It’s Time for a Declaration of Independence from Trump

Republicans understand that Donald Trump is a danger to America. But they still have a choice.
July 3, 2020
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(Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

About the “We hold these truths” sentence of the Declaration of Independence, the political philosopher Leo Strauss wrote: “The passage has frequently been quoted, but, by its weight and its elevation, it is made immune to the degrading effects of the excessive familiarity which breeds contempt and of misuse which breeds disgust.”

One could say something similar about the Declaration as a whole.

One could even say something similar about the holiday that commemorates it. July Fourth retains, somehow, a kind of weight and elevation, a kind of dignity and luster, conferred by the document and subsequent deeds it memorializes.

And so, this July Fourth, perhaps one can be permitted a moment of earnest exhortation to some of one’s fellow Americans to act for the common good.

My appeal is simple. It’s directed to those who have not been opponents of Donald Trump. It’s directed to those who, for whatever mixtures of reasons and motives, have until now reluctantly supported or tolerated him.

My appeal to those Trump supporters is simple. It is to become former Trump supporters.

Because this has surely become perfectly clear in recent months to patriotic and thoughtful men and women who have been Trump supporters: Donald Trump is not up to the job of president; he is particularly unsuited to lead the nation in a context of twin public health and economic crises; he can’t be trusted not to throw the country into a crisis of democracy and legitimacy during the forthcoming election campaign; and he shouldn’t be entrusted with the powers of the presidency for another four years.

Many Trump administration officials know this. Many Republican elected officials and donors know this. Many conservative leaders know this.

They may not want Joe Biden as president. Fine. They may not want the Democrats in power. Fine. But they have, after all, an alternative.

His name is Mike Pence.

I am no fan of Mike Pence. Not at all. But it is self-evident that it would be much better for the country if Donald Trump were out of office for the next six months, and if he had no chance to be president for the next four years. A President Pence for the next several months—even with the possibility of a President Pence for the next four years—would be a good outcome for all Americans.

So what is to be done?

Serious and patriotic men and women who have been Trump supporters could go to Donald Trump privately and tell him that he’s done whatever good he can do. They could tell him that it’s time to resign and to turn over both the reins of government and the 2020 Republican nomination to his vice president.

If Donald Trump ignores them, serious and patriotic men and women who have been Trump supporters could urge delegates to the Republican convention to withhold their votes in this emergency from Donald Trump, and could provide legal and political help when the Trump campaign claims those delegates are bound.

If that doesn’t seem feasible, serious and patriotic men and women who have been Trump supporters could simply announce their support for Joe Biden now. If a sizable number of major figures did so, it would make Trump something like a lame duck and might force him from the race. Even if he refused to withdraw, it would weaken his hold on Republicans on the Hill and on his own administration, and make it harder for him to do substantial damage over the next several months. And since Trump could do substantial damage in using the executive power of the federal government to affect the November election, either beforehand (as in his attempt last year to use Ukraine to damage his opponent) or after (by calling results into question, creating chaos and a crisis of legitimacy, and the like), weakening Trump even if he stays in office would be no small thing.

So the best option would be a Trump who has resigned from office. Second best would be a Trump denied re-nomination. Third best would be a weakened and then defeated Trump.

Those who have previously been Trump supporters could help produce one of these outcomes. They should. For Donald Trump has surely proven himself, even to those who wished him well and hoped for the best, to be, to quote the Declaration, “unfit to be a ruler of a free people.”

There is no reason for patriotic Trump supporters to continue enabling him. There would be a portion of honor in helping us get beyond him.

William Kristol

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