Where Were the Sane Republicans?
Answering a question that gets a lot.
I’ve been asked numerous times over the years variants of the question posed by long-time commenter <a href=”#comment-2090100″>Barry</a> on my “The Republican Party Jumps the Shark” post:
James, where the frack where people like you in the loooong slide of the GOP to this point?
I’ve been, among other things, writing here for 13-plus years decrying much of the slide. From quite literally the first day of posting here, I’ve been pushing back against over-the-top commentary from those on my side of the aisle. On the third substantive post, I rejected Jonah Goldberg’s argument that our European allies were being somehow ungrateful in not supporting our impending war in Iraq. On the very next post, I denounced Ann Coulter’s charge that American critics of the war were somehow committing treason. This, despite supporting the war myself and being more ideologically conservative at the time. Along the way, I staunchly defended John Kerry against the Swift Boat attacks from Day 1 (I get stauncher in that as the story developed; defending Kerry was my initial reaction), lambasted John McCain for picking Sarah Palin within minutes of the announcement (the criticism got worse soon; I didn’t even know her at the time of the announcement), and opposed the Birthers and Tea Party from the beginning.
But the “Republican Party,” like the “Democratic Party,” is a label for a whole lot of disparate things. From a comparative politics standpoint, there’s the party-in-government (the elected politicians and the party’s candidates for office); the party-in-organization (the National Committee and the various state and local party officials and, in some definitions, the various lobbyists, think tankers, pundits, and whatnot); and the party-in-electorate (those who vote for the party’s candidates). The three have diverged substantially over the years. Moreover, there’s a vast difference in the party from state-to-state and locality-to-locality.
As longtime readers of the site know, my ideology has shifted considerably over the years. That’s partly a consequence to having moved to the DC area from rural Alabama shortly before starting the site. Mostly, though, it’s been a function of near-daily interaction with this site’s commentariate over the last 13-odd years, getting mostly-thoughtful feedback on my thoughts and widening my aperture. (That it’s mostly the latter is confirmed by my “control,” fellow OTBer Steven Taylor, who has had a similar evolution despite staying put at Troy, where he’s risen to become Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences.) So, it’s certainly true that actions and statements by Republican leaders that I supported in 1994 or even 2004 would be anathema to me now.
At the same time, however, the party itself has changed, with the extremists gaining more control. The Tea Party managed to purge a lot of mainstream Republicans—including many who would have been considered Movement Conservatives a few years earlier—from the party’s ranks in the primary process. Still, at the national level, the party nominated relative centrist John McCain and Mitt Romney as its standard bearer in the last two elections. While I had my disagreements with both men—and that’s especially true of post-defeat McCain, whose foreign policy views confound me—it was easy enough to support their candidacies.
Donald Trump is another thing entirely. While there’s a sense in which Trump is the culmination of all that’s been going wrong with the GOP for twenty years, he’s something more and less than that. He has no discernible ideology, unless one counts populist pandering. It’s not just that he espouses some extremely radical views on immigration and exhibits serial misogyny, although that’s disqualifying. He simply lacks the temperament or judgment to be president. He has no experience that would have prepared him for the office and, unlike 2008 Barack Obama—for whom the same thing was arguably true—he has shown no inclination to study. Nor has he surrounded himself with expert advisors.
That the base of the party has chosen this man as its nominee over several highly qualified candidates over a months-long campaign was the final signal that I’m simply not one of them any longer. I’ve been trying to fight the battle from within the party for years but the fight seems to be over.