Sunday, November 13, 2016

Yes, I'm Still a Republican

I didn't vote for Donald Trump. In fact, I actively campaigned against him. I even defended Hillary Clinton and would have voted for her if it weren't for very unique circumstances. I am disappointed that America voted for Trump, both in the primary and in the general election. And I have lost respect for many members of the Republican establishment who have embraced or failed to confront Trump along the way. In many ways, the Republican-controlled government that will assume power in January is unrecognizable from the GOP I have considered myself affiliated with for my entire adult life.

And that is why I'm staying in the Republican Party.

Allow me to explain.


But first, let me preface this post by saying that I do not intend to tell anyone how they should feel, how they should respond, or how they should react to the election results. You have a right to be angry or jubilant, to mourn or be activated, to protest or to protest the protesters. That's the way our democracy works. You even have the right to be a jerk, but I would hope most people would be gracious and civil in victory or defeat.

The Primaries Mattered

Imagine an alternative universe where the 2016 U.S. presidential election was a match-up between John Kasich and Bernie Sanders. While Super PACs would undoubtedly dig up dirt on each candidate and some far-flung corners of the political sphere would hurl labels such as "communist" on Sanders and "racist" at Kasich, on the whole, the campaign would have been much more substantive. The debates would have focused on the issues. Candidate-sponsored ads would have been largely positive, highlighting the optimistic policy agenda each nominee envisioned for America's future. The usual cloud of depression would settle on the side that lost, but it's hard to imagine protests in the streets against John Kasich had he won.

Instead . . . well, you know what happened next.

Unfortunately, John Kasich was not the Republican nominee. Neither was Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, or even Ted Cruz. Any of these choices would have been more palatable to the American populace than Donald Trump (well ... maybe not Cruz). So why was Trump the nominee?

You may have heard the statistic that only 9% of Americans voted for either Clinton or Trump. This New York Times infographic article is very telling. About 13 million Americans voted for Trump in the primaries, which is only 4% of the total population of 324 million men, women, and children who live in this country. What percentage of Americans now have Donald Trump as their president? One hundred percent.

103 million Americans are not eligible to vote - children, non-citizens, and felons. But that still leaves 221 million Americans who are eligible, of which only 60 million participated in the primaries. If just a fraction of the 73 million general election voters who stayed home during the primaries, or the 88 MILLION eligible voters who don't vote at all, had shown up to the polls earlier this year to vote against Donald Trump, we could have had a different nominee and thus, a different president.

It wouldn't have taken much to swing things the other way. Ted Cruz received over 7 million votes. John Kasich received over 4 million votes. And many of Trump's 13 million votes came at the end when it was clear he was effectively the nominee, including over 1 million votes from California alone.


It is tempting to leave the Republican Party at this juncture. But I'm not a fan of what's going on in the Democratic Party either. No third party is particularly enticing for that matter.

The problem is that our parties have become hyper-polarized. Polarization happens as follows: 1) forces within the party pull the consensus platform further from the political center; and 2) rank and file members leave as the party becomes ideologically incompatible; 3) return to step 1 in a vicious cycle.

This would be fine if voters switched to the other party, causing that party to move toward the center. Instead, more and more persuadable voters are moving to a no-man's-land between the two parties. At the same time, we as a country seem unwilling to vote for a third-party candidate.

The result? An ever smaller number of extremists in both parties pick the only two people that 95% of us will vote for in the general election. This is an extraordinarily unhealthy way to run a democracy to say the least.

We Need to Engage

Instead, the Republican and Democratic parties need moderates and fair-minded people of all stripes to STAY. You don't have to be a card carrying member; it doesn't matter which party you ultimately decide to identify with - and you can switch as often as you like. And most importantly, you are under no obligation to vote for your party's nominee in the general election. But we need to engage earlier in the process - the primary should be the LAST stop to board the election train, not an oddity for a niche crowd.

In some ways, it makes sense to vote in the opposite party's primary to hedge your bets - that way, if your party's candidate loses the general, at least you had a say in choosing the winner.

If you don't like the two major parties, even a vote in a third-party primary could have a huge impact on the race. Maybe if 30 million people had voted in the Libertarian primary, skilled and worthy politicians of that persuasion would take notice and we would have stronger third-party candidates in the race; maybe not immediately, but eventually.

But the WORST thing we can do is to treat the two parties that will each choose our president roughly 50% of the time as exclusive clubs, fanatic organizations, or irrelevant political relics. As long as we operate under a two-party system, our country needs BOTH parties to be strong, accountable, and in touch with Americans from all walks of life. That will only come with more meaningful engagement from all of us. We each need to be deeply invested in the health and integrity of both parties.

It is not sustainable for half the country to be utterly horrified by the winner of the election. If we are truly engaged, I'm confident we can find two candidates, different ideologically as they may be, who would both be acceptable to the vast majority of Americans. 

We cannot think of the parties as a nebulous "they" who are always making infuriating decisions that we constantly deride. The Democratic Party is OUR left-wing party. The Republican Party is OUR right-wing party. WE must accept responsibility for choosing BOTH nominees, and each of us must be aware of which party needs our particular contribution most.

Why the Republican Party?

Right now, I choose to affiliate with the Republican Party because I'm for strong but limited government, principles which are still espoused more fully by Republicans. I have been a Republican because I am a conservative - maybe not in the same way Donald Trump or Ted Cruz are conservative, but conservative nonetheless. Most importantly, in the Republican Party I see the potential for good candidates rising through the ranks in the next 4-8 years (maybe even a primary challenger to Trump depending on what happens between now and then).

But I reserve the right to change my mind. As the next primary approaches three years from now, I will examine the crop of candidates and change my registration as necessary to make sure I am able to vote for my preferred candidate in the primary.

In short, I'm not leaving the Republican Party for the same reason I'm not moving to Canada;  This is my home and I'm needed here to help fix things. It's not the time to abandon it and let it be hijacked by a fringe group. 

By the same token, liberals like Bernie Sanders should stay in the Senate. Donald Trump should appoint some of his former opponents to the cabinet. We need diversity of thought in our country and our government, just as we do in our parties. We need robust dialogue and debate that values all points of view so that we can arrive at the correct conclusions together.

Rather than jamming through controversial legislation whenever our party has a filibuster-proof majority, only to see it repealed after the next cycle, we need to work harder to build a consensus before we implement major changes. As I have said from the beginning, we need to work harder to persuade the other side rather than preaching to our respective choirs.

When the only ones left in a room are like-minded and confident that their way is the right way, that is when the swamp will really start to stink.

Cautiously Optimistic

Of more immediate concern, how do I feel about a Trump presidency? I am cautiously optimistic.

I am worried that there could be "trickle-down racism." I'm worried that Trump was serious about some of his policy proposals. I'm worried that our country will continue to be deeply divided. But there are reasons for hope:

1) The media will start doing its job again. Bolstered by outrage from liberal elites, journalists will report on every aspect of the Trump presidency and hold him accountable for his decisions.

2) The American people are good. Americans will accept immigrants, defend Muslims, fight for minorities, and support those in poverty because they are charitable by nature, even if a small number harbor racist or xenophobic sentiments.

3) Technology will continue to improve. Technology will pave the way for cleaner energy, more efficient farming, cheaper manufacturing, and better health care. Call me an idealist but I think life on this planet only gets better from here.

4) The free-market system will keep the economy growing. The occasional recession aside, over the long term poverty will decrease, incomes will rise, and as a whole Americans will become more educated and more productive.

5) Social networks will allow injustices to be publicized more quickly and broadly than ever. Tyranny has never had a greater enemy than an informed public. There is the potential for misinformation, but in the marketplace of ideas, I believe that the truth, when it really matters, cannot be contained.

[Bonus #6 - we have at least five Star Wars and five Harry Potter movies in production - I think we will be just fine.]

Don't Blow It

I forgive Trump for the horrible things he said during the campaign, but I won't forget. If the Trump administration starts rounding up undocumented immigrants, I will be the first to show up to the protests. If he tries to ban Muslims from entering the country, I'm calling every congressman and senator on the roster.

But for now, I'm going to give him a chance, just like I did when President Obama was elected, despite the many naysayers who thought the world would end. I pray for Trump's success, and that the success he will strive for looks a lot like the success we all hope for.


Diana said...

Very fair minded and thoughtful, as always Jeff. Having voted for Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio in the primaries, even though I'm a Democrat, I think you have the right idea. I just wish we had been able to stop Trump, I'm not as optimistic as you about everything.

me said...

Great comments here. Love your blog. I would add that polarization is also an outcome of Internet chat, social media, and partisan news programming. Most people tend to seek out and engage with those who are like-minded. This basically creates an echo chamber where over time various beliefs become more solidified and extreme. Intetestingly, the internet and telecommunications allow us more access to various points of view, but we just don't utilize them in that way. It is unfortunate and, ultimately, very dangerous for our nation.

Jeff Smith said...

Thanks to you both! Diana - thanks for helping me learn years ago that not everyone around me thinks the same way I do, and that's a good thing. :) James - I agree about the impact of the Internet. However, I do think that most of the silent people in the middle have friends on both sides, but they just don't engage in the discussion because it too often devolves into arguments. That's one of the reasons I started this blog - so that the moderate people could know that they're not alone. Moderate blogs are more boring by nature so there are fewer of them!