This is an edition of Up for Debate, a newsletter by Conor Friedersdorf. On Wednesdays, he rounds up timely conversations and solicits reader responses to one thought-provoking question. Later, he publishes some thoughtful replies. Sign up for the newsletter here.
Last week, I asked readers to discuss how they’re thinking about the upcoming midterm elections in the United States. I am disappointed that I didn’t hear from many current Republican voters, something that I’ve found informative in the past and that I’ll return to in future installments. I did get lots of responses from former Republicans, independents, and Democrats, and listening to them, Donald Trump seems like an albatross for the Republican Party.
Steve cast his first presidential vote for Ronald Reagan. “Until President Trump, I was a lifelong Republican,” he wrote. “My major issue is whether a candidate supports Trump. He has crushed my vision of America. If a candidate even remotely supports Trump, they will never get my vote.”
For correspondents alienated by the latest incarnation of the GOP, one issue loomed largest. “I’m an independent who was once a Republican,” Michael writes. “I left the party due to the January 6 insurrection and the GOP refusal to investigate it. The issue driving me is to defeat Trumpism.”
Barbara has different ideological priors but the same focus:
I will vote for democracy. That means I will vote for those who uphold the rule of law, meaning that no one is above the law. I will vote for those who uphold our constitutional right to choose our representatives, and vote against those who are trying to restrict voting rights, or trying to give legislators the ability to throw out votes and choose their own winners. I will vote for those who support the peaceful transfer of power and against those who reject an election because they don’t like the outcome. I will vote for legislators who work for their constituents and against those who work for their personal benefit. I will vote for legislators who uphold their oath of office.
Additionally, Barbara alluded to abortion, the issue that loomed next-largest among my correspondents, writing, “I will vote for those who support a justice system where settled precedent and established rights are not overturned based on judges’ personal and political beliefs.”
The same two issues stood out for Mark, though in a somewhat different manner. He writes:
1) I am pro-life to the core. To me, elective abortion is homicide and a loathsome evil. It can be justified only to save the life of the mother, or—as a compromise—in cases of rape or incest.
2) To me, the integrity of our Constitution, the institutions it mandates, and even our federal union is at risk. All of this has come to be because of Donald Trump, who never should have been voted in as president. This man is a criminal and for all I know either an ally or a dupe of Vladimir Putin. I will never vote for Mr. Trump. I will not knowingly vote for anyone who endorses him or his take on many positions on items such as election results.
From when I was first able to vote, in 1972, to 2016, I voted Republican nearly 100 percent. I did vote for a few (fewer than five) Democrats and regretted it every time. The issue was that of abortion, that monstrous machinery of death that Justice Harry Blackmun built on the infamous day of January 20, 1973. In particular, it was most discouraging to see Democrats proclaiming themselves to be pro-choice, including some who once were pro-life. Pro-life people were not welcome in the Democratic Party. So be it. So I voted Republican.
Things started to change when Donald Trump ran for president as a Republican. Knowing his unsavory character, I took the position that I MIGHT vote for him but if I did, it would be like eating a turd sandwich. In the spring of 2016, I moved to the position of not voting for Trump under any circumstances. I considered voting for Hillary Clinton until I saw her at the DNC pumping fists with Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood. So I didn’t vote for her or Trump in 2016. I voted for Evan McMullin. After seeing Trump’s COVID response and, worse, seeing his starting to whine about the election being stolen even before votes were cast, I made up my mind to vote for Joe Biden, which I did. I would have sat it out if ANY OTHER Democrat ran for president.
We come to the here and now.
The attempted coup of January 6, 2021, and the revelations of Trump’s involvement and, worse, the Republicans continuing to excuse Trump have made it so I will not vote for any Republican unless (like Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney), he or she denounces and renounces Trump and his positions on things like our elections, race, Putin, and other “strong leaders.” However, in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, the Democrats are apparently running EXCLUSIVELY on protecting the right to choose death before birth for babies. The Republicans have handed them so many issues on which they could run, and maybe even secure my vote: issues like protecting our elections; our republican institutions; and our foreign policy, especially concerning Russia and Ukraine. But are Democrats running on those issues? No, of course not. Rather, they are running to protect a monstrous evil of abortion. On that, I will NOT vote.
So in 2022, I might consider it my patriotic duty to stay home. I may vote for some Democrats, but there are no guarantees. I even might vote for some Republicans if I see them dropping Trump.
CG, another voter who objects to Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, is torn about whether his fellow Democrats should talk about abortion when they talk about democracy.
The most important issue to me is stopping the MAGA candidates who still promote lies about election fraud. I’m torn by how the Democratic Party has approached this election. I think abortion is a much more complex issue than a right being stripped away, and dislike that it’s such a focus this year. I think that collapsing critiques of authoritarian tendencies within Republican/conservative leaders and voters with critiques of anti-abortion, anti-gay, and anti-climate science positions cloud the issue. I also dislike spending money in Republican primaries to elevate the crazy people because they’re easier to beat. It’s so dangerous; these crazy Republican candidates might win!
On the other hand, winning in November is really important. Even normal conservatives like Senator Sasse refused to impeach Trump. Normal conservatives supported McCarthy’s submission to Trump and punished Cheney for refusing to ignore that Trump tried to use deceit, fraud, and violence to stay in power. So I’m not sure there’s much of a difference between a normal conservative in Congress and a MAGA conservative. In which case, generating turnout by focusing on the Dobbs decision makes sense. Spending money to support repugnant, but weaker general-election candidates is justified. It might also have been necessary to highlight extreme positions earlier so that these candidates could not pretend to be normal now during the general election.
Lucretia is energized by the fight to protect legal abortion:
Women’s right to bodily integrity—their place as a “person,” not just a human being—is under assault. That a party that saw the COVID vaccines as a denial of personal freedom would put itself in the position of controlling the most personal and female functions of more than half the population is a matter of mind-numbing hubris. I will vote Democratic.
I’m not usually a one-issue voter, but this year there is no contest: I will be voting for a woman’s right to control her own body. I’m 87. I remember well what life for women was like before Roe. I joined second-wave feminism in the 1970s. I marched on the National Mall. I even shook Justice Blackmun’s hand to thank him for the Supreme Court decision. I can’t believe we are having to relive what women like me fought so hard for 50 years ago.
Jen shares the same values but isn’t going to vote:
As a woman, abortion is the most important issue to me. I have never voted. I have always felt voters have never really mattered in the political system. You get only a selection of candidates pre-chosen for you, so it’s a selection, not an election. And none of the candidates seems to have the socioeconomic status of their voters, who are mostly low-income or middle-class.
James is a likely nonvoter, too:
At 35, I’ve lost all sense of political identity or ideology. I see the harms in untruths across the spectrum, and I find it difficult to be on board with anything anymore. Sanity and reason never feel like they’re on the ballot. So much of our society, across the political spectrum, appears consumed by an ever-growing movement to make an authoritarian religion out of their personal and political identity. It feels deeply wrong to me. This isn’t what a self-governing society, or life, should be about. I want to vote. I just don’t know if I can bring myself to.
Climate change is the issue Sam cares about more than any other:
It will continue to be the most important issue for the rest of our lives. It is the most important issue in the history of our species. The economy is important, but nothing is more important than the future of all life on Earth. I care about this issue not just because of my daughter, but also because of me. I hope to have 50 more years of life on this planet, and the climate situation is currently dire. If any Republicans would put forth a real plan to address climate change, I might consider voting for them. They haven’t and they won’t.
Trump alienated Marty from the Republican Party:
I am 80. I have been a registered GOP voter most of my life. I could not vote for Hillary and I never voted for Trump. I voted for Biden, unhappily, because I could not vote for Trump.
I consider myself to be conservative on fiscal matters and liberal on social matters. As a partial libertarian, my view is that people should be allowed to do what they want to do … so long as they don’t ask others to clean up their mess. There is simply no political party that represents my views. I am not in the MAGA camp. I cannot register as a Democrat because of fiscal irresponsibility and the ghastly failure of the withdrawal from Afghanistan. I will vote for Val Demings instead of Marco Rubio for the United States Senate. Unless someone like Mitt Romney is nominated for the GOP in 2024, I will most likely vote Democratic. I am appalled at the Supreme Court’s destruction of Roe v. Wade. We need to legalize abortion and work to reduce unwanted pregnancies. I strongly believe we and the West should provide Ukraine with aircraft, Western tanks, and strong air-defense systems at an accelerated level. If we gave Ukraine these weapons quickly, I believe it could truly win this war. Ukrainians are fighting and dying for all the values we claim to support, so what is the problem?
Russell is a former Republican, too:
I am 62 years old and have voted in every election since I was 18. I voted for Ronald Reagan for president twice. While it has often been said that the stakes couldn’t be higher, it is my belief that this time that is empirically true. Republicans need to lose elections at every level, nationwide, regardless of integrity, to send a clear and unmistakable message that the present-day Republican ethos is unacceptable in a democracy. Millions of Republicans state out loud that my vote for Joe Biden should not count. Apathy is no longer an option for those who claim there is no difference between the two parties, unless they really do not care if they themselves are subjugated.
Meredith is a Gen X military spouse, a practicing Christian, a political independent, and a never-Trumper. She writes:
As a voter in North Carolina, I am heavily in support of Judge Cheri Beasley for Senate and will be turning out to vote for her. Beyond the fact that her opponent is awash in Trumpism, I genuinely like her for her character, compassion, and experience within the justice system. I am hoping we will see the first African American woman to represent NC in the Senate, because she is the most qualified person to fill the seat.
I used to believe in good-faith disagreements that led to understanding and compromise and would have considered myself a moderate Republican. But I no longer find a home in either party. We independents generally understand the deeper complexity involved in policy making and avoid the shallow, reductionist views that push the margins toward extreme tribalism. I hold many priorities in tension and find it difficult selecting one overriding issue. I care as deeply about police reform as I do about better support and advocacy for veterans. I am alarmed at the rate at which our society is trending authoritarian and want to protect voting rights and access for all citizens.
Democrats might enjoy my vote for the moment, but I am not naive about the influence of power on either party. Right now, the focus is on salvaging the executive processes that buffered the trend toward extremism and reforming a declining legislative branch.
Chuck is a married father in his 50s. He writes:
I strongly believe that voting is a civic duty and have voted in pretty much every election-—special, primary, and general—since I was 18. I was raised in a Roman Catholic, country-club-Republican family and supported the Republican candidate in most elections in my late teens and early 20s, but began thinking of myself as more of an independent in my mid-20s ... While the Democrats are not perfect, I am concerned about the trend in the Republican Party to win at all costs, even if that means perverting the normal rules—written and unwritten—that govern our elections. It concerns me greatly that so many Republican candidates are repeating the Big Lie that Trump was the true winner of the 2020 election and that Biden and the Democrats “stole the election.” I will not only be voting but will also be sending contributions to Democratic candidates in close elections around the country, especially Senate candidates facing beatable, Trump-endorsed Republicans with minimal qualifications and wacky ideas about the election, nonexistent voter fraud, and outlawing all abortions.
Kristinia is unaligned and feels that the major parties are not a viable vehicle to advance her foremost priority: “a negotiated end to the Ukraine-Russia conflict, instead of escalating it by sending billions of our tax dollars for weaponry. This will push me to vote for third parties, as I often do.”
Like soldiers anywhere in the dark abyss of war, most do not want to be part of their leader’s madness and would welcome any escape possible. That would be a negotiated truce, a pause in the fighting to work toward an imperfect settlement whereby both Russia and Ukraine can “save face” before more horrific loss of life occurs, before nuclear weapons are used, before the meltdown of a nuclear power plant. We hear nothing of that option for negotiation from Democrats or liberals, and only a few extremist, isolationist Republicans oppose the war spending, but for the wrong reasons. The U.S. government, the Pentagon, the war planners, and the neoliberals are hell-bent on making sure they achieve a unipolar world with “the West” at the helm, a proxy war with the “ends justify the means” goal of regime change, “weakening” Russia.
It is not understood by the U.S. populace that one can hold two thoughts (or more) at the same time: Putin’s aggression is wrong and imperialist, and the U.S. response in keeping the war “hot” is wrong and imperialist. One can believe both conceptions and push for the option of stopping the war, and still be in support of the Ukrainian people. Thus I’ll be voting for candidates who have the courage to speak in favor of ending the war. I’ll be voting my conscience. Because our flawed system is stacked against third parties, my candidates won’t win, but I will sleep at night knowing I voted to end the slaughter, for peace, for humanity.
B.A. is a single-issue voter, too, but his issue is the environment:
I am feeling the inflation, but in the long run, the loss of the planet we’re living on is apocalyptic. If there were a candidate with enough drive and power to introduce serious changes, I’d be voting for him or her. If this candidate opposed abortion, I’d still vote in their favor. We’re in a desperate situation, and there must be a dozen articles every day that emphasize the losses we are in the middle of, but there seems to be a kind of lassitude about it in the country. I no longer think my recycling efforts and all the other things individuals can do to make things better are going to make any difference until we massively alter our country. I know other countries like China are contributing to emissions, but that’s no excuse for America’s inaction. I’ll give up stuff—I’ll pay more—but I need someone to take charge.
The same issue alienated Ryan from the GOP:
Politically I’ve been mostly independent in my life and have voted for candidates from both parties. That is until recent years, and the most important reason for this is the Republican Party's refusal to accept/engage in climate change. There are many topics that are important, but it’s hard to compare the importance of this or that with the issue of whether we will have a viable and sustainable planet to inhabit and share with all its wondrous life forms.
Harold is disgusted by the GOP on behalf of Trump supporters he believes it has manipulated and harmed:
I have always considered myself politically moderate. In the past I even identified as a conservative, and likely still would, had someone like John Kasich won the Republican nomination in 2016. Instead I voted for Hillary Clinton and split the rest of the ticket, voting for Patrick Toomey for Senate. Since then, I have voted only for Democrats in each subsequent election. Perhaps there are Democrats who are equally disillusioned by their party as I am with Republicans. We are prisoners of our experiences, and I can speak only of the failings I see in a group I once identified as being a part of. For me those failures are so great that the party needs to be destroyed and rebuilt from the ground up. Once it stood for principle and character. Now those in charge are opportunistic blobs preying off of people genuinely struggling for a sense of purpose. They have access to the truth, but they feed lies to their supporters. Countless livelihoods were ruined as they were sent off to fulfill quixotic fantasies of overthrowing the government on January 6 or defeating the “deep state” as they charged FBI field offices … We all deserve better, and therefore I will never vote Republican again so long as this sickness prevails. Something this broken can be found only in the crushed hopes, dreams, and lives of the individuals they trample on to ascend to power. It has to stop.
GE pledged to vote for the candidates who embrace individual freedom instead of central government:
This nation has 50 states, and each state is very different. The people in those states have different needs and desires. Allowing maximal freedom for local and state populations to decide on which laws will dictate social behavior seems more logical than a central government forcing a one-size-fits-all policy across 330 million people. I have no problem voting for any candidate regardless of party if they come down more on the side of individual freedoms.
Holly will vote for a losing candidate:
I intend to throw away my vote. By that I mean that I will vote for the candidates who show the most libertarian tendencies, in the vain hope that we can turn away from the left’s abiding faith that more regulations and government meddling will solve our problems, and from the right’s abandonment of free trade and of faith in individuals’ ability to serve their own best interests. Very few candidates have anything that could remotely be considered a libertarian point of view. Free speech and freedom of association have fallen victim to the intolerance of both left and right. I’m afraid my choices this November will be pretty limited, but I can’t bring myself to abstain from voting.
And Dorothy is an undecided voter:
This is one of the hardest election seasons to make sense of in my lifetime. I am 60, female, and highly educated, and have been registered as Democrat, independent, and Republican at different times. I abhor party politics in general, because I regard parties as marketing ploys. They are based only very loosely, if at all, on principle. Mostly, they are based on changes in where the wind is blowing at any given moment, with only the most macro, overarching concepts a constant. Republicans don’t like centralized authority; Democrats don’t like concentrations of wealth. Republicans think that government writ large is the problem; Democrats think it is a solution. The rest is up for grabs.
For what it is worth, I believe that government, as it actually exists in 3-D, is a huge problem. It invades spaces that should be left to private decision making, negotiation, and exploration. It is a barrier we all must cross, and nine times out of 10, there is little to no payoff for the impediments it throws in our way. We need regulation and law enforcement, but we most certainly do not need a bloated, corrupt, sluggish, inefficient bureaucracy that any sentient human can see now exists to protect its empire and feed itself.
I speak from some experience. I spent years living in Washington at the beginning of a legal career and later worked on Capitol Hill. I despise politics as religion, which it clearly has become. Both parties have come unhinged, and neither really cares about how its actions or words affect the country. They care about preserving and growing their power.
With that as the background, abortion rights (and other civil liberties) and the economy are tied in my mind as the most important issues in the upcoming election. That means I am in a bit of a pickle. I am too smart to fall for the comical justifications and falsehoods the Democrats offer for their endless tax-and-spend policies, which are hurting us very badly and will continue to do so. No household or company could afford to operate in such a fiscally irresponsible manner, and it is a massive betrayal of trust that our elected officials do so on a regular basis (with other people’s money) while draping themselves in the appearance of virtue. And I am far too principled and worried about our freedom to love whom we please and do what we like with our adult bodies to ever throw myself behind the piggish, repulsive desires of the Republicans who want to impose their own Leave It to Beaver fantasies on those of us who live in the real world.
I have no idea what will drive my vote this year. I will vote for whichever candidates are willing to do the hard work of governing with fairness, intelligence, and independence of thought.
I could publish a half-dozen more notes from former Republicans turned off by Trump and Trumpism, but we’re running long already. Thank you to everyone who wrote regardless of perspective, and if you’re voting for Republicans this November, I would love to hear from you, too.