The “what” is in my title. Here’s the “why.”
It may help if I explain why I was a Republican in the first place — officially for one-third of a century, and unofficially for several years before that.
Reagan and Me
I conducted my first political poll before the 1976 Republican presidential primary in Idaho. I was in fifth grade. As went my poll of voters’ children, so went the actual vote in my adopted home state: former California Governor Ronald Reagan won by a huge margin over incumbent President Gerald Ford. Ford went on to win the nomination, then lost to Democrat and former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter. Reagan was elected president in 1980 and reelected in 1984.
Even in 1976 I was aware that the GOP didn’t really want Ronald Reagan. He was too conservative for the party establishment. As we saw then and more strikingly in 1980, much of the rank and file felt differently.
Reagan was the biggest reason why, long before I could register to vote, I claimed to be a Republican. In a political sense at least, I was raised on his brief daily radio commentaries. His thinking made sense to me, and it still does. In 1984 I was pleased and proud to vote for him in my first presidential election and his last.
The GOP and Me
Over the years I’ve accumulated modest Republican credentials. I’ve served happily and repeatedly as a delegate to county and state conventions, having been elected to represent my neighbors in those roles. I’ve been a precinct chair and vice chair (though not a particularly fine one). I’ve staffed Republican campaigns for the US Senate and House of Representatives, and managed a Republican campaign for the New York State Assembly (legislature). I interned for a Republican senator on Capitol Hill.
I’ve voted in virtually every available election, partisan and otherwise, since I turned eighteen. I’ve written many thousands of words in support of Republican candidates. And I can count the times I’ve voted for or publicly endorsed a Democrat on one hand.
The GOP and Not Me
Last week, on Tuesday, exactly 13 weeks before Election Day – though the timing is a coincidence – I changed my voter registration. For the first time in my voting life, I am not a Republican. I re-registered as “Unaffiliated,” which translates to “Independent” in states where there isn’t a party using that word.
It’s not about not fitting in; I don’t have to fit in to belong to a party.
It’s not about needing everyone, or even a majority, to agree with me. I’m not a child. Until recently I’ve been fairly comfortable in my unofficial local role as — in others’ words — “a voice of reason” and “designated driver at a frat party.”
It’s not that I dislike all the Republican candidates on my ballot this year. I’m a big fan of Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), who is emerging as a national thought leader for an intelligent and compassionate conservatism. And Utah Governor Gary Herbert has done important work from time to time in restraining the excesses of his own party’s wing nut majority in the Utah Legislature.
It’s not that I plan to vote Democratic or Libertarian for president, of which more below.
It’s not that I can’t support a presidential candidate who less conservative than I am. In 2008 I supported John McCain. He was a weak candidate and not much of a conservative, but he was clearly better than a woefully unprepared leftist named Barack Obama. In 2012 I supported Mitt Romney, though he wasn’t my favorite politician or even a very skilled one, and he wasn’t conservative enough for me. He’s smart, decent, and relatively humble for a presidential candidate, and I thought he might make a particularly fine president. And he was running against Barack Obama, who had proven to be the sort of president some of us foresaw.
And it’s not just that the current Republican presidential nominee displeases me, of which more below.
Arguably, the GOP hasn’t wanted me for a long time, and it’s not that either. The new development over the past year or two is that I no longer want it. It doesn’t feel like my party any more – not at any level. So it’s not.
Why Would I Do This? (Local Edition)
My conservatism is insufficiently extreme for my county and state parties. This is not new, and it never pushed me out before. Likewise, many local GOP leaders seem neither to understand nor to value religious freedom; this actually has kept me in the party until now, so I could push back in my own small way from the inside.
The new problem is that county and state GOP leaders in Utah are committed to excluding diverse views from the party, and some of their means for doing so are despicable.
Granted, many party members are more reasonable than their leadership. I’m not saying all Republicans or even most are objectionable.
But at the county level my former party’s leadership is so full of itself and so convinced of the surpassing righteousness of the caucus/convention system (which I like in most ways) that it refused to list the names of some of the party’s own primary candidates at its web site. These candidates’ offense was using the other legal means, petition, to get on the ballot. In a party that wasn’t drunk on its own toxic cocktail of power and ideology, skewing a primary by denying voters information in this way would be unthinkable.
Then there’s the new loyalty oath and the ideological purity test they systematically impose on their candidates.
Alas, when you’re righteous and you know it, you don’t have to play fair.
At the state level, in a similar, prolonged fit of righteousness (yes, I’m using that word to mean “self-righteousness” today), my former party’s leadership obstructed the process of validating names on candidate petitions. They denied flirting with another serious offense, kicking out of the party any Republican who legally signed a candidate’s petition. But their denials sounded a lot like threats.
Add this to my on-again, off-again – well, mostly on-again – grievances with the perpetual Republican wing nut majority in the Utah Legislature, and I probably won’t miss the state party any more than it will miss me.
Why Would I Do This? (National Edition)
My conservative views value humane policy and civil behavior too highly — and are too devoted to constitutional processes and the rule of law — to be welcome in a national party which seeks to elevate base and boorish populism to the White House in the person of Donald Trump.
Yes, I like some of the things he says, and part of me is glad that there’s finally a candidate who can say some things about Mrs. Clinton that need to be said (among some other things that don’t). But I don’t trust Mr. Trump to know how to fulfill his promises or to have the will to keep them when the campaign is over. I don’t trust his judgment in matters foreign or domestic. I don’t trust him in any role involving the United States Constitution — including appointing Supreme Court justices. Moreover, he — at least in his public persona — is a boor, a bully, and historically too prone to brag of his own adulteries. He displays no sense of the dignity of the office he seeks or the nation he proposes to lead. And too many of his disciples celebrate and imitate some of his bad behavior.
This is the first time in my voting life when the Republican nominee for president has not been clearly superior to the Democratic nominee, by my standards. Indeed, Donald Trump may actually be inferior to Hillary Clinton, and that’s saying something. It’s a close call, but either way my former party has lost its direction and its credibility.
I can’t vote for Mrs. Clinton either. She’s a softer, less ideological leftist than President Obama, but she’s also a stunning mix of dishonesty, corruption, and ineptitude. Her narcissism rivals Donald Trump’s — and that boggles the mind. She is as unfit to be Commander in Chief, by virtue of her abysmal off-camera treatment of anyone in a uniform, as he is to be any sort of role model whatsoever, by virtue of his public words and behavior.
That said, at least Mrs. Clinton pretends to dignity and civility, when the cameras are turned on. It’s a small nod to the dignity of the office and of a great nation, but it’s more than we get from Mr. Trump.
I won’t vote in November for either of these tyrants-in-waiting. And any party which can choose Donald Trump as its nominee for president is no place for me. That’s the real GOP offense here. Notably, it’s the people in the party who chose him, not the leadership.
In case you’re curious, I won’t vote for the Libertarian either, even if his running mate, Bill Weld, is a credible Republican with serious political credentials. I’m just not sold on pot and prostitution. I do hope Governor Johnson gets into the debates, though. I wonder if he’ll bring brownies. And this new guy, Evan McMullin? I don’t know. He’ll have his opportunity or two to persuade me.
The bottom line is still this: the GOP isn’t my party any more.
My own garden-variety narcissism advises me that you may have some questions.
Q: Is my departure from the GOP irrevocable?
A: No. But the party would have to come back to me. I won’t chase it.
Q: Am I saying that everyone in the party, or at least its leadership, is a bad person?
A: Nope. I know better. Some of the finest people I know are still Republicans. (I could say the same of Democrats, Socialists, Communists, and Libertarians.) But the Party of Lincoln no longer feels or sounds like the Party of Lincoln.
Q: Given that for years I’ve been urging people who want to get involved to join a party and try to effect change from the inside, and that I’ve said many times that good people need to flood both parties, how is my leaving the GOP not hypocrisy?
A: I don’t know. Maybe it is.
Q: What good do I expect my departure to do in the long run?
A: By itself, none. By myself, none. But many of my friends have left too. These are mostly sensible, conservative, politically active people, who have served the party well for years. So I think someone might notice their absence someday, at least at the local level. Then again, the local party may be glad we’ve left – which would be just another reason to have left.
Q: Do I think all my Republican friends should join me in leaving?
A: I think they should make their own decisions. I won’t judge them harshly if they stay. But they’re welcome to join me if they like. They can do it online, if they live in Utah.
Q: Am I drawn to the Democratic Party?
A: No. I have no taste for Social Democracy or any other species of socialism. And I think identity politics are destructive of many things, especially individual freedom.
Q: Am I drawn to a third party?
A: Only theoretically. No existing third party has any appeal. Maybe we need to organize Ex-Republicans for Freedom. No, make that Ordered Liberty, so we could call it ERFOL. Or ERFLASPAT – Ex-Republicans for Liberty and against Shallow Populism and Advancing Tyranny.
Q: So it’s past time to end this blog post already?
A: I’m getting that impression.