I’m Not Leaving the Republican Party

It will take a long time to clean up after Donald Trump, but the GOP is still best suited to lead the country.

Eric Thayer / Reuters

I wasn’t born a Republican—I became one. My parents were ’60s hippies whom I vaguely remember celebrating the election of Jimmy Carter; I was enamored with Bill Clinton in 1992; to me, George H. W. Bush was one of those “old people” who didn’t understand what was going on in the world. But I came to disagree with Democrats on matters of taxation and spending, and I rejected the idea that the government is best at solving problems. So, in 1994, I cheered when the GOP took control of both the House and the Senate for the first time in 40 years.

Now, nearly a quarter century later, after a lot of ups and downs, good candidates and bad, I’m not going to let Donald Trump force me out of the Republican Party.

The GOP was never perfect. It never will be perfect.

But not too long ago we had in Mitt Romney a party leader of great character. Like many other Republicans, I thought he had a good shot at winning in 2012. Then Romney’s campaign allowed the Democrats to define an obviously honorable man as a bloodsucking oligarch who was once a high-school bully, caused a woman to get cancer, and tortured dogs like some twisted version of Clark Griswold.

After Romney’s loss and before Trump’s win, the GOP didn’t change much, but the base of the party did. Republican voters became increasingly hostile to the “establishment,” which they perceived as having capitulated to President Barack Obama. I often heard it said that the “establishment” didn’t fight, that they gave Obama “everything he wanted” in budget deals.

That view of GOP leadership, along with the perception among many once-liberal constituencies that the Democratic Party took them for granted, led to the nomination and election of Trump.

I have no love for Trump. As someone who grew up in Queens and lived in the New York City area throughout the 1980s and 1990s, I was well aware of his schtick long before he hit the national political stage. I was disgusted that he made his bones resurrecting the absurd Obama birther conspiracy. In 2014, long before anyone had heard of the Never Trump movement, I wrote a blog post imploring conservatives to stop playing footsie with Trump and tell him to get lost. In December of 2015, while writing for RedState, I listed five reasons why I wouldn’t vote for Trump if he was the GOP nominee. Like many others, I thought Trump wouldn’t make it past the primaries, but I was wrong, and I kept my word.

After Trump’s inauguration, I didn’t become a blind Trump partisan, defending him at every turn, nor did I become a blind Trump critic, opposing him at every turn.

I supported the GOP health-care plan. I supported the GOP tax-cut package. I supported moving the embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. But I’ve criticized Trump’s attacks on the press, on the Justice Department, on the FBI, and on Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Whatever good comes from specific policies, Trump has inflicted wounds on the GOP that will take a long time to heal. His horrific trade policies, his general ignorance of world affairs, particularly his embrace of strongmen and dictators at the expense of our true allies, and his overall temperament and demeanor have left the GOP in a bad place.

But I am not about to abandon the party as a result, let alone vote for Democrats in Congress, as some conservatives have pledged to do in the near term. George Will, Max Boot, Tom Nichols, and others have said they will back Democrats as a necessary step in saving our democracy from Trump.

The anti-Trump extremists have apparently determined that criticizing the president is no longer good enough—anyone who cares about our democracy must now actively thwart the whole Republican Party. Supporting GOP legislation, voting for GOP lawmakers, or supporting Republican judicial nominees is viewed as “enabling” the president. This mind-set led them to oppose Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

For me, the Kavanaugh story had nothing to do with Trump. It had to do with vengeful Democrats, hell-bent on doing all they could to stop Kavanaugh from getting confirmed in the hope that if they gained control of the Senate, they could keep the seat of retired Justice Anthony Kennedy vacant until after the 2020 election.

And yet some conservatives supported the Democrats’ antics, even as Democratic lawmakers embarrassed themselves by cross-examining Kavanaugh over quotes in his high-school yearbook. And some—including Tom Nichols, in The Atlantic—criticized Senator Susan Collins, who showed true leadership in her speech explaining why she was voting for Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

Collins spoke of the Senate’s role to advise and consent. She spoke of Alexander Hamilton and The Federalist Papers. More important, she went into detail about Kavanaugh’s judicial rulings during his 12 years on the D.C. circuit court.

Nichols listened to Collins’s speech, and his takeaway was that the Republican Party “now exists for one reason, and one reason only: for the exercise of raw political power.” I listened to the same speech and concluded that Collins was reasonable and levelheaded. She reaffirmed my belief that Republicans, not Democrats, are best suited to lead the GOP, and the country, out of the Trump era.

It’s not just Collins. I trust Senators Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, James Lankford, and Tim Scott; Governor Brian Sandoval, Congresswoman Kristi Noem, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley; and other like-minded, conservative Republicans more than any Democrat.

The historian Jon Meacham told me that he believes the country is in the midst of answering a major economic and cultural question: “How do we deal with globalization and how do we deal with automation and technological advances that are replacing people in many job functions?’”

I believe the Republican Party has the capacity to answer that question far better than the Democratic Party. The emerging leaders of the GOP can carry the mantle and vision of Ronald Reagan while understanding that the country is no longer in the era of Ronald Reagan. That’s worth fighting for. And that’s why I will stick with the GOP.