The American republic lasted two and a half centuries – longer than many countries that consider themselves older – precisely because it was, in the words of John Adams, its second president, “a government of laws, not of laws. men”. .So why this late separation of paths? In part because Republican lawmakers have a sense of decency. Their party has traditionally sought to coerce executive power, and Trump represents precisely the type of “Caesarism” that the founders warned against – the belief, in other words, that the end justifies the means and that the leader is bigger than the rules. Trump’s latest idiocy – even during the world wars, no one canceled a presidential election – was too much.
Perhaps more importantly, they can see a post-Trump GOP appear. If, as it now seems likely, the Donald is thrown out in November, there will be a power struggle between his autocratic admirers and those mainstream Republicans who believe in free trade, low spending, and limited government.
These are not precepts easy to praise when, as now, the world is in an authoritarian spasm. But if the traditional conservatives miss this chance, they will have no other.