Few Republican elected officials have dared stand up to President Donald Trump, and with the death of Sen. John McCain, the party’s moral conscience has been silenced. McCain was everything Trump is not: a war hero, an enemy of dictators and a patriot who, however imperfectly, lived a life devoted to causes greater than himself.
Trump, a draft dodger who cozies up to tyrants and is wholly captive to his selfish impulses, is redefining the GOP in his crude image. A party that once stood for American global leadership, welcomed newcomers of all races and extolled public virtue is becoming increasingly isolationist and xenophobic, and displays cultish devotion to a vulgar reality television star.
GOP elected officials who consider Trump unfit for the presidency should produce a weekly address, modeled on those traditionally delivered by the occupant of the Oval Office, to broadcast over radio and the internet. It would provide a glimpse of the alternate reality in which a decent, articulate Republican is leader of the free world. Think of it as Radio Free GOP, broadcasting the virtues of limited government, personal responsibility and a foreign policy of freedom beyond the Iron Curtain of Trumpian demagoguery.
The primary purpose of these addresses would not be to criticize the president’s policies. From judicial appointments to deregulation, from tearing up the Iran deal to recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, conservatives have good reason to like much of what the Trump administration has accomplished.
The tone would be forward looking and upbeat, a contrast to Trump’s nostalgia and negativity. Featuring the likes of the bookish Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse and elder statesman Mitt Romney, Radio Free GOP would prove continuously that a better way is possible. The mere existence of Radio Free GOP — like the mere existence of McCain and his fellow Arizona Republican senator Jeff Flake — no doubt would drive the president and his supporters crazy. Trump probably would smear its contributors as “enemies of the people,” as he has the mainstream media. A slur beloved by communist apparatchiks of yore, that would make the “Radio Free” moniker especially appropriate.
The weekly address wouldn’t stoop to the president’s level. Ideally, it would ignore Trump entirely, alluding to him only in oblique terms. The commentary for the week of his disastrous news conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, for instance, would have endorsed the Intelligence Community’s finding of Russian intervention in the 2016 election, pledged to prevent such an intrusion from ever happening again, and reminded listeners as to the ways in which Moscow threatens America’s alliances, interests and values. It would have expressed, in other words, what a Republican president of the United States should have said.
What Trump fears most is being ignored. And what he envies most are people better than he, who achieve renown not through demagoguery and deceit, but personal sacrifice and courage. By acting as if he doesn’t exist and appealing to our better angels, Radio Free GOP would help tear down the wall of Trumpian depravity.
James Kirchik is a journalist, foreign correspondent and fellow with the Foreign Policy Initiative in Washington, D.C., as well as a correspondent for The Daily Beast. Tribune News Service distributes his columns.