Today, many Republicans are feeling much as Reagan must have felt back in 1962 when he officially switched parties.
I became a Republican more than 60 years ago as a teen after watching Dwight Eisenhower give his acceptance speech at the 1952 convention. His message touched me because he sounded like my dad. “Republicans,” he affirmed, “believe in family. In God. In hard work. Patriotism. Low taxes. Small government. Freedom. Opportunity for all.”
Ike sounded just like my dad, who always voted Democrat even though he was a strict conservative, something I never understood. Dad and Mom remained Democrats as long as they lived. I became the black sheep in the family — an oddity back then — a Mexican American Republican.
My belief in the Republican philosophy paid off many times over. They opened the doors of opportunity so wide, all I had to do was walk right through. In ’78, Republican Sen. John Tower chose my ad agency to produce all re-election advertising even though we had no political experience. He and his staff just liked our ads and the fact that two of our four partners were Latino.
When Tower won, he rewarded us with an introduction to Reagan, who hired us for his Hispanic outreach. When Reagan won, he introduced us to George H.W. Bush. After he won, he introduced us to his son, George W. Bush, and a young skinny kid with lots of hair by the name of Karl Rove.
From 1978 until 2008, our team had the honor of working in the big arena of presidential politics. Six of the five campaigns were winners. And so were we. My wife, Kathy, and I were invited to lunch at the White House, several White House Christmas parties and, among many other things, a state dinner where, for one unforgettable night, we rubbed elbows with Supreme Court justices, Cabinet members, movie stars, famous politicians and corporate giants. Yes, opportunity courtesy of the GOP abounded.
In those days, the Grand Old Party was indeed grand. Reagan and Bush 41 brought down a wall. Reagan gave amnesty to 3 million hardworking Mexican immigrants who, through their strong work ethic, helped our economy grow stronger and our country more secure.
Bush 41 promoted a “kinder, gentler nation.” His “thousand points of light” strengthened bonds between churches and communities across America.
George W. was the “compassionate conservative” who believed family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande. He was proud of the Latino blood that runs in the Bush family, referring to his Mexican sister-in-law, Columba Bush, and his nephews, including George P. Bush, Texas land commissioner. He also believed our president should be a “unifier” not a “divider.”
That’s all gone.
Instead of “Tear down this wall,” the party promotes a new and bigger wall. A thousand points of light has been replaced by a thousand points of anger. In place of compassionate conservatism, our nominee promotes callousness, extremism and racism. And instead of a unifier, the party now cheers the ultimate “us against them” proponent. Divisiveness incarnate.
So, if my party winds up electing Donald Trump, I’ll have to bid farewell, hoping that one day soon, it comes to its senses. Here’s my thinking. This madness could be temporary because our nominee is not really a Republican. Nor a real conservative. He’s just a shark, a self-promoter out to see how far his out-of-control ego can take him.
Here’s my quandary. If my party’s left me, where do I go? What should I do when there isn’t a horse in the race that stands for the core values of the party that I loved? I may just go for the devil we know instead of the lunatic we don’t know.
In the words of Paul Ryan, “I can’t defend the indefensible.”
Lionel Sosa is a San Antonio marketing executive and political consultant.