I’m a Republican and I Oppose Trump. Now What?

Swing voters like me could help Democrats win in 2020—but the candidates have to respect our ideas to gain our votes.

Donald Trump
Carlos Barria / Reuters

The presidential election is in full swing. If this were any other year, I’d be working to help reelect the Republican incumbent, hoping he would stay focused on advancing a solid free-market regulatory policy. I served on the campaign team for John McCain in 2008, on the economic-policy team of Mitt Romney in 2012, and on Donald Trump’s transition team in 2016, before I resigned over policy differences.

This year, my calculus is a bit more complicated. You see, last month I was the first former Trump staffer to call for his impeachment. I did so because I felt he was clearly implicated in up to 12 instances of obstruction of justice, impeding an investigation into foreign interference in a U.S. election. I spoke up because it was the right thing to do. I have received threats as a result, echoing Trump’s rhetoric about a coup, and targeting me as a coup plotter. I’m grateful that those threats were promptly and fully resolved by the same FBI the president now derides.

My judgment, shared by more than 700 former federal prosecutors (nearly half of whom joined the Department of Justice under a Republican president), is that Trump would have been indicted for obstruction of justice if he were an ordinary citizen, based on the contents of the Mueller report. It remains to be seen whether House Democrats will have the courage of their convictions and move forward with impeachment proceedings. There isn’t much more I can do on the impeachment front.

So now what? While I agree with many Democratic House members that Trump deserves to be impeached, I doubt we agree about much else. If next year’s Democratic Party platform is anything like the last, count me out on the overwhelming majority of it. No thanks.

On the other hand, it’s not like Trump is the reincarnation of Bill Buckley or Milton Friedman either. Quite the opposite: He’s a carnival-barking reality-television star who’d never really contemplated conservative principles until he was in his 70s.

On some important policy issues, such as trade and immigration, he is diametrically opposed to core free-market principles. On the other issues, he’s done better—for instance, he’s had success in nominating originalist judges who respect the Constitution. But how long will that last? He’s been open about his disdain for former White House Counsel Don McGahn, who was credited with channeling a conservative perspective to the president on judicial nominations.

If the Democratic Party is smart enough to nominate a moderate candidate who is respectful of Republican ideas, voters like me will have an opportunity to become an important part of the coalition that gets a candidate elected to replace Trump. And if we do, we will have a seat at the table throughout the first term.

As I consider voting for a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time in my life, I also take heart in the fact that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is likely to remain in charge of the Senate after the 2020 election. This is the part where many readers who share my criticism of Trump might grow frustrated. But I’m a Republican. Or, more to the point, I’m a libertarian who identifies more with the Republican Party than with the Democratic Party.

I do not see any inconsistency between my support both of McConnell and his Republican caucus in the Senate and of a moderate Democrat such as Vice President Joe Biden for president in 2020. I believe in the vision of the Founders, of three equal branches of government serving as checks on one another, which is limited when one party controls both the White House and the legislative branch.

McConnell would actually have more freedom to push for spending reform with a Democrat in the White House, liberated from Trump’s free-spending ways and the need to help his caucus ride his electoral coattails.

It appears that the majority of Republican primary voters remain enthralled with the cult of Trump. While I’m tempted to cast my vote on a third-party candidate or a Republican primary challenger, the history of such efforts, particularly when mounted against a sitting president, suggests that would be a complete waste.

Republican swing voters could be a formidable force in the 2020 elections, much like the “Reagan Democrats” who helped push President Reagan to victory. According to the Roper Center, only 6 percent of Republicans voted for Barack Obama in 2012, but 9 percent of Republicans voted for Obama in his historic election in 2008. I was certainly not among the Republicans voting for a Democratic candidate in either of those elections, but I might be in 2020.

I’m not the only one in that position. Polls in recent months have suggested that 8 to 12 percent of Republican voters disapprove of Trump. As the Mueller report continues to be digested by Republican voters, and its details are illuminated by continued congressional hearings, those numbers will likely continue to grow. It wouldn’t take many more defections to produce an epic defeat for the president.

Some of the Democratic Party’s primary candidates have a record of bipartisanship and of respectful dialogue with Republicans, including Biden, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar. Biden recently took a risk by extending an olive branch to Republicans, emphasizing that Trump is an obstacle to bipartisan cooperation. “The thing that will fundamentally change things is, with Donald Trump out of the White House—not a joke—you will see an epiphany occur among many of my Republican friends,” he said. I admire the character of that statement, which has done him no favors in the primary.

McConnell and Biden are old friends and have a mutual personal respect. I can appreciate those bipartisan friendships; during my time working on Capitol Hill, I have made many personal friends on the other side of the aisle. In the era of Trump, those friendships have become ever more important and challenging to maintain. I think Biden is spot-on: The post-Trump era of healing can be bipartisan if the Democrats nominate someone with bipartisan character. McConnell and a moderate Democrat in the mold of Biden could work together both to negotiate bipartisan compromises and to check the excesses of either party.

When the dust has settled in the Democratic primary, Republicans like me will be here waiting. We will be watching the candidates, and we will remember what they have said. And they might just earn our votes in the general election if they keep an open mind about us and our principled approach to policy as they navigate their party’s primary.