by Max Boot
“When somebody is the president of the United States,” President Trump said on Monday, “the authority is total.”
It is hard to imagine a better one-sentence encapsulation of why he must be defeated. Trump’s failures have made us the world capital of the coronavirus, with more than three times as many deaths in New York City (pop. 8.3 million) as in all of Germany (pop. 83 million). Having dodged responsibility for fighting the coronavirus (“I don’t take responsibility at all”), Trump now claims dictatorial powers to determine when social distancing ends. If he wins another term, he is likely to put not only a lot of Americans but also American democracy itself into the ICU.
If Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) were the Democratic nominee, the choice would be a difficult one. I would still have voted for Sanders, but a lot of my fellow former Republicans wouldn’t have. Now that Joe Biden is going to be the Democratic nominee, the choice is easy.
Trump would like to depict the election as border security vs. open borders, capitalism vs. socialism, prosperity vs. economic ruin. But that will be hard to do now that the economy is already ruined and the Democratic nominee is no socialist. Biden’s pending nomination brings the real choice into stark relief: competence vs. incompetence, facts vs. conspiracy theories, moderation vs. extremism, inclusion vs. division, empathy vs. narcissism.
Biden warned of the coronavirus danger when Trump ignored it, and now, unlike Trump, he has a plan for the recovery. Biden was vice president when the nation recovered from its last recession; he can lead our comeback from our present nightmare.
It’s great to see Sanders and former president Barack Obama endorsing Biden. But it is also important for Republican elders to do so, since that will make it clear to middle-of-the-road voters (who will determine the outcome) that it’s safe to vote for a Democrat. We need to hear from the great and the good of what remains of the pre-Trump GOP.
I have in mind former president George W. Bush and former vice presidents Dick Cheney and Dan Quayle; former governors such as Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, Mark Sanford and John Kasich; former senators such as Bob Corker, Norm Coleman, Jeff Flake, Mark Kirk and Rick Santorum; former Senate majority leaders Bill Frist and Bob Dole; and former House speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan. Also former Cabinet members such as secretaries of state James A. Baker III, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, George Shultz and Henry Kissinger; defense secretary Robert Gates; national security adviser Stephen Hadley; treasury secretaries Paul O’Neill and Henry Paulson; homeland security secretaries Michael Chertoff and Tom Ridge; and attorneys general John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales.
Many of these Republicans refused to endorse Trump in 2016 but also refused to support Hillary Clinton. (I gladly cast my first-ever ballot for a Democrat by voting for Clinton.) But Biden does not carry Clinton’s baggage. This time around, Republicans who are bothered by Trump’s appalling misconduct have no excuse: They need to actively support the Democratic nominee. Voting for a third-party candidate such as Justin Amash won’t cut it. The election is a binary choice. If you don’t back Biden, you’re backing Trump.
I would hope that the list of Biden endorsers would include Trump administration veterans such as former defense secretary Jim Mattis, former White House chief of staff John F. Kelly, former homeland security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and former national security adviser H.R. McMaster. They have been reluctant to speak out, but now they have an obligation to help voters make an informed decision.
It would also be wonderful to see Biden endorsements from the Republican governors of Maryland (Larry Hogan), Massachusetts (Charlie Baker), Vermont (Phil Scott) and Ohio (Mike DeWine). All of them have shown themselves far more effective in fighting the coronavirus than Trump has been. They need a president who will help, rather than impede, their efforts.
Among Republican members of Congress, only Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah had the guts to vote for impeachment; now I hope he will have the guts to campaign for Biden. But just because you weren’t willing to impeach Trump doesn’t mean that you have to help reelect him. I don’t hold out much hope, but I would love to be pleasantly surprised by senators such as Rob Portman (Ohio), Tim Scott (S.C.), Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Mike Lee (Utah) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) — or House members such as Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), Mac Thornberry (Tex.), Will Hurd (Tex.) and Francis Rooney (Fla.).
If “Never Trump” Republicans do come out to support Biden, it could make a real difference in 2020. It already did in 2018: The votes of disaffected Republicans helped give Democrats a 40-seat majority in the House. This year, there was a surge of right-of-center support for Biden on Super Tuesday.
Most Republicans have sold out or simply fallen silent, but many have done so with serious reservations. This is a time when they can restore their reputations and make a real difference by voting for MAFTA: Make America Free of Trump Again. Our survival as a democracy may depend on it.
Max Boot is the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow for national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a global affairs analyst for CNN. He is the author of “The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam,” a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in biography. Follow Max