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“The Speech” we’re all waiting for a Republican to give



“Nixon goes to China” (or some variant of that phrase) has become a metaphor for the ability of a politician with an unassailable reputation among his or her supporters for representing and defending their values to take actions that would draw their criticism and even opposition if taken by someone without those credentials.” By this reasoning, only the conservative Republican president Richard Nixon could have gone to Red China in 1972; had Hubert Humphrey or George McGovern been president, it would have been politically impossible for either to reach out to the dreaded Communists.

Bill Clinton had his own “Nixon goes to China” moment in 1992, when he severely criticized the rap singer Sister Souljah for her hateful comments. Clinton’s repudiation of a black activist was remarkable given the black community’s historic association with the Democratic Party; indeed, some called Clinton’s move “a Sister Souljah moment” rather than a “Nixon goes to China” moment. Years later, candidate Barack Obama had his own Sister Souljah moment when he condemned the remarks of his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, as “incendiary.”

“Nixon goes to China” or “Sister Souljah” moments pique the popular interest, often making it into Wikipedia pages and boosting politicians’ careers. But they’re increasingly rare in these polarized times. True, the occasional Republican, like Bob Corker, Lindsay Graham, Floyd Flake or John McCain, dips his toe into Sister Souljah-moment waters with mild or oblique criticisms of Donald Trump. But for the most part, politicians are loath to depart from entrenched positions demanded of them by their bases. There is, however, a potential “Nixon goes to China” moment awaiting a senior Republican politician that could launch him or her to great national prominence…or ruin his career. And that would be to give The Speech.

“The Speech” would be precisely that, a formal presentation in words, perhaps delivered at a press conference, party meeting or town hall. It would be videotaped; it would be simple and direct; it would be by a Republican denouncing Donald J. Trump in the strongest possible terms; and it would instantly become one of the most famous speeches in U.S. political history.

It would state unequivocally that Trump is uniquely unqualified to be president of the United States of America. It would accuse him of undermining and devaluing the presidency and the Constitution by his repeated lies, insults and misrepresentations. It would point out his dereliction of duty, and come to the verge of accusing him of treason through his collaboration with Russia. It wouldn’t dance around the issue; it would call him out by name and demand his removal from office. Actually, there are so many indictments against Trump it’s impossible to summarize them all, but The Speech would do its best to enumerate them in, say, twenty minutes or so. It would lead every news report the night it was issued; it would dominate the headlines the next day; social media would explode. Written and delivered adroitly, and given by the right Republican politician, it could cause Trump’s poll numbers to plummet overnight, and even spark a revolt against him—the fabled “tipping point”–by Republicans in the Congress.

A Republican can and should deliver The Speech as soon as possible. But which Republican? It has to be a senior one with national visibility, not a minor Congressman nobody ever heard of. The more famous the Republican, the more effective The Speech’s impact would be. Moreover, its effectiveness would be boosted by coming from a Republican politician previously viewed as diehard conservative, Christian and pro-Trump. That’s why McCain, Graham, Flake or Corker wouldn’t be ideal; they’re already perceived as wobbly on Trump. The person who gives The Speech must have the most impeccable rightwing connections and be seen as making a 180-degree U-turn on his previous position.

Paul Ryan is an obvious candidate. He’s totally in the tank for Trump, so if he were to give The Speech it would blow everybody’s mind. Ditto for Mitch McConnell. I don’t know that there are any other Republicans in the House, besides Ryan, who could do it (Kevin McCarthy? Nope), but there are other Senators. John Cornyn, the Majority Whip, could. So could other senior Republican Senators: Thune, Barrasso, Blunt, Gardner, Mike Lee, Crapo.

There are plenty of Republicans not currently holding office who could give The Speech and get a lot of attention: George W. Bush comes to mind. So do Newt Gingrich and Chris Christie. It doesn’t have to be a single person: a panel of former Republican Secretaries of State and Defense could do it. Retired U.S. military generals and admirals long identified with Republican causes could do it. In an extremely unlikely scenario, a rightwing Republican talk show commentator could do it, the way Walter Cronkite talked about losing the Vietnam War: Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Alex Jones. But a sitting, senior Republican would have the greatest impact.

The high visibility Republicans you see on T.V. every day understand that they could give The Speech. They know that they should, and no doubt their wives, daughters and some friends are urging them to. In their private daydreams, they fantasize about giving it and riding the acclaim all the way into the White House. But those same fantasies also turn into the nightmare of being primaried out of office. We need a Republican profile in courage to give The Speech. Will we get one?

Right after I wrote this post, I was reading yesterday’s Wall Street Journal and the latest column by William A. Galston. Now, I’ve criticized Galston before, but something clearly has happened to him–something unexplained–that has made him strongly anti-Trump. Entitled “The Clear and Present Danger of Donald Trump,” Galston’s op-ed piece calls for “the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, and the national security advisor to confront Mr. Trump…to inform him that unless he publicly affirms the reality of the Russian threat…they will have no honorable alternative to resignation.” If that doesn’t happen, Galston recommends “a starker alternative…Section 4 of the 25th Amendment [which] gives the Vice President, supported by a majority of the cabinet, the authority to declare that the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”

Wow. Coming from Galston, in the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal, that is a mouthful. It’s not The Speech. But it’s as close to it as we currently have.

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