats can be cowed by their left-wing populist fire breathers too.

Which is why a Republican “problem” for President Biden in the Senate could be just what he needs to hold the central power position and avoid being usurped by his own party’s left wing.

I’m still torn, and not fully convinced to root for a Republican Senate majority. The GOP must be punished. Their sins are immense. But a GOP Senate hedge for Biden to use to temper the Democratic left is an attractive idea.

After all, policy counts.

Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy grew up in Detroit and has run four successful major statewide races in Michigan—which is 65 percent of all Republican senatorial and gubernatorial wins achieved in Michigan during the last 26 years. Murphy is also co-director of the Center for the Political Future at USC.