If John Kasich’s endorsement would backfire on Joe Biden’s candidacy, as some have suggested, then I hope the former Republican governor doesn’t speak at the Democratic National Convention. There’s no reason to upset the most ardent Bernie Sanders holdouts. But I can’t say that I wouldn’t be disappointed in those who forced this reversal. They’re missing the point.
This move is about saving democracy, not policy, and Kasich’s presence could help drive that point home. There shouldn’t be a litmus test to join the fight to remove a dangerously unfit liar from the highest office. As Kasich and Never-Trump Republicans seem to recognize, leadership often transcends partisan politics. The Resistance should understand that too, especially as a deadly pandemic rages across the country in the absence of competence or empathy.
Unfortunately, not everyone does. While the vast majority of us welcome the support of disaffected Republicans — after all, this is what putting country over party looks like — there are corners of liberal America that reject any form of outreach. They seem to view the presidency as a vessel for all their hopes and policy dreams, rather than a job that requires particular skills, talents, and temperament to do well.
Given that mindset, they see no reason to amplify prominent Republican voices. I respect their reluctance, given some of Kasich’s views, but I think it’s a misguided understanding of not only good politics but also good governing.
First, accepting an endorsement doesn’t imply agreement on the issues. President Obama accepted Colin Powell’s endorsement in 2008 and then invited former Republican governor (now-Democratic congressman) Charlie Crist to speak at the 2012 DNC, despite their differences. It’s possible to hold fundamentally opposing views on policy, as Biden and Kasich do, while establishing that a president must first be intellectually and morally fit. That’s the case here, opening the door for unlikely support that could pay huge dividends electorally. At which point Democrats would be in a better position to advance their agenda since everything else flows from elections.
Second, showing an ability to persuade reasonable conservatives shouldn’t be seen as a negative. I know Democrats expect big changes — I’m one of them, especially as this crisis has highlighted so many problems— but turning ideas into law often requires finding common ground and building a coalition of support.
Kasich’s endorsement in and of itself speaks to Biden’s broad appeal, a quality that bodes well in the pursuit of bold reform. In case we don’t elect a Democratic majority in the Senate — and if that’s the case I’ll blame the progressives who demand purity lest they stay home — then we’ll need to peel off a vote or two from the other side (and even then, we’ll still have to abolish the filibuster, but that’s another story.) So rather than looking at this through a prism of shared beliefs, see it a sign of effective governing to come.
Don’t Make Purity the Enemy of Progress
One of the stories of this presidency has been the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the Republican Party, a trend that accelerated in the Obama-era and led us to this moment. Still, this incumbent faces unprecedented opposition from leading conservative voices whose message could resonate with a certain type of voter. Why waste an opportunity to expand the base?
This is no time for conducting purity tests and casting broad cynicism. We progressives must demand action and hold leaders accountable, yes, but we must balance that idealism with logic and practicality in such delicate times, always keeping an open mind and creating a place for people to evolve.
This election is too consequential to silence endorsements. If Republicans like Kasich and Jeff Flake, or NeverTrump groups like the Lincoln Project and RVAT, can convince a small but electorally significant segment of lifelong conservatives to do the right thing, then they’ve done a great service. And rather than offset those gains by casting a protest vote over their involvement, the Resistance should welcome their help. Because that’s how we win.
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