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Three Tests for the Future of the Republican Party

The least we can expect from a responsible political party and political movement.
July 28, 2020
Featured Image
US President Donald Trump speaks during a Make America Great Again rally at Williamsport Regional Airport May 20, 2019, in Montoursville, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Life is a learning experience. Even the three months before a presidential election. So it might make sense to ask a question:

What will we learn over the next three months that could help us determine whether or not the Republican party and American conservatism are lost causes?

There are three looming tests for Republican officials and prominent conservative leaders.

(1) Will Republican leaders in Congress—particularly the Senate—work seriously with Democrats on a responsible coronavirus package?

Or will they give the White House a veto over what they legislate?

Are they ready to pass a package with serious economic proposals, aid for state and local election officials, and real help for dealing with the pandemic?

Are they ready to pass legislation without emoluments, financial or psychic, for Donald Trump?

And are they ultimately willing to vote with Democrats to override a potential presidential veto?

To stick with the president at this late date on such important legislation would be such a pathetic sign of continued servility to Donald Trump as to make any promise of post-election redemption doubtful.

(2) Will Republican elected officials—present, past, and those who aspire to be so in the future—and conservative luminaries be willing to say publicly they’re not voting for Donald Trump’s re-election?

They don’t have to say they’re voting for Joe Biden. (Though they should.) But they should have the moral clarity and political courage to say out loud that Donald Trump should not have a second term in office.

If John Bolton can do this,  can’t elected Republicans? Can’t conservative commentators?

(3) Will Republican and conservative leaders say clearly and ahead of time that they’re committed to a free, fair, and secure election this November?

Will they commit to making sure mail-in and absentee voting work, and state unequivocally that they know these modes of voting are not ways of rigging the results?

Will they work to ensure that the election results are honored without civic unrest and without debilitating doubt being cast on the legitimacy of the outcome?


These would seem to be minimal tests of civic responsibility going forward.

To do these three things over the next three months is the least we can expect from a responsible political party and political movement. It is not clear why anyone should think that a party or movement that cannot bring itself to perform these basic tasks would be salvageable.

If the great majority of Republicans and conservatives are unwilling to do these things, then the cause of freedom and democracy in the 21st century will rightly leave the Republican party and American conservatism, unpitied and unmourned, on the ash heap of history.

William Kristol

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