A Letter to a Republican Friend About to Help Team Trump

July 22, 2016

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Dear Friend,

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.

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5 thoughts on “A Letter to a Republican Friend About to Help Team Trump

  1. Dear Bryan! Long time since we met in Bergen Norway. I guess much of the western, and perhaps also rest of the world “shivers” by the thought of Trump as president. Thanks for another important post. Hope the result of the election will be the best for both your country an the rest of the world.
    Jan Tore

  2. Nice letter, quite moving. Still :
    Something allways baffles me, as an european observer. The author writes that he and his friends were “all in for Romney”… Interesting. While Romney is certainly not Donald Trump, how could those brillant minds, Phds, teachers, advisors have been so blind on what was happening to the GOP ? In Europe, we know Ruppert Murdoch really well, and its more a laughing stock than anything else… But guys, how could you miss that Ailes’ Fox News was driving your party and electorate crazy ? To this day, so called “Establishment Reps” and advisors are STILL showing up on Fox News, legetimizing its discourse. To most of us in Europe and I mean close allies, it was kind of terrifying witnessing an entire party being corrupted by trash tv and brainless talking points. By creating false narrative on the state of the world and of your country (ie: we’re actually all jealous of your recovery and unemployment/GDP numbers) by painting a apocalyptical portrait of america, Murdoch and Ailes created Trump. And if you were in team Romney, you could not miss it, you maybe even were a part of it all. See, to us Murdoch’s newspapers and media are a kind of weird private joke between european citizen : it’s B movie stuff, weirdos and trash papers with naked girls in it (Ailes understood that).. But you actually took that seriously, and made it the number one voice of your party ! And now you’re crying ? Kinda weird, fix your party and your discourse first.

  3. I’m sorry but all I read out of this letter is that Mr. McGrath shows no understanding of the underlying anger that motivates many American voters to support candidates like Trump and Sanders. He shows himself to be a part of the ‘establishment’ sitting in their ivory tower and not proposing solutions and explanations that the American voters can either understand or support. He simply tries to persuade by saying Mr. Trump will be opposed by the full force of legislative and judicial powers.

    Sorry, Mr. McGrath. You’re going to have to do much better. But like your peers so far, you haven’t proposed anything effective nor respectful of the American voters.

    I would propose that your friend has far more understanding as he at least is trying to sway the discourse in the direction of combining thoughtful solutions with adaptation to the realities that the American voter lives every day.

  4. Trump is the President Elect. Get on board or get out of the way.
    Europe, you need to decide, actually you already have whether you want to continue to be a Western society, or become northern Arabia.
    To the gentleman from europe (I did not misspell it), Ailes and company may be a laughing stock in europe, but they do provide the only national platform that presents REAL liberals and conservatives in a debate format. CNN, et.al. generally only provides several left wing individuals, including an avowed Communist complaining about a subject and arguing together, agreeing the conservatives are an evil lot.
    Europe is collapsing as we speak and America is not far behind if we do not spin the helm hard over; question is what will be the course after the turn. Europe is a product of American largess. We’ve paid the bills since WW II but now we are broke (Britain finally repaid their WW II loans to us in the near past); you need to pay your share of your defense.
    Trump was not my first or fifth choice. In my opinion, he was elected (fair and square) because the population saw the republicans were doing the same-ol, same-ol. Several of the republican candidates pitched hissy fits (tantrum to the european elite) because the public did not buy their story.
    So, to McGrath’s friend now is the time to do what you think is right. If McGrath terminates his friendship then that is a bright light on how he considers a friendship to be; my way or the highway.