On the night of the Indiana primary, shortly after Ted Cruz had announced the suspension of his presidential campaign, I found myself browsing the voter registration section of a Colorado state government website. By the time Donald Trump was on television, accepting the title of presumptive Republican nominee and praising his former rival (whose father he’d linked to the JFK assassination just hours earlier), I had figured out how to change my political party affiliation.
Switching from “Republican” to “Unaffiliated” was surprisingly easy, and I’m not simply referring to the user-friendliness of the website that facilitated it. My 16-year long relationship with the party — one that had lasted through 9/11, the Iraq War, the Great Recession (and its anemic recovery), and two terms of Obama — had come to an end. And for some reason, it didn’t hurt. In fact, I felt more politically empowered than I have in some time.
I really hadn’t expected to take things that far. Months ago, I had decided that I couldn’t bring myself to vote for Trump, should he become the Republican nominee; his chronic dishonesty and lack of principles, relevant knowledge, and common decency forbade it from happening. But I wasn’t quite ready to take my frustrations out on the GOP itself, even with some of the most influential conservative pundits in the country running shameless ideological interference for the man.
Most of the base had rejected the carnival barker’s vulgarian dogma, deeming it disqualifying for the party of Lincoln and Reagan. That was a good thing, and it was encouraging to see a majority of Republicans (including its leaders) refuse to relinquish the party’s platform and dignity to a candidate who had no regard for either.
When Trump proposed a ban on Muslim immigrants, I was proud of Speaker Paul Ryan for standing up and publicly saying that it was wrong, and that it didn’t reflect the values of the party. When Trump dishonestly trashed Colorado’s caucus system and those who participated in it (which included me) as being corrupt, I was proud of party leaders like Senator Cory Gardner and even Reince Priebus, who outright denounced the lies and shot down the narrative.
But as the weeks went by, and I began to see more and more conservative nobles and prominent voices shelve the principles they had long espoused, in favor of a fair-weather ride on the Trump Train, I could see the writing on the wall. When primary states finally began to award Trump a majority of votes, rather than a plurality, I realized that there was no recourse. An unscrupulous, big-government autocrat really was going to become the new leader of the GOP, and the party was going to adhere to his rules. He would be our new standard-bearer. We would own him, and the party would be responsible for all of the ugly baggage he brought.
A flood of respected Republican figures are now swallowing their pride and circling the wagons around Trump, in a show of solidarity. Some are remarkably even going out on national television and openly mocking Republican voters who’ve decided that they can’t support Trump out of principle.
Washington DC mainstays like Newt Gingrich are calling grassroots conservatives “establishment types” and “elites.” Morality preachers like Mike Huckabee are throwing out snide condemnations of those who’ve clung to their deeply held beliefs. Those two don’t matter to me a whole lot these days, but it’s a bit tougher to accept a conscientious conservative icon like Rick Perry (who just a few months ago called Trump a “cancer to conservatism”) now saying: “Can you believe those renegades who refuse to support Trump?”
This is all clear-cut, amassing evidence that I didn’t leave the party… The party left me.
Sure, Paul Ryan is doing his best to express empathy for the disenfranchised portion of the faithful, and give them a voice. He’s demonstrated that he’s not the cheap date that so many others have been. He should be commended for his resistance, not excoriated by a party that up until recently had embraced rugged individualism. I expect, however, that he’ll eventually conform to the Trump brand of Republicanism (from a campaign standpoint anyway) for the sake of a united front going into the general election. Then those who actually believe in the tenets of the party will truly be left without a leader.
We can of course pretend that the regular rules of election-year party unity will apply to the Trump nomination. That timeless tradition of pinching one’s nose and voting for the lesser of two evils typically makes sense. This year, however, is different. Trump rose to the top of the field by successfully harnessing the very real anger of the base, and riding on a wholesale defeat of the Republican status quo. The problem is that he did so by pouring sugar on much of the same Democratic Party garbage that Republicans have been spoon-fed (and grown sick off of) for the past eight years.
If Trump were to somehow manage to pull off what was once thought impossible, and actually beat Hillary Clinton in November, what exactly would the GOP have accomplished? What would be granted to a Republican Party that had for eight years stringently opposed Barack Obama on just about everything?
Will Republican voters have achieved a victory in their rejection back in 2008 of a grossly ill-prepared, political demagogue offering only slogans and ridiculous promises, and attributing the worst possible of intentions to his opponents? Will they have been vindicated in their resistance to a man who won on his personality rather than substance — a man who was treated by the media as a celebrity instead of a serious presidential candidate? No. They will have just helped elect the same type of person.
Will they have achieved a victory in their strong objections to the ever expanding size of government and the $9 trillion added to the national debt under Obama? No. They will have just helped elect a man who had run on a platform of not touching entitlements (the major drivers of our debt), and greatly expanding the size of our military.
Will they have achieved a victory in their unwavering resistance to Obamacare? No. They will have just helped elect a man who has long expressed great admiration for single-payer systems, and advocated just last September for universal healthcare, saying that he’s “going to take care of everybody” and that “the government’s gonna pay for it.”
Will they have been proven right in their condemnations of Obama’s dangerous naivety on foreign policy, and the administration’s narcissistic micromanaging of military operations? No. They will have just helped elect a man who has demonstrated a breathtaking unwillingness to educate himself in the foreign policy arena, while literally insisting that he “knows more about ISIS than the generals do.”
Will they have prevented liberal Supreme Court justices from taking the bench? I suppose it’s possible, but I would highly doubt it. They will have just helped elect a man who thinks eminent domain is “wonderful,” wants to limit the press’s First Amendment rights, wants to put a religious litmus test on immigrants, and has demonstrated far stronger opposition to gun rights than any Republican nominee in my lifetime. Are we really supposed to believe the he, as president, will nominate liberty-loving, conservative constitutionalists to the Supreme Court? There’s no reason at all to buy that.
Yet, this is the platform and the individual that Republicans and conservatives are now supposed to rally behind in November. This is the candidate that we’re supposed to “get in line, take the medicine” for, as one Fox News pundit recently put it.
I’m sorry, but with Donald Trump being the new medicine for the Republican Party, I felt compelled to change pharmacists. And I’m convinced that the decision has put me on the path to healing.
Catch you later, GOP. Give me a call once you’ve returned to your senses.