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Brett J. Talley: Trump ran successful race despite Never Trump opposition in GOP

Trump will need support of those Republicans to accomplish his policy goals, he says

Editor’s Note: Brett J. Talley is a lawyer, author, one-time writer for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign and former speechwriter for Sen. Rob Portman. He is deputy solicitor general at the office of Alabama’s attorney general. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN) —  

If Republicans still need reasons to unite behind President-elect Donald Trump, the next few days should provide plenty. This week, Democrats are busy slandering Sen. Jeff Sessions – their friend and colleague of 20 years – as a racist and a bigot, essentially re-enacting Hillary Clinton’s “irredeemable deplorables” attack, albeit on a smaller, more personal scale.

The poster child for this approach is Sen. Cory Booker who, in a dramatic breach with tradition, will testify against Sessions’ confirmation because of the latter’s “deeply troubling views.” Which is weird, given that just last year Booker worked with Sessions to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the Selma civil rights marchers, gushing that he felt “blessed and honored to have partnered with Sen. Sessions” on the project. What a difference an election makes.

Brett J. Talley
PHOTO: Courtesy Brett Talley
Brett J. Talley

It won’t end with Sessions. In the weeks to come, Democrats will oppose Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos, primarily for her dogged support of charter schools, and they will attack future EPA Director Scott Pruitt for having the temerity to believe people should be able to debate climate change without fear of prosecution. And then there’s the Supreme Court, where Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has already promised to block any Trump nominee, sight unseen.

It’s not breaking news that this election was divisive for the Republican Party. At one point, some in the Never Trump camp were calling for the expulsion of Trump and his supporters from the party altogether. But a funny thing happened on the way to the purge – Trump won.

To his credit and to the ultimate benefit of the nation, Trump has been far more conciliatory toward his erstwhile opponents than they would have been had Clinton won. And for the most part, they have responded by joining his team. Trump tapped South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley for the important role of ambassador to the United Nations, and by all reports, Mitt Romney was high on Trump’s list for secretary of state. And Trump has welcomed into his transition longtime campaign staffers and consultants who only a few months ago worked to defeat him.

This coming together of the party has been driven by Trump himself. Trump did not transform into a liberal the moment Clinton conceded, as many in the Never Trump camp warned he would. Instead, he has continued to champion the same conservative ideals that won him so much grass-roots support.

On the domestic side, Trump has promised tax reform, regulatory reform and a secure border. On the international front, even as President Barack Obama and John Kerry seemed hell-bent on destroying our relationship with Israel, Trump has urged calm, assuring our most important ally in the Middle East that Israel will once again have an unwavering friend in the United States in only a matter of weeks. Trump has promised to rebuild our military, with retired Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis at the helm. And judging by the level of opposition his Cabinet choices are receiving, Trump did pretty well there, too.

But before we all gather around the fire and sing “Kumbaya,” there’s still much work to be done. While Never Trump didn’t mean never for many, holdouts remain, particularly in conservative media. Whether at The Wall Street Journal, the National Review, The Washington Post or in the feeds of millions of Twitter followers, their voices matter – more for what they don’t say than what they do. It’s not as if the left ever intended to allow Trump a political honeymoon. He was always going to face attacks by Democrats and their allies. What Trump needs now is for smart, principled people to push back. He needs his own echo in the echo chamber.

It’s true that Trump did just fine without that kind of support during the campaign. But that success was based on the sheer power of his personality. Governing is different than campaigning. If Trump wants to accomplish his goals, he’ll need to convince a skittish and often skeptical Congress to go along with him. That job will be much more difficult if he is constantly fending off attacks from his own political base – or if that same base is silent in the face of the Democratic political machine.

The Cabinet fights that are ramping up are simply a preview of things to come. Democrats aren’t attacking Sessions because they actually believe he is a racist. If that were true, Booker wouldn’t have been cozying up to him only a year ago. Rather, Democrats don’t like Sessions because he’s conservative. He’ll do things such as enforce our laws on immigration and illegal drugs, a dramatic change from Obama’s Department of Justice. But the left recognizes that the American people are actually pretty fond of the rule of law: Enter the race card.

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Republicans must reply to these charges in kind. We need more moments like when William Smith – the first African-American Republican chief counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee – took to CNN to defend Sessions. If the American people only hear one side of the story, that’s the side they are likely to believe.

Never Trump Republicans need not abandon their principles to do their part. There will be debates to come – on trade, on spending, on national defense. But conservatives are also presented with an opportunity to reform the government, to implement good policies, and, yes, to make America great again. But it will only happen if conservatives are willing to swallow their pride and support a president they don’t always like and with whom they haven’t always agreed.

Because I can promise you this: The Democrats are ready for a fight.