Is there a Republican willing to go into 'the wilderness' like Churchill?

Is there a Republican willing to go into 'the wilderness' like Churchill?
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In biographer Andrew Roberts’ outstanding book, “Churchill: Walking with Destiny,” most Americans will recognize the Winston Churchill of the war years and the elder statesman who warned us about the Iron Curtain. But if there was a period in the Briton’s political career that has more resonance for our contemporary political epoch, it is the period between the world wars when Churchill was in his so-called “wilderness years,” out of government from 1931 until he returned to the War Cabinet in 1939 as First Lord of the Admiralty. The fact there was a war cabinet at all reflected the reality that Churchill was right about Hitler and the Nazis all along, while Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement had failed utterly in stopping German expansionism.


The jury is still out whether President TrumpDonald TrumpGOP grapples with chaotic Senate primary in Pennsylvania ​​Trump social media startup receives commitment of billion from unidentified 'diverse group' of investors Iran thinks it has the upper hand in Vienna — here's why it doesn't MORE has fundamentally moved the Republican Party toward a more populist platform, but there are some within the GOP who believe that elements of “Trumpism” should be opposed as vigorously as Churchill railed against appeasement.  Churchill positioned himself to be a war leader and prime minister by steadfastly standing for positions at variance from the prevailing policies of the day — policies that proved to be a direct threat to the sovereignty of the nation and the destruction of the Commonwealth.

Are any of today’s Republican leaders in the United States willing to go into the wilderness?

During those years, Churchill truly was on the outside looking in. His constant bang, bang, banging of the drums about Hitler and Germany’s rise was unwelcome even within the Tory Party. If there had been a vote in 1938 in Parliament over confronting the Nazis or continuing peace efforts, Churchill could have counted on no more than two or three votes of support.  

The son of Lord Randolph Churchill and grandson of a famous duke, Churchill sought fame early and truly did consider himself a person with a glorious destiny. At 16, he told a schoolmate that his fate would be to save London from destruction. He was a man in a hurry and, as young men in a hurry often do, he made some serious errors of judgment along the way — errors that dogged him throughout his career. He never lost faith in himself, however, and stuck to some core principles throughout his political career that often placed him outside the mainstream of whatever party to which he belonged at the time.

Churchill took the biggest of political gambles by constantly criticizing his party leaders on the biggest issue of the day: how to deter or defeat German aggression. The media sneered at him, his party ridiculed him, his social standing was put at risk, and (most important to Churchill) he was in danger of being on the wrong side of history.

His anti-appeasement speeches were erudite, rhetorically effective, witty and barbed, and reflected a deep understanding of European history. Many of his most ardent critics and naysayers never would go walkabout when Churchill had the floor at Commons. And though he may have been a pariah within his party, he often extended his hand in friendship to those who publicly opposed him. For many years, Churchill and several of his friends met regularly at the Savoy Hotel’s Pinafore Room. Many members of the “Other Club,” as it was dubbed, were friends in Churchill’s orbit. But the multi-course dinners with champagne, wine, port and cigars usually contained individuals whose political positions were at great variance from Churchill and his pals. Churchill never let politics deter him from friendship and camaraderie. Needless to say, he found many of these individuals immensely useful as prime minister in the war years.

In our era of hyper-partisanship, is there a Republican with the moxie and foresight to break bread regularly with party members — even Democrats — and share ideas about how best to lead our nation?  


Is there a Republican with the courage to wander in the wilderness for half a generation in counterpoise to the present Republican populist status quo and eventually return the party — and the nation — to principles more traditionally held by the GOP? Is there someone willing to face outrageous tweets and arrows launched their way and shrug them off with good humor, wit and a hide as thick as a bull elephant? Does anyone have the discipline, indefatigable spirit and intellectual heft and courage to speak, write, cajole, arm-twist, network and — most importantly — persuade first the party faithful and then the country that fiscal responsibility, ethical behavior, working with allies to oppose common foes, a commitment to education at all levels, and robust capitalism that thrives in a system dedicated to fairness, innovation and support to the middle class over cronyism and unbridled corporate influence wins the day?

There is no orator today who uses the English language as effectively as Churchill. (I posit he would have been a master tweeter.) There are other characteristics that would serve present-day pols well, however: Patience and great, unwavering confidence that you will walk with destiny.  Churchill never had to take a step back and identify his core principles. His social and economic beliefs, inherited from his father, were democratic and progressive for the day.

Many Republicans today are just playing small ball, trying to keep the party in power and fending off the charging Democrats. OK, that’s what parties do.

Is there an existential threat to the United States akin to what Britain faced in World War II? Probably not, or at least not something as immediate. Nations evolve, and if ever there were a nation structured to change with the times it is the United States. My worldview is colored by the many years I spent abroad, living in seven countries and traveling to dozens more while representing our nation. We made mistakes, some bigger than others, but we had an advantage: Our house was built on a rock. Our foundation was democratic ideals, the strong walls were the product of hard work, capital and a solid legal system, and the roof that protected us was the military and national security apparatus that had taken two centuries to complete.

But if, like Churchill, you think the party is headed down the wrong track on several key issues, time in the wilderness could be well spent.  

Mark S. Sparkman is a 30-year veteran of the CIA. He is president of Veretus Group, an investigations and strategic intelligence firm in Washington, D.C.