To explain why I no longer affiliate with the Republican Party, I won’t focus on Donald Trump’s various issues and misdeeds. Rather, I want to talk about the Republican Party I joined in the 1990s.
The 1990s Republican Party was defined by its dedication to personal responsibility. It was a big theme at the 1992 Republican Convention which persuaded my parents to vote for the first time in decades.
The Republican Party took ethics seriously. It was young Republicans in Congress like John Boehner who exposed the misdeeds of the House Bank and the House Post Office. It exposed the perjury, obstruction of justice, and abuse of President Bill Clinton. Before that it challenged House Speaker Jim Wright’s ethics and forced him from office.
Republican concerns about ethics then weren’t limited to Democrats. Republicans who wanted to behave badly paid a price. While Democrats were prepared to give Bill Clinton an unlimited license to assault women, Five term U.S. Senator Bob Packwood (R-Oregon) was forced out of office for his sexual misconduct when Republicans held the Senate and made it clear that he would be expelled. Republicans pushed Packwood out even though they were at risk of losing (and did lose) Packwood’s Senate seat because Packwood’s conduct was unacceptable from someone holding a public trust. Ethics and values were more important than political victory.
Though Newt Gingrich was then the most powerful Republican in the country, the House reprimanded Gingrich for improprieties surrounding his book contract. Congressman Bob Livingston (R-Louisiana) was elected by the GOP caucus to replace Gingrich after the 1998 mid-terms. Livingston was set pick up the House Speaker’s gavel before he learned that information about three affairs he’d had in Congress were going to come to light. He resigned on the House floor because it was the right thing to do.
Republican politicians knew Republican voters wouldn’t tolerate misconduct and they’d lose all moral credibility to lead. Having good character was a core principle and practice that was expected from candidates across the board in local races to federal races.
In the 1990s, Republican leaders understood that culture and civility mattered. The Constitution didn’t give them the right of censorship, but it did give them the right to shine the light on a corrupting and degrading culture. Whether it was Dan Quayle warning of the danger of glamorizing single motherhood, or Bill Bennett highlighting Hollywood’s slouching towards the gutter, Republicans stood firmly for preservation of our culture.
The Republicans of old disdained identity politics of any sort and the efforts to pit one group of Americans against the other. This was something the left did which was repugnant to every right-thinking conservative Republican.
That was the Republican Party I joined. Today’s Republican Party no longer cares about honesty, integrity, and decency in public office and public life.
Many conservative Christian leaders remain within the GOP and suggest others need to do the same because of the Republican platform’s conservative positions on issues. The document has more to do with special interest influence that it does what candidates actually do when elected to office.
The practical change in the Republican Party can be seen in deeds. Personal responsibility was such a key value for 1990s Republicans, they took an entire night to speak in praise of the virtue at the 1992 GOP convention. Now the GOP has replaced this core idea with another philosophy that was expounded by a major 1990s pop culture figure: Pee Wee Herman.
The profound philosophy of Trump-era Republicanism echoes back to Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and Pee Wee’s declaration, “I know you are but what am I.”
For example, consider Donald Trump appointing Steve Bannon, who made Breitbart a forum for the racist alt-right, to the White House position Karl Rove held in the Bush administration. If a liberal protests this appointment, some Republicans will respond that a Democratic Senator who died in 2012 was a KKK member sixty years before he died and that he was friend with Hillary Clinton. They may also point out that in 1865 most Democrats voted against the Thirteenth Amendment, so there. Apparently there is no misbehavior or corruption of Trump or his appointees if you can come with something similar that Democrats once did.
Defending Republicans’ corruption, dishonesty, and indecency by citing the same in Democrats guarantees, whichever sides wins, that America loses. When a republic embraces lies, decay, and corruption, it embraces its own death.
Throughout my life, I believed the Democratic Party has unintentionally been undermining our country’s foundations, culture, and long-term survival. I believed the GOP to be truly acting to preserve our civilization, however ineffectually at times. Yet, 2016 saw the creation of a new GOP that is outright as destructive to our nation’s founding principles and values as the Democratic Party, albeit in a different way.
I have no hope of the Republican Party again becoming a positive force in our country in the near future. I take Club for Growth founder Stephen Moore seriously when he told House Republicans they were no longer the party of Reagan but the party of Trump. I have no interest in being like the conservative Democrats who continued to identify with a party decades after it’d ceased to represent their values.
As of this writing, I am politically homeless. While there are third parties in this country, I have little interest in joining the narrow ideologues that drive them. My disagreements with the Libertarian and the Green Parties cut too deep. I am closest to the Constitution Party, however it has yet to show itself as a serious party, particularly in my home state of Idaho. I hope someone will form a new conservative party for those who believe in liberty, decency, and the importance of integrity in government, while rejecting the white identity politics that Trump embraced during the campaign.
Regardless, I’ll support good candidates from any party that runs them. I simply refuse to identify with either of America’s two destructive political conglomerates. I entered 2016 as a longtime Republican. I leave it as only a Christian citizen more troubled than ever about the direction and future of this country.