Column by Andy Schmookler
No one who feels allegiance to a political party wants to have to choose between party and principle. But sometimes history compels people to make that choice.
That is how a large group of prominent people, who describe themselves as “members of the Republican national security community,” see their situation in this year’s presidential election.
On the one hand, these are people who have loyally served Republican presidents from Reagan through both Bushes. Their connection with the Republican Party runs deep. (Just one example, Tom Ridge—former Republican governor of Pennsylvania, and the man Pres. George W. Bush appointed to be America’s first Secretary of Homeland Security.)
On the other hand, these 121 people with extensive experience in both governance and national security, have felt compelled to conclude that “[Trump] would be a dangerous President and would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.”
In their open letter to the nation, they provide numerous examples of what Mr. Trump has said and done which leads them to conclude, reluctantly, that “he would use the authority of his office to act in ways that make America less safe, and which would diminish our standing in the world.”
The idea that one will act to protect America against anything or anyone that threatens to harm her is the principle of patriotism. And these Republican patriots, perceiving that this presidential race had brought their party loyalty into conflict with that fundamental principle, have chosen principle.
Unhappily, but resolutely, these Republican patriots declare that not only will they not vote for Trump, but “We commit ourselves to working energetically to prevent the election of someone so utterly unfitted to the office.”
In view of this letter, can there be any honest way that any Republican patriot can act otherwise?
Can a loyal Republican voter argue that these people don’t know what they’re talking about?
The signers of this open letter include some of the most prominent Republican experts in defense and intelligence matters, such as Michael V. Hayden, former director of both the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency; Michael Chertoff, whom Bush appointed Secretary of Homeland Security after Tom Ridge; John D. Negroponte, a deputy secretary of state and a former director of national intelligence; Eric Edelman, a top national security adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney; and Robert Zoellick, a former deputy secretary of state, United States trade representative and president of the World Bank.
Are these not the very people whose judgments Republicans would most respect on such questions as what Donald Trump would be like as President, and what kind of damage to America could result from having someone like Donald Trump wield the powers of the presidency?
Has not their wealth of experience enabled them to assess such things with far greater insight than the average citizen?
And is there not every reason to believe that these officials – with a life-long commitment to the Republican Party – have given all due weight to party loyalty?
So if Republican voters have no reason to second-guess these Republican experts’ judgment about the seriousness of the danger of a Trump presidency (“he would be the most reckless President in American history” they write); and if Republican voters have no reason to doubt that these prominent figures take this step only because they are convinced that the threat Trump poses to America outweighs their partisan commitments; how can an average Republican voter justify voting to make Donald Trump president?
Every candidate has downsides. Party loyalty deserves to be given weight, and a loyal Republican should not lightly choose to go against party.
But when party loyalty means endangering “our country’s national security and well-being,” what kind of person will put their loyalty to party ahead of their commitment to the good of America? Not a patriot.
Churchill was saying that there are two kinds of people: those who will sacrifice their principles to get power through their party; and those who will struggle against party when their principles require it.
The letter to the nation from these Republican national security officials compels every Republican to decide now which kind of person they are. Partisan or patriot.
Andy Schmookler – who was the Democratic nominee for Congress in Virginia’s 6th District in 2012 – is the author most recently of WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST: The Destructive Force at Work in Our World-and How We Can Defeat It.