In light of the recent defections from the GOP, including Republican Party stalwarts, George Will and Steve Schmidt, I was compelled to reprint this October, 2016 essay explaining my personal break with the GOP. As disgusted as I was at the time, I would never have predicted we would be where we are at this moment. I imagine Will and Schmidt would sadly agree.
Dear Grand Old Party,
I am leaving you. And please be clear, this is not about me; it’s you. I’m sorry that it had to end this way, but you give me no choice.
I was raised in a Republican household, and was 21 in 1980 when I voted for Ronald Reagan in my first presidential election. Being aware of my responsibilities as a voter, I was careful to consider both the issues and the candidates’ qualifications. In each election, I voted for the person who I believed, at the time, to be the best choice for our country; in most instances, that was a Republican.
Over the years, I watched as the GOP changed. Long a party of many voices, I noticed certain ones getting louder. During the 1980’s the Religious Right began to dominate conversations and issues central to the party. Focus seemed to shift from policy to emotionally charged social issues. I found this trend troubling.
At about the same time, talk radio was growing in popularity. Angry sounding hosts (Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Michael Savage, to name a few) shouted and bullied from radio speakers across the country, offering to listeners a smorgasbord of grievances over which to become worked up. The corruption of the American education system, imminent loss of 2nd Amendment rights, and mainstream media bias were just a few items listed on the extensive talk radio complaint menu.
The new media format, while adept at identifying contentious issues, appeared less concerned with problem solving than with stirring up rage and resentment in its listeners. Egged on by talk show hosts who neither demonstrated nor encouraged civil discourse, the largely Republican audience learned to direct its collective fury at “enemy” political opponents.
The character of the Republican Party was experiencing a rapid transformation. I felt increasingly alienated by the black and white thinking and the “us versus them” mentality of the GOP. I grew weary of the Religious Right’s agenda. And, worst of all, I was horrified by the blood sport politics had become, largely as a consequence of uncivil and boorish behavior aimed at political rivals.
Then at the 2008 Republican National Convention, Presidential nominee John McCain announced his selection of the ridiculously uninformed and unqualified Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential running mate. Not many knew at the time, and some didn’t care, how spectacularly ill-suited she was for the job. But when it became abundantly apparent to most that she was far from competent, many conservatives continued to support her, even after Barak Obama and Joe Biden decisively won that election.
Shortly following the Palin debacle came the Tea Party Movement, an amalgam of loosely organized conservative groups of fundamentalist Constitutionalists and Christians. Though the vast majority of Tea Party participants were Republican, members of the movement shunned the party’s hierarchy and its traditional approach to leadership. Sarah Palin, regardless of having been a major player in the sinking of John McCain’s presidential hopes, was a Tea Party darling. No one much cared about her lack of knowledge or experience. She was sassy, loud, and uncompromisingly sure of her views, qualities highly valued by Tea Partiers.
As significant, with regard to the Tea Party’s growing differences with the Republican Party, was its members’ repeated strident denouncements of the legitimacy of American institutions. That radical message and the shrill tones in which it was delivered, predictably further contributed to the divided and volatile Republican Party we have today.
It is now 2016. And that the GOP has selected the astoundingly ignorant and bombastic Donald Trump as its presidential nominee should surprise no one. It seems almost inevitable. Like Sarah Palin and her ilk, Trump “tells it like it is.” It’s not just the message, but the absolute acerbic verbosity with which it is delivered that seems to resound with his followers.
Trump supporters approve that he has surrounded himself with bomb-throwing radicals, the likes of Steve Bannon of Breitbart fame, and unsavory characters such as Roger Ailes, the discredited and deposed Fox News executive. Even formerly respected Republican standard-bearer, Rudy Giuliani, has boarded the Trump train. But this is not the Giuliani whose inspired leadership helped New York City rise from the ashes of 9-11. Trump’s Giuliani seems to have gone all Tea Party in both tone and message, presumably acquiescing to the expectations of his audience.
And Trump supporters love it. Every pronouncement (the meaner, the better) is greeted with raucous applause and approval. This group, long convinced of its mistreatment and disenfranchisement by the enemy establishment, believes Donald Trump when he tells them he is the only one who can make it all better. Trump’s burn-the-house-down rhetoric and his supporters’ unruly and unqualified acceptance of anything the candidate proclaims is truly frightening.
The Trump campaign is a farce. It’s an embarrassing and dangerous joke. But the joke’s on us, the American people. And the Republican Party bears much of the responsibility for what is happening. I am especially disappointed in the cowardly party leaders who, while understanding the peril a Trump presidency would present, choose to remain silent for fear of losing power.
So, my dear Grand Old Party, I am leaving you. You’ve lost my respect; you’ve lost my trust; you’ve lost my vote. I’m sorry it had to end this way, but you gave me no choice.