I have a little fun with New York Times columnist David Brooks (and also make a few serious points about national politics) in my latest piece on The Huffington Post. Please check it out. The text also follows below.
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David Brooks is my favorite Republican columnist. To be clear, this is not unqualified fandom; I usually disagree with Brooks’ bottom-line and often find his conclusions oddly mismatched to his careful reasoning (2 plus 4 plus 6 equals . . . 23!)
But in op-eds and television appearances, Brooks always seems intellectually curious and fair-minded, calm and measured in his temperament, entirely free of bigotry, and motivated by genuine concern for the public interest. There is a personal decency about Brooks that is very appealing. I just like him.
Which is why I am concerned for David Brooks right now. He’s in a state of denial – deep denial – and needs help coming back to reality. Won’t someone please save him? Doesn’t he have friends who can stage some sort of intervention?
Exhibit A is Brooks’ latest column, in which, despairing of the general election prospects of the current GOP front-runners, he talks up the virtues of a brokered convention. “It would be bedlam for a few days,” writes Brooks, “but a broadly acceptable new option might emerge.”
Let’s take a close look at that last phrase: “a broadly acceptable new option.” This is where Brooks’ tragic denial is in its fullest flower.
Reality: even if no Republican candidate wins a delegate majority, and a brokered convention ensues, there is no doubt whatsoever that, by the time the GOP gathers in Cleveland, an overwhelming majority of Republican primary and caucus voters will have supported either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, the two candidates Brooks finds utterly distasteful. Together, Trump and Cruz just scored about 75% of the vote in the contests this week. That is the Republican Party in 2016.
Who, then, is the “broadly acceptable new option” who could win the support of the folks who Trust Ted and of the crowd that wants to Make America Great Again, and then simultaneously appeal to the dwindling circle of David Brooks-type sane moderates? Really, think about it. What living, breathing political figure could possibly check all those boxes? Can you name one? Try. Right now.
It’s hard even to construct a hypothetical figure that could be “broadly acceptable” to Trumpists, Cruzites, and Brooksians. Shall we stitch together Barry Goldwater’s glasses, Abe Lincoln’s beard, and Dick Nixon’s scowl, and then top it off with an unruly orange wig? That’s not a political candidate, it’s a Frankenstein’s monster.
Even Ronald Reagan, summoned from the Great Beyond, couldn’t pull it off. (I mean Ronald Reagan, the actual, real-life tax-raising, amnesty-supporting, Democrat-compromising, Soviet-negotiating President, as opposed to “Ronald Reagan,” the fondly, but inaccurately, remembered patron saint of the right and namesake of airports.)
I kind of suspect that Brooks’ denial about the state of the national Republican party is rooted in a deeper personal denial. You see, whether he realizes it or not, my favorite Republican columnist just isn’t a Republican, at least not in any sense that matters these days.
Yes, Brooks probably lines up to the right (but not much to the right) of the median Democrat on the hawk/dove spectrum. And, yes, Brooks probably lines up to the right (but not much to the right) of the median Democrat on the free market/government regulation spectrum.
But in this day and age, those traditional factors, though very important in policy debates, no longer mark the major dividing lines between the parties.
To a degree that is horrifying, but undeniable, the Republicans have become the party of:
• Dangerous Fantasists, like a certain junior senator from Florida who staunchly resists climate action even as his hometown sinks under the waves;
• Scary Theocrats, like a certain junior senator from Texas, whose piety does not seem to require love for (or, based on all available evidence, from) his fellow man; and
• Il Duce-Style Strongman/Clowns, like You Know Who.
(Dear Republican Friends and Neighbors – Before you write to complain, I am not talking about every local Republican official or about the registered Republicans living next door or around the block. I am talking about the center of gravity at the national level, which is starkly and objectively illustrated by the primary election results.)
Yes, yes, yes, the Democrats also have their share of nuts, unsavory oddballs, and self-righteous ideologues. But on the Democratic side, the inmates aren’t running the asylum, and that’s a huge – make that YUGE – difference.
Compared to the GOP, the national Democrats are today the party of grown-ups, realists, and the tolerant. That’s you, David Brooks.
One could argue that this is precisely when it is most important for responsible Republicans to stick with their party; someone needs to try and restore a long, proud tradition of sober center-right governance. Fair enough. But at a certain point, this crosses the line from a noble project to a fool’s errand, and when one Republican front-runner is known primarily for his fruitless, reckless government shutdowns, and the other Republican front-runner is know primarily for the height of his wall and the length of his privates, it is safe to say that the line has been crossed.
Just as liberal northeastern Republicans eventually figured out that it made little sense to share a party affiliation with the likes of Newt Gingrich and Tom Delay, and just as southern white Dixiecrats eventually figured out that it made little sense to share a party affiliation with the likes of George McGovern and Michael Dukakis, moderate Republicans should start waking up to the fact that they belong on the other side of the aisle.
I get why this is hard for David Brooks and others in his predicament. While one’s party affiliation emerges, in part, from a rational process of measuring personal values and goals against party platforms and policies and then figuring out the best fit, there’s also a healthy dose of tribalism — a big, hidden foundation of emotional id under the rational superego.
It’s a little like being a sports fan. If you’ve been rooting for the Brooklyn Dodgers since you were a kid, your heart rate rising or falling with each home run or strikeout, your bedroom festooned with Dodger banners, your darkest thoughts reserved for the hated cross-town rivals in the Bronx, then your allegiance is more than a simple preference, it’s an important part of who you are. You can’t change your self-identification like you put on a new hat.
But when the team’s owner suddenly decides to up and move your team across to the other side of the continent, and when you look around and see most of your fellow Dodger fans weirdly cheering this monumental act of betrayal, maybe it’s time to try on a Yankee cap.
David Brooks, you’re a Democrat. Deal with it. You’ll sleep easier. And you’ll be welcomed aboard.