by Rob Stutzman
You’re a Republican. Your 401(k) is thriving in this stock market. Conservative judges are being appointed in a historic makeover of the federal bench. The bureaucratic deep state that stifles the economy has been slashed. This is a great age to be a Republican.
Except for you it’s not.
You’re thinking of leaving the party because this GOP president has ushered in an unrecognizably dark era for the party you’ve called home your entire life. Donald Trump is the antithesis of your hero Ronald Reagan. He demonstrates no comprehension of the founding’s central principles of liberty and freedom, he’s constitutionally illiterate, revives hateful ideologies that have taken centuries to suppress, is an isolationist protectionist, and admires the world’s dictators more than fellow Americans tortured by our enemies.
Welcome to my life and the life of millions of Americans.
So what do disaffected Republicans do in 2020?
Here’s a path to follow without abandoning the party, which would be a concession to a Democratic Party that has lurched far to the left in tone and policy.
Don’t vote for Trump: Trump is frequently described as more symptom than cause of the GOP’s dark nationalist slide. There’s truth to that, but Trump himself is a malignancy that has completely reduced the party to being the toadies he demands. His singular disregard for the Constitution and American ideals far exceeds the blue-collar populism that has percolated in the party since Pat Buchanan challenged President George H.W. Bush in 1992. The Republic will survive Trump, but he is wounding the presidency in a dangerous manner.
For our democracy to be healthy, he must be defeated.
If the Democrats nominate someone you cannot tolerate under any circumstances then withhold your vote and write in your favorite high school teacher. Your vote is your expression, not a purely binary choice.
Vote for Republicans down the ballot, within reason: Some disaffected fellow GOP consultants have recently formed an organization called the “Lincoln Project” dedicated to “protecting democracy.” They intend to organize Republican voters against Trump, which is perfectly sensible. But they also have stated their intent to try to defeat other Republicans, like Maine’s U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who they don’t think are suitably anti-Trump.
I dissent from the tactic of targeting Republicans like Collins. One only need look to the fate of former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake or former South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford to realize that to expect responsibly minded Republicans to define themselves as anti-Trump is to banish them to the sidelines only to be replaced by Democrats or sufficiently Trumpy replacements.
Furthermore, Republicans should be eager for the GOP majority in the U.S. Senate to be preserved as a check against what is very likely a returning Democratic majority in the House and ideally a Democratic White House.
Now there are exceptions. Should you find yourself living in the district of one of those House Republicans who have burrowed themselves into the president’s posterior like a tick, willfully spouting lying talking points straight out of Moscow, by all means, please vote them out of office.
But most important, understand that most elected Republicans are hostage to Trump, the unstable strongman who demands their fealty. This may be considered weak and pathetic but it’s the nature of politics. Haughty Democrats who bemoan their hostage colleagues across the aisle would act in the same manner if the tables were turned. Don’t expect hostages to escape. Those that try are often shot. Better to free the hostages.
Many disaffected Republicans have decided to simply leave the party. Country over party is certainly not debatable. But if you care about charting a long-term, center-right course for love of country, then I encourage you stay and fight to reclaim the party.
Defeating Trump is the first step.
Rob Stutzman is a veteran Republican consultant, based in Sacramento.