With President Trump in office, it does not get better until it gets worse. Every time we find ourselves thinking the apogee of indecency, hotheadedness, and disregard for the truth has been reached, Mr. Trump rises to the challenge and proves us wrong.
While the mainstream GOP leaders would certainly prefer to have someone other than Trump in the White House, they have long realized that forgoing the temptation of holding POTUS’ feet to the fire pays extraordinary political dividends. Those who did resolve to take a stand against Trump found themselves primaried out or pilloried into retirement. Take for instance Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC 1st.), and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, whose pushback against the president proved enough to hail the full wrath of Trump supporters at the ballot box.
The rhetoric across GOP primaries has dwindled from a competition of conservative ideas and policy proposals to a battle over one question alone: which candidate is “Trumpier?”
Look no further than Ron DeSantis, Florida’s Republican nominee for governor, whose campaign ad about indoctrinating his own children into Trumpism earned him a first class ticket to the state’s general gubernatorial election.
It is not just Trump that is the problem; it is the Republican Party at large. Voters who cast ballots in a cult of personality-like fashion… conservative TV and radio hosts who seem to have consigned the principles of free trade, dynamic foreign policy, and freedom of the press to the ash heap of media history… elected officials who are much too willing to give President Trump the benefit of the doubt when his statements are virulently unpatriotic and detached from facts… All of them—all of us—are to blame.
Has the time come to abandon the sinking ship that is the Republican Party? Many have suggested anti-Trump Republicans should consider voting for centrist Democrats, but I beg to differ. As someone who has canvassed, attended town halls, and written articles on behalf of the Bates College Republicans, I must confess I had serious doubts about my ability to carry on GOP activism work. The metastasis of Trumpism throughout all echelons of my party was posing too great a moral barrier—one that even my commitment to conservative values and principles could not surmount. Then I realized my take was wrong.
The idea that voting for centrist Republicans could transplant old school Republican values into today’s Democratic Party is far-fetched. Democrats have been straying away from the political center and towards rigid progressivism for quite some time now. Forget Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and perhaps soon, Barack Obama. Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren—those are the new faces of the Democratic Party. The tectonic shift in favor of higher taxes, lax immigration enforcement, and run-amok growth of federal minimum wage augurs the 2020 Democratic presidential platform.
Our best bet for salvaging the Republican Party is two-fold. First, we have to make sure college-educated, women, marginalized people, and millennial Republicans turn out to vote—particularly in the primary elections. It is no secret that as of today, Republican primaries are somewhat of a magnet for old, white, and generally stubborn voters.
Trump was historically unpopular as a general election candidate, with various projections predicting his landslide loss to Clinton, Kasich, and Rubio. Nevertheless, he was able to surf into the Oval Office on an unusually tall wave of primary votes. And if the 2016 GOP primaries swung the pendulum towards populism and demagoguery, we can make the 2020 cycle a referendum on our nostalgia for fiscal conservatism, rule of law, and political sanity.
Second, we have to invest in educating future voters. Given that Trump is unpopular among otherwise right-leaning youth, failing to present a viable alternative to the president’s version of firebrand populism stands to translate into lost generations of Republican voters. There has never been a more pressing time for the right-leaning think tanks, activists, and role models to match their fidelity to the conservative values with their opposition to President Trump.
So, to be or not to be a Republican in the age of Trump? The answer is to be, or rather, to stay Republican at a time when our party least deserves it.