I WAS A GOP STAL­WART UN­TIL TRUMP

It is painfully ev­i­dent that his sorry brand will stick to the Repub­li­can Party for years.

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS - John J. Pit­ney, Jr. John J. Pit­ney, Jr. is a pro­fes­sor of gov­ern­ment at Clare­mont McKenna Col­lege.

Un­til last year, I was as Repub­li­can as you could get. My fam­ily had be­longed to the GOP since the 1850s, and both my grand­fa­thers la­bored in lo­cal Repub­li­can pol­i­tics. I started vol­un­teer­ing for the party nearly a half cen­tury ago, hand­ing out Richard Nixon pam­phlets in Saratoga Springs, N. Y., at the age of 13. I went on to work for Repub­li­can politi­cians in the New York State Leg­is­la­ture and both houses of Congress. And for a cou­ple of years, I served in the re­search de­part­ment of the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee.

But early on Nov. 9, shortly af­ter Don­ald Trump claimed vic­tory and long be­fore MSNBC host and for­mer con­gress­man Joe Scar­bor­ough told Stephen Col­bert this week that “I’m not go­ing to be a Repub­li­can any­more,” I took out my lap­top and changed my reg­is­tra­tion to in­de­pen­dent.

I knew from the start that I could never vote for Trump. He’s a mashup of the sor­ri­est parts of Repub­li­can his­tory: Her­bert Hoover’s trade pol­icy, War­ren Hard­ing’s in­com­pe­tence, Charles Lind­bergh’s dic­ta­tor wor­ship and Joseph McCarthy’s dis­hon­esty. Still, un­til elec­tion night, I was hop­ing that he would lose and that the GOP could re­build. This hope died as big states tipped into his col­umn. It was painfully ev­i­dent that the Trump brand would stick to the party for years.

CUT CON­NEC­TIONS And it re­ally was painful. It has be­come com­mon­place to say that the par­ties are “tribal.” The term is apt. Es­pe­cially for peo­ple who have worked on cam­paigns and gov­ern­ment staffs, a party is a so­cial net­work. Many of my friend­ships grew out of win­ning and los­ing to­gether in Repub­li­can pol­i­tics. I still count th­ese peo­ple as friends and hope that the feel­ing is mu­tual, but the elec­tion cut an im­por­tant con­nec­tion.

I don’t dis­par­age those who voted for Trump. Eco­nomic change has left mil­lions of work­ing Amer­i­cans be­hind. They think that an in­creas­ingly af­flu­ent pro­fes­sional class pushes them around. Vot­ing for Trump was a way to push back. I get it. My fa­ther was a milk­man in a col­lege town. It was full of peo­ple with ad­vanced de­grees who looked down on peo­ple like us.

Some of the re­sent­ments un­der­ly­ing the Trump vic­tory had helped pro­pel Ron­ald Rea­gan to the White House. But Rea­gan was more than a ves­sel for in­dig­na­tion. He stood for some­thing. In his “Evil Em­pire” speech, he showed moral clar­ity about our coun­try’s strug­gle with Moscow. He warned against “the temp­ta­tion of blithely declar­ing your­selves above it all and la­bel both sides equally at fault ... and thereby re­move your­self from the strug­gle be­tween right and wrong and good and evil.”

Those words rep­re­sented the Repub­li­can Party at its best. But in Trump, the party chose its worst. Dur­ing an in­ter­view, Bill O’Reilly pointed out that Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin is a killer. “There are a lot of killers,” Trump replied. “You think our coun­try’s so in­no­cent?” That com­ment was not an out­lier. Whereas Rea­gan spoke of Amer­ica as a shin­ing city on a hill, Trump has dis­missed Amer­i­can ex­cep­tion­al­ism, say­ing, “I don’t think it’s a very nice term.” In re­ject­ing Rea­gan, Trump aligned him­self with Putin’s words: “It is ex­tremely dan­ger­ous to en­cour­age peo­ple to see them­selves as ex­cep­tional, what­ever the mo­ti­va­tion.”

A LEADER’S CHAR­AC­TER Of course, the GOP was not al­ways at its best. But as Water­gate un­folded, some key party fig­ures de­clined to march in lock­step. Months be­fore the “smok­ing gun” tape came to light, New York Sen. James Buck­ley called for Nixon’s res­ig­na­tion. He wrote: “In­evitably the pres­i­dent is the fo­cus, the essence of the cri­sis of the regime; the linch­pin of its en­tire struc­ture. It could not be other­wise. The char­ac­ter of a regime al­ways re­flects and ex­presses the char­ac­ter of its leader.”

Repub­li­cans don’t talk that way any­more. As Trump’s pres­i­dency con­firms some of his crit­ics’ worst fears, most party lead­ers ei­ther de­fend him or ex­press vague con­cern. House Speaker Paul Ryan backed the fir­ing of FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey. When Trump spilled se­crets to the Rus­sians, Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell called for “a lit­tle less drama.” Both dodged ques­tions about Don­ald Trump Jr.’ s meet­ing with a Rus­sian lawyer promis­ing dirt on Hil­lary Clin­ton.

Kneel­ing to Trump, some are re­vers­ing long- held po­si­tions. The most egre­gious ex­am­ple is Newt Gin­grich. In 1993, he helped shep­herd the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment through the House. Twenty years later, he called for com­pre­hen­sive immigration re­form. Now he has em­braced Trump’s op­po­site stands on both is­sues.

As Ron­ald Rea­gan said of his jour­ney from Demo­crat to Repub­li­can: “I didn’t leave my party; my party left me.”

Protesters at the White House on May 10.

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