When I left the GOP in 2000, John Keeler, an eminently thoughtful and civil legislator, asked me what I thought it would take to keep people like me–not just reliable Republican voters, but active and involved party workers–from leaving. I responded that I would have remained a Republican had the party continued to be the party I’d originally joined–my version of a refrain that I have often heard in the years since, “I didn’t leave the GOP, it left me.”
When I run into people I worked with in the Hudnut Administration, or on campaign committees supporting Republicans like Bill Hudnut and Dick Lugar, the conversation often turns to bewildered “what the hell happened” commiserations. My students (who appear to have overwhelming animus for today’s GOP and its priorities) find it hard to believe that the party wasn’t always a refuge for anti-woman, anti-minority, anti-immigrant, anti-science, anti-government know-nothings.
One consequence of Trump’s election has been a vast increase in political activism by previously unengaged citizens of all ages. And that participation–not to mention demographic data showing a rapidly graying GOP and a young, diverse and growing Democratic party that did not bode well for the future electoral prospects of the Grand Old Party even before Trump– is not a good sign for Republicans.
Right now, the GOP is dominated by a relatively small group of white, elderly political and religious fundamentalists. If it weren’t for highly successful gerrymandering and the Electoral College, the GOP would already have been consigned to permanent minority status.
That wouldn’t be good for America. America needs two responsible, adult parties.
Here is the choice faced by “real” Republicans– the ones who still believe in facts and evidence, in compromise and bipartisanship, in working toward the public good–those who recognize that the last election was not a fight between candidates with contending policy preferences , but an atypical and dangerous departure from democratic norms.
Those Republicans can continue to vote, however reluctantly, for any candidate with an “R” beside the name, and (assuming the country survives Trump/Pence) watch with dismay as the radical cult that is now the GOP dwindles into inconsequence. Or those rational, good-government Republicans can take the party back, and grow it by returning it to its roots in the socially tolerant and fiscally conservative “big tent” politics that have been displaced by the zealots, alt-right bigots and assorted “true believers.”
In order to do that, however–in order to reassert control by the adults–the current iteration of the GOP has to be defeated. If the party is to be resurrected, its faithful voters in those bright-red gerrymandered “safe” districts are the only ones who can do it. They have to declare “enough,” and the only way to do that is by voting Democratic in 2018 and then picking up the pieces, restoring sanity and–quite possibly–saving the two-party system.
If the Trump/Pence/Bannon administration continues on its current course, if enough reasonable Republicans are sufficiently embarrassed and repelled by Mitch McConnell’s appalling behavior in the Senate and by the GOP’s “lunatic caucus” in the House, it might actually happen. (But then, I’ve always been an optimist….)