Former Republican nominees call for a principled conservatism.

You don’t have to love Bush, McCain, or Romney to heed their words.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Alex Wong/Getty Images, William Thomas Cain/Getty Images, and Alex Wong/Getty Images.

On Monday, Sen. John McCain denounced President Trump’s philosophy, agenda, and conduct. On Thursday, former President George W. Bush did the same thing. Neither mentioned Trump by name, but their target was clear. They echoed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who spoke out against Trump last year. These three indictments, issued by the men who represented the GOP in the four elections leading up to Trump’s, are more than ghosts of a dead party. They point toward an alternative vision of conservatism.

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

You don’t have to love Bush, McCain, or Romney to heed their words. You don’t even have to be Republican. Maybe you think that the Iraq war was worse than anything Trump has done, or that McCain is a blowhard, or that Romney is a hypocrite for sucking up after Trump was elected. But there’s going to be a conservative party in this country, and some kinds of conservatism are better than others. At its best, conservatism stands for morality and freedom. Trump stands for neither. We’ll be a better country if our conservative party listens to Bush, McCain, and Romney, not to Trump.

Trump speaks of Americans as a people who share a language, guard a border, and bleed the same blood. The white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, two months ago parroted him—and the Third Reich—by chanting “blood and soil.” McCain sees us differently. “We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil,” the senator argued.

Without mentioning anyone by name, McCain called the empty nationalism of Trump and Steve Bannon “spurious” and “unpatriotic.” The United States “wouldn’t deserve” to “thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent,” he said. Victory for our country, at the expense of its values, would be worthless.

Bush, too, spoke of “the DNA of American idealism”:

Our identity as a nation—unlike many other nations—is not determined by geography or ethnicity, by soil or blood. … We become the heirs of Thomas Jefferson by accepting the ideal of human dignity found in the Declaration…

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