Moral preening comes naturally in some precincts. It’s cheap, it feels good and has very little to do with authentic high moral tone. But it doesn’t accomplish much. When at least 66 Democratic members of Congress boycotted the inauguration of Donald Trump, saying that he was not a legitimate president and would never be their president, they got a headline or two but accomplished little more than children who threaten to hold their breath unless they get the piece of candy they want.
All they accomplish with such an attitude is that they’ll stay on the outside looking in over the next four — or eight! — years. They risk getting a respectful hearing when and where it counts. They’re putting themselves in the position of Randy Travis in his country classic to the lady who dumped him, wailing that “my phone still ain’t ringing so it still must not be you.” Donald Trump has a long memory and, like earlier presidents, Democratic and Republican alike, is not famous for turning the other cheek.
A group of Republicans have put themselves on the outside looking in, too; the only way they’re likely to see the inside of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is to get in line with tourists from Pittsburgh and Palo Alto. Not so long ago everyone was saying that the Donald had “no path” to the 270 electoral votes he would need for election, and the Who’s Who at the State Department, the Pentagon and the intelligence services proclaimed him “unfit” to be president. But he found the path to 306 electoral votes. The “open letters” declaring him a threat to national security and American standing, written with such assurance, have been returned, marked “no such person at this address.” Unfortunately for them, as Mr. Trump gleefully noted at a mid-December rally a week before the Electoral College sealed his election: “There’s no path to 270, but there was a path to 306.”
Having gambled and lost, the Never-Trumpers are coming to presidential personnel offices, smoothing a cowlick and tugging at a forelock, counting on short memories and hoping all is forgiven. They’re learning a hard truth: Act in haste, repent at leisure.
“If I were asked to sign a letter like that again,” said Mary Beth Long, an assistant secretary of defense in the administration of President George W. Bush, told The Washington Post, “I would be much more careful about the verbiage that related to the candidate himself.” Eliot Cohen, an official at the State Department during the George W. Bush administration who organized one of the Never-Trump letters, says simply: “Believe me, my phone is not ringing.”
If someone at the White House answers the phone, he might ask, “If you really think Mr. Trump ‘lacks the character, values and experience’ to be president and ‘would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being,’ why would you even want to work for him?” Serious chutzpah is required for a Never-Trumper to pursue a plum — or even a prune or raisin — appointment now. Every new president must reach out to the party he defeated, but the embittered opposition shows no sign of offering a helping hand, only a mailed fist.