I’ve been thinking about the last time we talked, when you told me you were considering pitching in with the Trump national security team. Because of your respect for our friendship, you broached the subject with great care, a credit to your compassion and manners. I was, if you remember, rendered quite speechless by your admission, but in a sign of my own affection for you, I mumbled something about you having to do what you have to do, or something like that, before moving on to a less controversial subject.
It never escaped my notice that you were not among the 120 or so signers of the “Open Letter on Donald Trump from GOP National Security Leaders” back in March. If I really think hard about it, I am pretty sure you never responded to the request we sent asking you to sign. It is clear that you were keeping your options open, which is a rational and human impulse when faced with difficult circumstances. I had hoped all this time that you were simply keeping your powder dry; that you had decided to plunge more deeply into your important policy work and chalk this cycle up to our party losing its collective mind in nominating a protectionist, isolationist, and nativist. You and I were both all in for Romney, and we both supported center of mass Republicans this cycle — men who understood America’s role in the world and who saw this as an exceptional nation with a responsibility to lead. That you are now ready to support a man who repudiates these noble ends with every fiber of his being is a terrible disappointment.
I’ve heard people talking about how this election is like 1976, and if Ronald Reagan could pitch in and support his opponent in order to unify the party, well by God, so can we. I imagine this notion is part of why you are considering joining Trump’s team, and under most circumstances, you’d be right to do so. But Reagan was unifying behind Gerald Ford who was a respected man of the Republican Party already serving as President of the United States. There is simply no comparison to be made.
I imagine you also feel a pull to serve. You think a President Donald Trump will need good people to give him informed advice, shape and mold him, and restrain his worst tendencies. Again, this is a noble impulse, but it is also a fool’s errand. If Trump is elected president, the only shaping to be done will be accomplished by a determined opposition wielding the great Constitutional powers of the legislature and the courts. One only need study his campaign and the ineffectiveness of those who sought to modify his behavior to understand the futility his policy advisors will face.
Perhaps, also, there is a touch of ambition in your consideration of signing on and I sympathize. I know you are a smart person and one that is sublimely well-qualified for a number of responsible positions. We have often commiserated about how difficult it is to impact policy from the outside. We both wonder about how many more chances we will get at this.
Had I more grace and poise the last time we met, I would have looked you in the eye and told you that you were making a grave error. I would have told you that when the dust settles, there will be an accounting, and those who sacrificed principle will bear the “Scarlet T.” If Trump loses, the long-term consequences to your reputation won’t quickly wash away. There will be a lingering stench. If he wins, your reputation will suffer even more as you will be a willing accomplice in what happens next. And if he does even half of what he has promised to the shape of American power, it will be disastrous for this country and the world. I suspect the consolation of working in an office with “The Honorable” affixed to the doorway will be rather hollow.
There is still time, my good friend. There is time to pull back from this short-sighted approach and join the opposition. The country is entering a difficult time, with great powers walking forward as we appear to retreat from our responsibilities. Our approach to national security policy — the one you and I have shared for years of friendship — was rejected by the GOP electorate this cycle in favor of the mercurial, unmoored ramblings of a privileged vulgarian. And while some point to the “wisdom of the crowd” as evidence that we were wrong, I see more of the passion of the mob at work, which means that it is more important than ever that level-headed people like you do not make common cause with them.
Be well, my friend.
Bryan McGrath is the Managing Director of The FerryBridge Group LLC, a defense consultancy. Additionally, he is the Deputy Director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for American Seapower.