Like many Americans, I’ve worried about the consequences of Donald J. Trump’s presidency during the long interregnum leading to Inauguration Day, about his unresolved business conflicts, tendencies toward authoritarianism and his policies.
But I’ve found comfort in a surprising group of right-leaning people who share my fears, though not my political outlook: Jennifer Rubin, Kathleen Parker and Michael Gerson of The Washington Post; the conservative intellectual David Frum; the Republican consultants Rick Wilson, Matthew Dowd and Ana Navarro; and the former independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin.
They and others have not wavered in their prolific critiques of Mr. Trump’s conduct and approach to government.
Their moral clarity, untainted by the Washington instinct to keep open the doors of “access,” has been entirely admirable. Many liberals and Democrats have been at least as clearheaded about Trump’s unsuitability to serve, but it can be hard to separate our fears from ordinary political disputes about, for example, Obamacare. But the conservatives and libertarians who hold tight to their objections to the shattering of democratic norms and constitutional practices by Mr. Trump occupy a different position and can be heard by audiences who are more likely to favor some of Mr. Trump’s or Representative Paul Ryan’s policies.
If their voices don’t waver and Mr. Trump continues along a reckless path, these conservatives, joined by elected officials and grass-roots leaders, may form the basis of a new coalition with liberals — agreeing to disagree on many issues, but sharing a commitment to civil liberties and democratic norms.
It may even evolve into the centrist political alignment that pundits have dreamed of since at least the mid-1990s, often calling for figures like Michael R. Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, to run for national office, on a platform of deficit reduction.
The new alliance can seek not to restore the political practices of the past but, by challenging Mr. Trump, to develop a new set of norms that can make citizens feel they’ve been heard, in Washington and locally. That would include objecting not only to Mr. Trump’s open conflicts of interest but also, for example, to tactics such as “repeal and delay” of the Affordable Care Act, because it avoids putting basic choices about policy before legislators and the public.
When the threat to constitutional norms posed by Mr. Trump has passed — perhaps because he himself adapts to the constitutional constraints of the presidency — we can return to disagreements about taxation or the role of government in providing a safety net. But perhaps we’ll approach those fights with a newfound appreciation of the dangers of treating these policy differences as if they were existential choices, worthy of victory at any cost, because that is the form of politics that led to the reign of Donald J. Trump.
The new centrist alliance has taken first root among elites — journalists and political figures who had been successful in the existing system. This new community of voices willing to challenge Mr. Trump and stand up for constitutional norms might be the most important new coalition of the dangerous era ahead.
Mark Schmitt is the director of the political reform program at the research organization New America.