More than 80 career national security professionals have signed an open letter of support for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, saying that President Trump “has created an existential danger to the United States.”
Most of the signatories, who include career diplomats, intelligence officers and defense policymakers, have served both Republican and Democratic administrations. They noted that their policy views cover a spectrum and as officials they “have often been in opposition, sometimes bitterly, with each other.”
But in a letter published online Wednesday, they expressed a shared belief that Trump’s approach to leadership has undermined the country’s role in the world.
“His reelection would continue this downward spiral and will likely have catastrophic results,” say the signatories, most of whom have never publicly endorsed a candidate for president.
Doug Wise, a former CIA clandestine officer and former deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, broke a career-long vow to serve in silence by signing the letter.
“We need to restore courtesy, respectability and consensus decision-making based not on the personal interests of Donald J. Trump but on the personal interests of Americans,” said Wise, who retired in 2016 after 48 years of government service.
Wise, who leans Republican, said that he has never voted for president, content to trust in the American democratic system “to produce a good president and commander in chief.” But the system has failed, he said. So this November, he said, he will cast his first vote for president — for Biden.
Larry Pfeiffer, former senior director of the White House Situation Room and a former chief of staff to then-CIA Director Michael Hayden, said he leans Republican. “If Donald Trump wasn’t running, and it was Mitt Romney versus Joe Biden, I’d be endorsing Mitt Romney,” he said. “And I probably wouldn’t be public about it.”
Pfeiffer, who served five presidents dating to Ronald Reagan, said he sees himself as nonpartisan, so much so that endorsing a candidate feels like “an unnatural act.”
Margaret Henoch, a former CIA officer who joined the agency in the Reagan administration, agreed that a public endorsement is “absolutely” unheard of for career professionals. But these are not normal times, she said.
Henoch said her endorsement is “not political.” It’s driven by a desire to restore “the stability of the country and the world and the respect for the role and function of government” in a democratic society.
Paul Rosenzweig said he was a Republican but became an independent in 2017 because “the standard-bearer for my party no longer represented the values that I think the party should stand for.”
“Even though I am sure I will disagree with much of what [Biden] does, I am also certain that the overall result will be far superior under Biden than under Trump,” said Rosenzweig, who served as a senior policy adviser at the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush and as a senior counsel to Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr in the Clinton administration.
James R. Clapper Jr., a former director of national intelligence who entered government service in the Kennedy administration and retired in 2017, has voted “both ways” in federal elections. He considers himself a “Democrat domestically and a Republican in the foreign and national security realm.”
He, too, said he would vote for Biden. “I just think he would represent, if elected, a restoration of normality to the country,” said Clapper, a retired Air Force lieutenant general who served in five Democratic and five Republican administrations.
If this election turns out to be just between a self-proclaimed socialist and an undiagnosed sociopath, we will be in a terrible, terrible place as a country. How do we prevent that?
That’s all I am thinking about right now. My short answer is that the Democrats have to do something extraordinary — forge a national unity ticket the likes of which they have never forged before. And that’s true even if Democrats nominate someone other than Bernie Sanders.
What would this super ticket look like? Well, I suggest Sanders — and Michael Bloomberg, who seems to be his most viable long-term challenger — lay it out this way:
“I want people to know that if I am the Democratic nominee these will be my cabinet choices — my team of rivals. I want Amy Klobuchar as my vice president. Her decency, experience and moderation will be greatly appreciated across America and particularly in the Midwest. I want Mike Bloomberg (or Bernie Sanders) as my secretary of the Treasury. Our plans for addressing income inequality are actually not that far apart, and if we can blend them together it will be great for the country and reassure markets. I want Joe Biden as my secretary of state. No one in our party knows the world better or has more credibility with our allies than Joe. I will ask Elizabeth Warren to serve as health and human services secretary. No one could bring more energy and intellect to the task of expanding health care for more Americans than Senator Warren.
“I want Kamala Harris for attorney general. She has the toughness and integrity needed to clean up the corrupt mess Donald Trump has created in our Justice Department. I would like Mayor Pete as homeland security secretary; his intelligence and military background would make him a quick study in that job. I would like Tom Steyer to head a new cabinet position: secretary of national infrastructure. We’re going to rebuild America, not just build a wall on the border with Mexico. And I am asking Cory Booker, the former mayor of Newark, to become secretary of housing and urban development. Who would bring more passion to the task of revitalizing our inner cities than Cory?
“I am asking Mitt Romney to be my commerce secretary. He is the best person to promote American business and technology abroad — and it is vital that the public understands that my government will be representing all Americans, including Republicans. I would like Andrew Yang to be energy secretary, overseeing our nuclear stockpile and renewable energy innovation. He’d be awesome.
“I am asking Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to serve as our U.N. ambassador. Can you imagine how our international standing would improve with youth worldwide with her representing next-gen America? And I want Senator Michael Bennet, the former superintendent of the Denver Public Schools, to be my secretary of education. No one understands education reform better than he does. Silicon Valley Congressman Ro Khanna would be an ideal secretary of labor, balancing robots and workers to create “new collar” jobs.
“Finally, I am asking William H. McRaven, the retired Navy admiral who commanded the U.S. Special Operations Command from 2011 to 2014 and oversaw the 2011 Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden, to be my defense secretary. Admiral McRaven, more than any other retired military officer, has had the courage and integrity to speak out against the way President Trump has politicized our intelligence agencies.
Only last week, McRaven wrote an essay in The Washington Post decrying Trump’s firing of Joe Maguire as acting director of national intelligence — the nation’s top intelligence officer — for doing his job when he had an aide brief a bipartisan committee of Congress on Russia’s renewed efforts to tilt our election toward Trump.
“Edmund Burke,” wrote McRaven, “the Irish statesman and philosopher, once said: ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’”
If Bernie or Bloomberg or whoever emerges to head the Democratic ticket brings together such a team of rivals, I am confident it will defeat Trump in a landslide. But if progressives think they can win without the moderates — or the moderates without the progressives — they are crazy. And they’d be taking a huge risk with the future of the country by trying.
And I mean a huge risk. Back in May 2018, the former House speaker John Boehner declared: “There is no Republican Party. There’s a Trump party. The Republican Party is kind of taking a nap somewhere.”
It’s actually not napping anymore. It’s dead.
And I will tell you the day it died. It was just last week, when Trump sacked Maguire for advancing the truth and replaced him with a loyalist, an incompetent political hack, Richard Grenell. Grenell is the widely disliked U.S. ambassador to Germany, a post for which he is also unfit. Grenell is now purging the intelligence service of Trump critics. How are we going to get unvarnished, nonpolitical intelligence analysis when the message goes out that if your expert conclusions disagree with Trump’s wishes, you’re gone?
I don’t accept, but can vaguely understand, Republicans’ rallying around Trump on impeachment. But when Republicans, the self-proclaimed national security party — folks like Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton — don’t lift a finger to stop Trump’s politicization of our first line of defense — the national intelligence directorate set up after 9/11 — then the Republican Party is not asleep. It’s dead and buried.
And that is why a respected, nonpartisan military intelligence professional like Bill McRaven felt compelled to warn what happens when good people are silent in the face of evil. Our retired generals don’t go public like that very often. But he was practically screaming, “This is a four-alarm fire, a category 5 hurricane.” And the G.O.P. response? Silence.
Veteran political analyst E.J. Dionne, in his valuable new book, “Code Red: How Progressives and Moderates Can Unite to Save Our Country,” got this exactly right: We have no responsible Republican Party anymore. It is a deformed Trump personality cult. If the country is going to be governed responsibly, that leadership can come only from Democrats and disaffected Republicans courageous enough to stand up to Trump. It is crucial, therefore, argues Dionne, that moderate and progressive Democrats find a way to build a governing coalition together.
Neither can defeat the other. Neither can win without the other. Neither can govern without the other.
If they don’t join together — if the Democrats opt for a circular firing squad — you can kiss the America you grew up in goodbye.
Though it won’t be remembered as a classic Christmas movie such as “Elf” or “Die Hard,” “Bombshell” richly deserves your time this holiday season. It tells the sordid story of how powerful men at Fox News tried to gain sexual favors from some young women in exchange for professional advancement. At the drama’s center is the lardaceous, lecherous, loathsome Roger Ailes, who once ruled the conservative world from behind a bodyguard of enablers, before Gretchen Carlson, Megyn Kelly and other courageous women exposed his predation.
My first reaction to the movie was to suppress a gag reflex at the thought of Ailes with his zipper down (which is, mercifully, implied, not shown). I was also struck by the fact that the single most influential conservative institution of the past few decades was run by men who combined social Darwinism and the Playboy philosophy, resulting in the survival of the scummiest. Millions of conservatives, including religious and family-values conservatives, absorbed their view of the world from a source characterized by misogyny, cruelty, immorality and contempt for the powerless.
It is in this context that the recent commentary by Mark Galli in Christianity Today calling for President Trump’s removal from office should be read. Here, in contrast to Fox News, is an institution trying to use a specifically Christian lens to examine the president’s conduct in office. Galli argues that cheating to influence a presidential election is not merely a threat to the Constitution but also “profoundly immoral.” Trump’s lies and slanders on Twitter are “a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.” The corruption and cruelty of the president and those around him have “rendered this administration morally unable to lead.”
Trump’s swift, disproportionate, mendacious response to the editorial — falsely accusing Christianity Today of a leftist slant and promising he would never again read a magazine he has likely never read before — indicates how crucial to his political survival he believes lockstep evangelical Christian support to be. The president’s most visible evangelical Christian supporters — doing their best to mimic Trump’s tone and approach — brayed in agreement. And some conservative writers were highly critical of the editorial. My colleague Hugh Hewitt pronounced himself “bewildered” that anyone would “seek an absolutist political opinion from a website about evangelical faith.” “Whether Trump is good or bad for the republic isn’t a theological question,” said Hewitt. “It is a political one.”
Evangelical institutions such as Christianity Today, in other words, should be content to stay in their lane. They should defer to the political experts. Like Fox News. Like conservative talk radio. Like conspiratorial Internet sites. Wouldn’t it be easier for all involved if evangelical Christians simply accepted the proposition that a political coalition with ethnonationalists, led by a malicious, immoral buffoon, is good for the cause of justice and for the cause of Christ? Isn’t it obvious that the appointment of conservative judges should satisfy all the other moral convictions of Christian citizens?
This, after all, isn’t a theological matter. It isn’t a theological matter that evangelical Christians — influenced by conservative media and white identity politics — have become the religious group most hostile to refugee resettlement and most supportive of a policy of family separation at the border. It isn’t a theological matter that loyalty to Trump is making an older generation of evangelical Christians look like crude hypocrites in the eyes of their own children, who are fleeing the tradition in droves.
From the perspective of Trump partisans, a less carnal version of the Ailes arrangement still applies. Evangelical Christians will be given rhetorical deference, White House access and judges and regulations of their liking. All they need to do is set aside their criticisms of cruelty, deception, misogyny, racism and contempt for the vulnerable. All they need to do is forget decency and moral consistency.
From the standpoint of committed evangelical Christians, the calculus should be more complex. Christians are called to be representatives of God’s kingdom in the life of this world. Betraying that role not only hurts the reputation of evangelicalism; it does a nasty disservice to the reputation of the Gospel. It is time, and past time, for Christian believers to listen to Christian sources on Christian social ethics, including the small, clear voice of Christianity Today.