Max Boot on the end of conservatism: "The Republican Party needs to be burned down"

Author Max Boot on finding himself "politically homeless" after renouncing Donald Trump's Republican Party

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published October 16, 2018 7:00AM (EDT)

Donald Trump; Max Boot (AP/Wikimedia/Salon)
Donald Trump; Max Boot (AP/Wikimedia/Salon)

The Republican Party is no longer a "conservative" organization. Donald Trump has given Republicans and other movement conservatives permission to surrender to their worst temptations and excesses. Rather than embracing some concept of responsible tradition and being averse to change, the Republican Party and movement conservatives are now a destructive and anti-democratic force. Norms about consensus that have dominated American politics for at least four decades have been discarded. Assumptions that Congress should be a coequal branch of government which serves as a "check and balance" against the presidency have been jettisoned.

Donald Trump is more than an imperial president. He is an American fascist and demagogue who is aided and abetted by Republican and other conservative elites.

The Republican Party has long been the United States' largest white identity organization, and Trump has given its members and followers permission to throw away the "dog whistles" of not so subtle anti-black and anti-brown racism and bigotry and to instead replace it with an air raid siren. The Republican Party has long presented itself as defending America's national security. Donald Trump has surrendered American leadership around the world and appears to be a vassal of Vladimir Putin and Russia; the Republican Party, its leaders, media and voters are complicit in this coup.

Where one would reasonably expect a torrent of "principled" conservatives to abandon Donald Trump and this version of the Republican Party most have chosen to stay put. Donald Trump is their leader. This Republican Party is their home. There is, however, a small cadre of Republicans who have decided that this version of the Republican Party is not to be supported. Some of them have been so bold as to publicly declare that Donald Trump is a threat to American democracy and for that reason they will now support the Democrats. Author, scholar and policy expert Max Boot is one such person.

Boot is the author of numerous bestselling books including "The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam," "The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power," "War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History, 1500 to Today" and "Invisible Armies: The Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present." His newest book is entitled "The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right."

Boot served as a senior foreign policy adviser to the presidential campaigns of John McCain, Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio. In addition, he is the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a contributor to the Washington Post and CNN.

How did Max Boot decide to leave the Republican Party? In his journey away from the GOP, how did he encounter its troubling past of racism, bigotry and other authoritarian tendencies? What were the personal and professional challenges which came with leaving the Republican Party? Why do so many other "principled" and intelligent Republicans and conservatives choose to support Donald Trump and his agenda? Is Donald Trump a traitor to the United States? Can the Republican Party be saved or should it be thrown into the refuse pile of history?

Our conversation has been edited for clarity and length. A longer version can be heard on my podcast.

Last week Gen. Colin Powell, a very "traditional" and "principled" establishment Republican, finally condemned Donald Trump's political movement and the threat it represents to American democracy. But why is he still a Republican? What is the political calculus for prominent Republicans such as Powell to stay on board?

I can't speak for Gen. Powell. He's a great man who has devoted most of his life to the American armed forces. Gen. Powell then served as a Republican who held high public office. But I believe that people develop institutional and personal loyalties that are very hard to break out of. Considering myself, I have found it to be a gut-wrenching decision to leave the Republican Party -- and I'm not a former secretary of state. I'm not one of the leaders of the Republican Party. But even for me, there are going to be friends who are mad at you. With Gen. Powell or someone of his standing it could be former presidents and national security advisors.

Clearly, we know where Gen. Powell's heart is. He is not a supporter of Donald Trump. I wish that he and others would speak up. But at the same time I'm not sure that's going to make any difference, because Trump has so thoroughly concocted this narrative that anybody who speaks out against him is a creature of the "swamp," or is somehow co-opted or paid off by George Soros or some other ridiculous narrative. Trump has basically immunized his followers against any criticism of him.

What I wish had happened in 2016, before the election, is that high-profile Republicans like the two presidents Bush, [Condoleezza] Rice, Powell and others, had taken a more of a public stance against Donald Trump. But they didn't do it. Thus it was left to lower-level people like me to try to sound the alarm. But we just don't have the same kind of public standing and credibility as somebody who was a cabinet secretary. Then again, given Trump's influence over his public, having very high-profile and respected senior Republican officials and figures speaking out against him my not have made a difference either.

Is this some version of the collective action problem where Republicans who oppose Trump are waiting for others to make the first move? Or is it a calculus where establishment-type Republicans know that Trump is dangerous but go along with it because they feel their policy goals are being advanced?

There is probably some truth to that. There are certainly people who work at high levels and behind the scenes who think they can shape developments and exert influence. They may even have clients that they represent and they want to be able to exert influence on behalf of them too. So ultimately there are  a ton of reasons why people do not speak out against Donald Trump. As a whole, I think it's really a dereliction of duty. I think that people who are in high government offices need to make clear where they stand on this incredibly irresponsible and dangerous president.

How does America extricate itself from the crisis created by Donald Trump and the Republican Party's assault on democracy?

I'm not 100 percent certain of how we got here and I certainly don't know how to get out of here. This is something I've been grappling with for the last few years. As Trump was in the process of winning the nomination and then the presidency, I watched Republicans who I once respected bow the knee to him.  I struggled to understand how that happened and that's part of why I wrote this book, “The Corrosion of Conservatism.” To come to grips with how Trump came to control I have been grappling with some of the Republican Party's dark history. These are topics and subjects I have not seriously looked at before. I am now realizing that there were these undercurrents of racism and xenophobia, know-nothingism and other dark trends that were always present in the Republican Party. In recent decades these dark trends have been more at the margins rather than at the center. It was Donald Trump who has put them into the center of the Republican Party.

The question is now, how do you repress these dark sentiments? How do we move them away from the center of American politics? In many ways this is the biggest challenge that we face as a country. There's no easy answer. I think the answer has to begin with electoral defeat for the Republican Party in November, because as long as Republicans think that attacking minorities and taking absolute far-right stances is a winning political strategy there will be more of the same.  If Republicans were to win the House and the Senate in November -- which I don't think it can happen, but it's not outside of the realm of possibility -- Donald Trump will see that as a flashing green signal to do even crazier things as he moves even faster to the far right. Trump would for sure fire [Robert] Mueller, [Rod] Rosenstein, and [Jeff] Sessions. Trump would put our democracy at even more risk.

Even though I'm not a Democrat -- and don't necessarily agree with Democrats on everything -- I think it is imperative to have the Democratic Party win in November. If the Democrats win, I believe that will be the beginning of a recovery from this Trumpian period. Republicans, a lot of whom are just being very cynical, need to know that Trumpism is not going to succeed.

Moreover, I think a victory by the Democrats will cause the people who are not the hardcore Trump true believers to reassess what they're up to. This is especially true of the politicians, many of whom are deeply hypocritical and cynical. In their hearts, they know exactly how dangerous Trump is. They just lack the courage to act on it.

Maybe a few more Republican politicians will find the courage if it no longer appears to be politically suicidal to do so. I think ultimately the Republican Party has to face one shellacking after another until they come to their senses and rebrand themselves in a more moderate direction.

You mentioned the dark history of the Republican Party. As someone from within the tribe, that Republican conservative community, why was there so much denial about the obvious racism as the Southern Strategy, or Reagan's support of "states' rights"? Reagan also used thinly veiled racist language about black people, such as "welfare queens" and "strapping young bucks." There was "birtherism" and its obvious racism. There is a direct line from Sarah Palin and the Tea Party to Donald Trump. Why did it take so long to accept the obvious truths about the Republican Party?

I asked that about myself. I really grapple with that. The real reason is this tribal instinct, which I feel is probably the most powerful impulse in politics. A desire to be in union with other people that you identify as your confederates, your fellow ideologues, however you define it -- and you're not going to be part of a movement if you focus a bright light on some of the dark, ugly parts of that movement. I might add, this is not a universal problem just on the right. It's a huge problem on the right. I think there are some issues on the left as well. There have been examples of anti-Semitism on the left, for example. If you think about the misbehavior of Ted Kennedy or Bill Clinton towards women, which a lot of Democrats made excuses for, again because they didn't want to break with their tribe.

The Republican Party today has a lot more to answer for, but it's the same kind of tribal impulse that caused people like me and many others to refuse to see it. If you start to ask these hard questions then you have to say to yourself, "Well, can I really be a Republican anymore?" This is very difficult because for someone like me. Being a conservative or a Republican was my entire identity. That was how I largely defined myself.

Of course it wasn't the only identity I had. I also think of myself as a historian and a writer and so forth. But being a conservative and a Republican was certainly an important part of my identity. Therefore, I took a "go along to get along" attitude. I was certainly not somebody who was out there scripting racist campaign ads. I wasn't connected with the Willie Horton ad which came out when I was in high school, or Jesse Helms' racist attacks on Harvey Gantt in North Carolina. I had no connection to that, except very distantly, because I went along with the Republican Party and stayed in my lane, focusing on national security issues.

I did not worry about what was happening to the left and right of me. I realized that a lifetime of willful blindness helped to get us into this position where these dark forces have taken over the Republican Party. I can't stomach being part of that anymore. But a lot of Republicans are totally fine with it and they're totally in denial. When I point these things out they think there's something wrong with me.

You have your professional life, friendships, social networks, social capital, prestige certainly, and then you realized, "Oh my God, I was part of something that wasn't right." In terms of your moment of critical self-reflection, what did that feel like?

There was a sinking feeling. I mean, believe me, I felt physically ill on Election Day of 2016 as it became obvious that Trump was going to win. I had a lot of trouble sleeping because I was just so disturbed about what Trump's ascendance would mean for the country. But I was also disturbed about how he had transformed the Republican Party. I kept hoping against hope that maybe he would modify his behavior. Trump would somehow become more respectable, and leave behind this inflammatory persona that he cultivated during his past 70-odd years of life, and during the campaign, and become a more traditional and stable and mainstream presidential figure. Of course by Inauguration Day, it was obvious that was not going to happen. I lost all hope in the Trump administration. But I also lost hope in a lot of my friends who would end up supporting Donald Trump after initially being skeptical of him like I was.

That's been a difficult experience, because these are people with whom I've been associated for years, in some case most of my adult life. This has caused a kind of fissure that we rarely see in American politics. This is not the type of difference of opinion where some people  prefer McCain and others prefer Obama. That's almost nothing. That's a kind of standard political disagreement.

What Trump represents is much deeper. I don't think we've had this kind of fissure in American politics since the Vietnam War -- and that was a conflict that tore the country's fabric apart. It's been difficult. The upside is I am discovering that I have a lot in common with many people on the left side of the spectrum, as well as with a small number of "Never Trump" conservatives. We are coalescing around the basic idea of preserving liberal democracy against the threat posed by Donald Trump. We are also realizing that whatever policy differences we have are insignificant  compared to stopping Donald Trump and the danger he represents.  I've been positively moved by seeing how many people of goodwill are mobilizing to protect the United States. But I've been dismayed to see how few of my former friends are among them.

So the elites inside the conservative movement and Republican Party knew that Trump is dangerous, but they held their nose because he was going to give them things that they wanted and they thought they could control him. They said to themselves, "OK, Trump has the rubes riled up but we can control him once we get him in the system. We will be able to lean on him." Was that the calculation?

Absolutely. I have heard that often. I remember talking to a big Republican donor who was involved in the Trump campaign and I basically expressed my alarm that this guy was helping Trump become president. This big-money donor said, "Oh, don't worry about it. You know, Trump will play golf. He'll leave everything to McConnell and Ryan. They'll take care of it."

This notion that Trump would be some kind of absentee president, easily controlled by people savvier than he is, was and is a ridiculous expectation. In hindsight it was ridiculous as well. It kind of recalls the way that aristocratic Germans thought they could control Adolf Hitler because he was this jumped-up little corporal. To be clear, I am in no way suggesting there's any analogy between Trump and Hitler. The only analogy here is the way that political insiders often think they can control populists and those expectations are usually incorrect. Why? Because the person who becomes president has got the power. Donald Trump has certainly shattered the illusion that he could be “controlled” by the political class in Washington. In fact, he's rapidly gotten rid of many of the “adults” in the room in his administration.

How did Republican elected officials and other leaders convince themselves to abdicate responsibility for being shepherds of democracy by surrendering to Donald Trump?

Much of the answer lies in how they do not admit that we are in a crisis. They think everything is normal. They focus on a handful of policy achievements such as lower taxes or conservative judges and claim, "Oh, you know, Trump really isn't any different from a normal Republican president." They are ignoring all the elephants in the room. They can convince themselves that there's nothing irresponsible about cooperating with Trump, but I think at some level they know better. I certainly know from talking to some of them that this is true.

Ultimately, they are cowards. Certainly, the Republican politicians are cowards because they saw what happened to Mark Sanford in South Carolina. He is a Republican congressman who was somewhat critical of Trump and ended up losing his primary. That is the No. 1 fear of every politician in Washington, that they're going to lose their primary, and they know that a tweet from Trump could set them on the road to being out of office. These cowardly politicians then rationalize and come up with explanations for why they're doing the right thing, even though I think in their heart of hearts they know they are not doing the right thing.

What are some lessons both good or bad, correct or not, that you think people are drawing from this moment? 

I do not believe there is a clear parallel to Donald Trump in American history. We have never had a president who is as erratic, as ignorant and as much of a danger to our democracy as Donald Trump. We've had some bad presidents, but he is off the charts in many respects. The only figures that he is analogous to in American history are people like George Wallace, Joe McCarthy, Huey Long, these horrible populist rabble-rousers. The difference of course is that none of them became president. Donald Trump became president. That's a massive difference. The kind of personality type Trump possesses is similar to that of those populist demagogues.

Donald Trump's personality is also similar to that of authoritarian rulers around the world, from [Benito] Mussolini to [Hugo] Chávez. That's the kind of person that Donald Trump is. He has no respect or understanding for the constitutional limits on the presidency. The big difference is that the United States is not Italy or Germany in the 1930s. It's not Venezuela today. It's not Argentina in the 1950s. The United States is not one of these countries that has a weak rule of law and an illegitimate government which are easy for a dictator to usurp. We have one of the oldest constitutional republics in the world, and we have pretty strong checks and balances that are very hard even for Donald Trump to undermine.

The United States still has functioning courts. The United States still has a free press, which has done a brilliant job of exposing his machinations. We also have civil servants and political appointees like the person who wrote the anonymous New York Times op-ed, or the people quoted in Bob Woodward's book who are working to resist Trump from within. So there are a lot of pressures to keep Trump from becoming a dictator. At the end of the day, those pressures will keep Trump from fully succeeding.

He's not going to become a dictator, but I do think that he is undermining those checks and balances. Donald Trump is exposing weaknesses in our constitutional protections. Trump is doing great damage even if he doesn't manage to destroy American democracy -- and I don't think that he will. But Donald Trump is undermining American democracy and it will take a long time to repair the damage.

What does Donald Trump and the Republican Party's successful nomination of Bret Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court reveal about the health of the rule of law in America at this moment?  

It is ironic, given the Republican obsession with judges. Ideally judges are supposed to enforce the law. And if you believe Republicans, they're appointing jurists who will interpret the Constitution as it was meant to be interpreted by the founders and the drafters of the document. That is the public story. But the reality is that the Republicans are basically the mirror-image of Democrats in the 1960s and 1970s, who couldn't necessarily get their legislative priorities through the legislature and so decided to turn to the judicial branch of government to enact their agenda. That's what Republicans are now trying to do.

They have an agenda of overturning Roe v. Wade which would make abortion illegal, dismantling the regulatory state, making it impossible to impose gun control and so on, all policy goals which are too radical for the majority of the American people. They're trying to enact that agenda through the courts. Republicans will use Brett Kavanaugh and similar judges who are vetted by the Federalist Society to implement their agenda.

What Republicans are doing is fundamentally dishonest and it's doing real damage to the judiciary, which already has been considerably politicized by both sides. Both Democrats and Republicans are guilty. Trump is making it a lot worse. For example, after Kavanaugh won, Sarah Sanders gloated that now there is a 5-4 Supreme Court under President Trump, as if the judges are members of the legislature who are sworn to pay allegiance to the president. Whereas in fact, Supreme Court and other justices are supposed to be an independent check and balance upon the president and upon the Congress.

This is all symptomatic of the radicalization of “conservatism.” But notice I say “conservatism” because this is not how I would define real conservatism. A real conservative would be concerned about conserving the institutions instead of undermining these institutions. But so many Republicans are just right-wing ideologues and they want to push through their agenda, no matter the damage that it does to our institutions or to civil society or to the country as a whole.

Many "Never Trumpers" such as your colleague Tom Nichols have been very public about voting for Hillary Clinton because they saw her as a system-stabilizing force as compared to Donald Trump. How did you navigate that choice?  

I don't think there's any one answer. I certainly voted for Hillary Clinton. In fact, that was the first vote I ever cast for a Democrat in my life and it wasn't even a close call. It wasn't something I agonized over. If Hillary Clinton had been running against Mitt Romney, I would have voted for Mitt Romney. Let's be clear on that. But she was running against Donald Trump, and I could not see a single argument in Donald Trump's favor in that equation.

Hillary Clinton is actually a pretty moderate, centrist politician. Somebody with whom ideologically I think I have a lot more in common than I do with Donald Trump. That was part of the reason why she was so unpopular with the Bernie wing of the party, because they thought she was too moderate, right? So, from my standpoint, yes. I was very troubled by the ethical problems that have dogged the Clintons for years, but in terms of where they are politically, they're pretty centrist, and that's pretty much where I am.

The Clintons may have some ethical problems but they're basically choirboys compared to Donald Trump. It wasn't close. Donald Trump is a man who will not reveal his taxes, and we can only speculate what he's trying to conceal. The New York Times, for example, recently reported that he was guilty of massive tax fraud, defaulting the Treasury of hundreds of millions of dollars. That's just one example of the rule-breaking and unethical and immoral way that Trump has lived his life. Ultimately, there was no question in my mind that Hillary Clinton was qualified and Donald Trump was not, and so I happily cast a ballot for Clinton.

Here's another puzzle: how have today's Trump-supporting Republicans reconciled that with their worship of Ronald Reagan? Reagan is a legend, almost a God, to many Republicans. But these same Republicans support Donald Trump, a man who wants to make America into a fiefdom of Vladimir Putin and Russia.

I came to this country in 1976 at age six with my mother and grandmother from the Soviet Union. I was drawn to the Republican Party because it was the most anti-communist party. It was also the most towering defender of the American values of democracy. That's something that Ronald Reagan represented. I was thrilled watching Ronald Reagan denouncing the evil empire. I could never have imagined that in the future there would be a Republican president who would admire the leader of Russia, or admire the dictators of China or North Korea. That's just unthinkable.

But it's important to remember just how different Reagan was from Trump. Reagan was pro-immigration. He actually extended an amnesty to undocumented immigrants in 1986. Reagan was pro-free trade. He was pro-allies. He was pro-American leadership. He was somebody who never had a harsh word to say about anybody, and certainly did not castigate political opponents by calling them "crooked" or anything else. He was always the consummate gentleman, and he was a very likable, sunny person.

Whereas Trump is this very dark, divisive figure who spreads conspiracy theories and denounces his political opponents as traitors. This is not remotely the kind of Republican Party that I grew up in and that is why I can no longer be part of it. I'm stunned and puzzled that so many Republicans who, like me, came of age under Ronald Reagan have no problem following the leadership of Donald Trump, which is, to my mind, a complete repudiation of 80 or 90 percent of what Reagan stood for.

You are one of the world's leading scholars of the Cold War, international relations, and the 20th century more broadly. How have you responded to the revelations about the way the Russians interfered in the 2016 presidential election to help Donald Trump win?

I was shocked. I think this is an unprecedented assault on American democracy. We've never seen anything like it. I'm convinced that the Russian intervention affected the outcome. I think there's a good chance that Donald Trump would not be president were it not for the help that he received from his friend Vladimir Putin. This is after all an election decided by fewer than 80,000 votes in three states, and the Russians had a massive impact.

Donald Trump spent pretty much every day of the last month of the campaign talking about WikiLeaks, which in practice was a conduit for Democratic Party emails stolen by the Russians and then weaponized and disseminated in order to undermine the Democratic Party and help Donald Trump and the Republican Party. We've never seen anything like this. So we have a president of the United States who was elected with the help of a hostile foreign power. Now he's doing his damnedest to block any investigation of what happened. This to me is a scandal and a tragedy, and I just can't understand how Republicans could possibly become his enablers in trying to obstruct justice in this regard.

For example, the performance of Mitch McConnell was absolutely scandalous when President Obama tried to create a joint front with Republicans in the fall of 2016 to warn the public about this Russian intervention. Mitch McConnell didn't want anything to do with it, because of course, the Russian intervention was helping the Republicans.

More recently you've had people in Congress like Devin Nunes, who are doing everything they can to attack the Justice Department and FBI to prevent us from finding out what exactly happened between the Russians and the Trump campaign. These are people who do not have America's interests at heart. It's just unbelievable to me. You can support Trump on a few things, but you don't have to become his accomplices in an attack upon America. That's what a lot of Republicans are actually doing. I can't think of any historical precedent for this. It is all incredibly alarming because if we don't find out what happened and prevent it from happening again, Russian interference -- or that by other countries -- is going to be a constant threat to our democracy. This will do greater damage than any foreign army or navy could possibly do to the United States and the American people.

I have consistently argued in my writing and other work that Donald Trump is a traitor to American democracy and may very well also be committing treason as a supporter of Vladimir Putin and Russia's interests. I also believe that the Republican Party and their voters are traitors as well, and that some Republican leaders may also be guilt of treason. Your thoughts?

Well, I would be careful about using the word "treason." But I think it is striking that treason is something that serious people have been talking about. John Brennan himself, the former CIA director, suggested after Trump's humiliation in Helsinki that he was in fact guilty of treason. John Brennan is a very serious guy. He is not some radical activist out there on the barricades. This is the former CIA director, a pillar of the foreign policy establishment, who is saying this because of how Trump acted towards Putin and Russia, and in trying to block this investigation. It's pretty obvious that Donald Trump does not have the best interests of America at heart. That is shocking. I could not imagine saying that about any previous president.

I disagreed with a lot of presidents, but I never imagined that one of them might not be putting the country's interests first. In Donald Trump's case, I don't think he is putting the country's interest first, at a minimum. He is certainly putting his own political interests ahead of the country's national security interests.

The really terrifying prospect which has been raised by many intelligence officials is that Donald Trump has been compromised by Russia and that he is acting on behalf of a hostile foreign power. That sounds like something out of a science fiction movie. That sounds too incredible to be true. It's like "The Manchurian Candidate," and yet this is the reality that we're grappling with.

What about Republicans, especially Republican elites, who go along with Donald Trump. How do we parse their culpability?

I think they are very culpable. They are putting their self-interest and their party's interest above the interests of the country. That is as damning a statement as I could possibly make. I was at John McCain's funeral, and that was just a very moving scene. John McCain devoted his life to this country and suffered more for this country than most people could imagine. He was incredibly alarmed about what Donald Trump was doing, and he tried to use this funeral to sound a bipartisan clarion call that people need to stand up for America and our values against the threat in the White House.

A few people took it to heart, including possibly the author of that anonymous New York Times op-ed, but by and large, most Republican leaders are just too cowardly to follow McCain's advice. That's a damning indictment, because John McCain was willing to undergo torture, literally, for five and a half years because he did not want to sell his honor, and you have all these cowardly politicians in Washington who are not willing to risk re-election defeat in order to uphold their own honor and the interests of the country.

You have left the Republican Party as have other "Never Trumpers" and a few principled conservatives. There are no doubt many Democrats, liberals and progressives who are very cynical about this, very suspicious. What would you tell them to soothe their anxieties? Are you and other former Republicans seeking to form a permanent alliance with Democrats and other Americans of conscience? Or is this a "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" short-term arrangement?

It's hard for me to say, because we are in a moment of political flux where a lot of the old realities are starting to shift. We don't quite know how it's going to shake out. All I can say is from my own perspective is that I have left the Republican Party and I doubt that I will go back. Donald Trump's rise to power has made me realize that I'm actually at odds with mainstream Republican opinion on a lot of questions. I respect climate science. I think that we should ban assault weapons -- something that Ronald Reagan also believed in, but that was anathema for modern Republicans. I believe in free trade. I believe in American leadership. I believe in fiscal responsibility, instead of running a trillion-dollar deficit as the Republicans are now doing. Those views don't exactly make me a Democrat, but they certainly mean that I'm not a Republican like a lot of other people.

I'm politically homeless. There are more independents now than there are either Democrats or Republicans. I think there is some potential for a new center to emerge. There is the potential for the Democratic Party to seize a lot of the dissatisfaction that's been fed by Donald Trump and the fact that he's doing so much to alienate minorities and women in particular, younger voters as well. There are a lot of people who are potentially open to a new political identity, and if the Democratic Party can seize the moment I think it has the chance to do a generational realignment of the kind that occurred during the New Deal.

My concern is that Democrats may instead be fighting fire with fire and that as they see the far right taking over the Republican Party, there's a tendency for the far left, ultra-progressives, to take over the Democratic Party.  If that's the case, it's going to leave a lot of people in the center feeling homeless, and looking perhaps for a  third party to represent their views. But a lot will depend on who wins the Democratic nomination in 2020. If it's Michael Bloomberg that's going to look very different than if it's Bernie Sanders. All these things are still very much in play, and I would hope that some political force, whether it's the Democrats or a third party or even perhaps a reconstituted post-Trump Republican Party can speak more to the center, where I find myself stranded at the moment.

Can the Republican Party be saved in its present form, or does it need to be burned down and reduced to rubble? What would that look like?

I think the Republican Party needs to be burned down. The Republican Party has to suffer devastation at the ballot box, otherwise they will continue on their current path. They need to understand that they can't win political power by attacking minorities, by engaging in racist and xenophobic rhetoric, by pursuing isolationism and protectionism. This is not a winning political formula. The only way they're going to get that message as if they in fact start losing at the ballot box. So even though the first and only Democrat I've ever voted for was Hillary Clinton, I’m now urging everybody to vote straight party, straight-ticket Democratic in November. It is imperative that Republicans pay a price for the white nationalism that they are now trafficking in.

It's also imperative that we have "checks and balances" in Washington. So even though I don't agree with Democrats on everything, we need at least part of Congress that will stand up to Donald Trump and his abuse of power. Republicans are never going to do that. We have got to put Democrats in power so they will act as some kind of check on Trump and his excesses.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

MORE FROM Chauncey DeVega