Will It Ever Be Time to Rejoin the Republican Party? Maybe Some Day . . .
The Republican party has never seemed worse. Does that mean we should rejoin it if we have left?
This is a post about whether people who have left the Republican party ought to rejoin it. It’s a thumbsucker and it’s long — about 4,000 words — so here’s a roadmap before you settle in. First, I intend to start with some statements that, while matters of opinion rather than unassailable fact, will hopefully be relatively uncontroversial to readers of this newsletter. Then, I’ll move on to why I left the party, and discuss the current state of the party today. Then I’ll finish up with perhaps the best argument I have heard to rejoin . . . an argument offered by my friend Bill Dyer aka Beldar. As part of that final discussion, I am going to draw an extended analogy between Bill’s decision to leave my blog and my decision to leave the party. To me, the analogy really helped me understand his position. Maybe it will make sense to you too.
SETTING THE STAGE
Let’s start with what I hope will be a fairly uncontroversial set of statements for a crowd reading a newsletter devoted to liberty, free markets, and the Constitution:
The Republican party has always been, and remains, an important line of defense against certain dangers posed by the Democrats. (I’ll immediately issue the caveat that these dangers can easily be, and often are, wildly overstated. There is a certain contingent on the right that assures us that The World Is Ending each and every time that Democrats seize a little power — Flight 93 election, anyone? — and I often find the approach of such people hysterical and overwrought.) Now, different people are bound to disagree about the nature of those dangers. For many, it’s the threat the Democrats pose on issues like abortion, Second Amendment rights, or political correctness. For me, the dangers include:
An encroachment on our liberty by placing an increasing array of resources, including health care and communications infrastructure, under the control of a central government.
An obsession with dividing the populace by categorizing them into groups based on race, sex, sexual orientation, wealth, income, and other factors, and punishing those who are deemed to be the most “privileged” in each sphere, in many cases by using government to disrupt the workings of the free market.
A project to undermine the meaning of laws by installing judges who disregard written text and the original understanding of constitutional provisions.
If you examine these concerns, you’ll see the origin of the tag line of this newsletter: “liberty, free markets, and the Constitution.”
The Republican party has been a disappointment to many over the years by failing to be a sufficiently strong bulwark against some of these dangers posed by the left. Perhaps most notably on the issue of the debt and deficit, Republicans have seemed perfectly happy to spend taxpayer money when the occupant of the White House has had an “R” after his name, and have achieved only the mildest of successes in opposing spending under Democrats. Witness the supposedly draconian sequestration, which imposed what were characterized as wildly precipitous budget “cuts” that actually turned out to be mild reductions in the rate of increased spending on various federal programs. We continued to drive towards a fiscal cliff, but let up on the accelerator ever so slightly . . . and to hear the left scream about it, you would have thought the world was about to end. That is only one example among many.
The Republican party has been deeply divided by a single person: Donald Trump — and in the process, the party has lurched towards a center of gravity that is closer and closer to full-on crankery. We may be getting into more controversial territory here, but I maintain that a shockingly high percentage of the party continues to feel deep affection for an ex-president who literally tried to steal an election that he had lost. Such was the depth of support for this cynical, shockingly dishonest autogolpe attempt that over half of the GOP caucus in the House voted to reject the certified vote count of contested states, purely on the basis of absolute made-up hogwash claims of voter fraud that were rejected by every court to weigh them. The evident self-absorption and disregard for the well-being of the country that characterized the presidency of Donald J. Trump has alienated more and more mainstream suburban conservatives like myself —and as the party sheds those folks, it has to find a substitute. Increasingly, the GOP is making up the difference by appealing to the conspiracy-addled fringe of its supporters. We see the Texas GOP selling “We Are the Storm” T-shirts in a naked appeal (which they deny) to followers of the insane “Q” conspiracy. We hear news reports of a sizable contingent of GOP House members giving a standing ovation to a colleague who is a QAnon follower and 9/11 Truther, and who has also casually mused publicly about the execution of Nancy Pelosi (an event that could have actually happened on January 6, I remind you). As these degenerates double down on their open appeal to the craziest subsection of their coalition, they cling with ferocity to the base by professing an undying if puzzling loyalty to the cult leader who not only just lost his own election, but almost certainly cost them control of the Senate as well. No GOP politician with ambitions for 2024 dares to say that Joe Biden won in 2020 fair and square. If you’re like me, you’re having a lot of conversations with friends and relatives in red states who have always voted GOP but who will tell you privately: “The Republican party really seems to have gone crazy lately.”
Nothing makes a political party happier than deep divisions and disarray in the opposition party. The Democrats are absolutely thrilled at the civil war in the Republican party. I do not think the characterization of the internal divisions as a “civil war” is much of an exaggeration, even though the war is fairly lopsided at the moment in favor of the pro-Trump side. If you doubt that we are in the midst of a sort of intraparty civil war, visit this post I wrote about Matt Gaetz traveling to Wyoming to deliver a rousing stump speech against Liz Cheney. If you have not listened to that entire speech, you really ought to do so before you take issue with my characterization of this division in the party. In fact, I’ll make it even easier for you by placing the video right here.
That’s not a normal intraparty disagreement. That is full-on opposition — the sort of nasty and brutal no-holds-barred attack you usually see in a bitter general election between two candidates from opposing parties. And the Democrats are loving it.
There remain some Reaganite conservatives who still believe in the old principles of the Republican party. The views of these conservatives about Donald Trump vary widely from open admiration to naked disgust and everything in between. But a sizable contingent of them are ready to move on from Trump, and figure out what to do next. Some of them have remained in the party and some have left. The key here is that, despite what the media would have you believe, there are plenty of good people left in the GOP.
So those are the facts on the ground as I see them. Inherent in this set of statements is the proposition that the party has played a critical role, but has gone astray. Before we get to the question of how to address this problem, bear with me while I dwell on the ways it has failed in the last five years — to the point where I quit the party in 2016.
PATTERICO SAYS GOODBYE TO THE REPUBLICAN PARTY IN MAY 2016
For nearly five years, I have been a stalwart non-member of the Republican party. As the party has moved away from its rule-of-law roots towards a crankish nihilism, my approach would seem to be increasingly vindicated. After all, the Republican party has never seemed more corrupt than it does today — more full of rot, demagoguery, and a blatant disregard for the principles of our republic. I left the party on May 3, 2016: the day that Ted Cruz dropped out of the 2016 Republican presidential primary race, and thus the day that Donald Trump secured the Republican nomination. I wrote a post titled Goodbye, Republican Party to commemorate my decision. Someone told me that Glenn Beck read it on his radio show that night.
As of today, I no longer consider myself a Republican. . . . .
I will still support and vote for Republicans, but only Republicans who demonstrate that they will adhere to limited government, constitutional principles. No longer will I vote a straight party-line ticket.
. . . .
If you believe in limited government, constitutional principles, and liberty, stick with me. There are others like us. We’ll figure out what to do next. It won’t be supporting Donald Trump, but it will be supporting our natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I ended the post with a declaration of praise for the politicians I still believed in: Mike Lee, Justin Amash, and [cringe] Ted Cruz.
I know, right?
I left the party because I saw that Donald Trump was taking over and, as the President, was going to be the de facto leader of the party for the next four years, at least. I considered Donald Trump to be a dangerous, self-interested con artist. I worried that he would ravage our institutions, wreaking devastation on the country if he were elected. I wanted no part of it.
I feel entirely vindicated. Now, Trump has left office as a twice-impeached and utterly disgraced President who nevertheless was saved by a majority of partisan GOP senators from the penalty of disqualification from ever holding public office again.
Now we come to The $624,357 Question: what are we going to do about it? And if you’re concerned about these issues, is it better to address them from inside the party or from outside?
(By the way, I calculated that sum by using this online tool to calculate the present-day value of $64,000 in 1955, the year that The $64,000 Question game show first ran on the air. Don’t tell me you learned nothing from today’s missive!)
Trump is gone, but the future of Trumpism within the party is unclear as of this writing. As a result, emotionally, I don’t have any immediate desire to return to the party any time soon — especially not now, when it’s seemingly at its lowest point in memory. Just last month, as I noted above, a majority of the Republican House caucus voted to nullify the results of a presidential election. Only ten GOP House members voted to impeach Trump, and only seven senators voted to convict him, for one of the most disgraceful acts in American history: refusing to accept the outcome of a lawful election, and telling a pack of lies that motivated a mob to take over the Capitol in an effort to disrupt the certification of the votes earned by the lawful winner.
Rejoin that party? That’s not happening any time soon.
So what was I talking about in the headline? Was it just clickbait to get you to open the email so I could say “psyche!” Not at all.
BELDAR’S ARGUMENT: REFORM THE PARTY FROM WITHIN
For years now, my friend Bill Dyer, who is known as “Beldar” on the Internet, has been advocating the position that people like me who want to move the party away from Trumpism should make those arguments from within the party. He has specifically told me that he thinks my commentary about the party is less effective because it explicitly comes from outside the tent. He has kindly permitted me to excerpt any or all of his argument, and I think he puts it well here, in a passage from an email he sent to me:
I've been near-euphoric over the election, and then the mind-boggling incompetence of Trump's legal challenges. I expected Trump to go out badly, and he's fulfilled my perverse but fondest wishes in that respect. . . .
So this is exactly the time that I am most energized to work within the Party to reform and preserve it. (By "within," I simply mean as someone who still self-identifies as a Republican, and writes publicly as such; I'm not going to run for any Party offices, much less for public office.) America is going to remain a two-party system. You can choose to re-engage with it, or to continue to remain scornfully outside it, criticizing both and rejecting both, which I believe makes your commentary vastly less relevant. But I think you won't re-engage, and I therefore regret the loss of what could be both a constructive and influential voice within the Party as it heals from Trump. It will never be perfect, but my goal is to help the GOP again be a better alternative than the Democrats present — which is, I'm very confident, an achievable goal.
I have nothing but the greatest respect for Bill, and any time he disagrees with me, it makes me stop and wonder whether I might be wrong. And so, at a time when spitting on this party and walking away superficially seems like the obvious thing to do, the advocacy of the complete opposite from someone I so deeply respect makes me want to consider the issue a little more deeply. Hence today’s missive — which is already longer than the usual long version, and promises to be longer still, now that I am finally getting to the point, some 2,000 words in. (Fans of the old Beldar Blog know that it is appropriate that I am paying tribute to him in a very, very, very long piece of writing.)
My first reaction is to ask a central question, because I view this as really more of a discussion and a process, rather than a pronouncement. My question is: What does it mean to say you’re a member of the Republican party? Do I have to vote for Republicans who make my skin crawl? Do I have to give them money? Do I have to attend meetings?
Based on the passage above, I take Bill’s answer to require, at a minimum, that to be a “member” of the party requires at a minimum that one be “someone who still self-identifies as a Republican, and writes publicly as such” — at least to the extent that one writes publicly about politics, as he and I do. That seems like a pretty reasonable definition. Then the question becomes: what are the reasons to self-identify as a Republican? Again, I am answering these questions in the spirit of discussion and not debate; my point here is to take Bill’s suggestion seriously, and discuss the pros and cons of his suggested approach.
To me, the most central reason to self-identify as a Republican is to vote in primaries. In my state of California, the Republican party holds closed primaries for the presidential nomination, requiring one to be a registered Republican in order to cast one’s ballot. Even though I publicly declared that I had left the party on May 3, 2016, I remained a nominal Republican on paper (if memory serves) until after the June 2016 primary, because I wanted to vote in the Republican primary for Ted Cruz. In 2020, I voted as a decline-to-state voter for Joe Biden in the open Democrat primary. There was no real choice to be made in the Republican primary, but I had the opportunity to cast a ballot for the most moderate Democrat, and I took it.
I can see becoming a Republican again, not just on paper but in spirit, in time for the 2024 primary. It’s hard to picture a candidate I would bother voting for, as I am too nauseated by anyone who has enabled or supported Trump or his brand of crazy off-the-wall populism, and that spirit really seems to have taken hold these days, doesn’t it?
But four years is a long time away, and many things can change. Before the election, I predicted that Trump would lose, would claim election fraud, and would convince many that there had been fraud. Then I described an interim period after Biden’s inauguration wherein GOP politicians would “remain cautious about alienating the still-sizable majority of Republicans who. at least initially, still support Trump.” But ultimately, I predicted that as 2024 rolled around, it would begin to sink in that turning over the party to Trump had been a mistake. That people who loved Trump for being a “winner” had finally realized that he had actually lost. That maybe he won in 2016 “only because he went up against the historically unlikable Hillary Clinton.” I see no particular reason to revisit this prediction. So maybe I will be in a position to vote in a 2024 primary. Who can know the future? I might not even be around then.
The next question is: if I’m willing to become a Republican to influence who the candidate is, is it worth it to once again become a Republican now, to influence the direction of the party now? This, I believe, is Bill’s position — and as such, it’s worth taking seriously.
Here I will digress a bit to make an analogy that, for whatever reason, had a lot of meaning to me. I don’t think Bill agrees with it, and it’s not on all fours, and it may not resonate with anyone else. But it struck home for me and helped me understand his position a lot better, and maybe it will do the same for one or two of you.
Let me begin by saying that Bill is no longer a regular commenter on my blog. This makes me sad. I’ve lost a lot of commenters over the years, but mostly they have left out of anger at my Trump criticism. That ain’t Bill. I don’t claim to speak for Bill about his reasons for leaving, but it’s clear that at least one of the major reasons was, as Bill put it in an email to me: “your blog became a decidedly hostile forum for me, or for anyone who plans, as I do, to continue working through the two party system rather than outside it.” And it’s true: at my blog, the tone set from the top, and echoed by a lot of the commentariat, has been very hostile to the party.
The analogy that immediately occurred to me was one between:
Bill leaving my blog because he saw it as a hostile forum for his point of view, and choosing to make his case outside my blog, and
My leaving the Republican party because I see it as a hostile forum for my point of view, and choosing to make my case outside the party.
Now, look. Please don’t do the thing people do in response to analogies, where they pretend they are attempts at equivalence rather than analogies. In no world do I believe a tiny blog or newsletter like mine compares in importance to the Republican party, and that’s not what I am saying. There are many, many other obvious dissimilarities between the two examples that leap to mind if you’re hellbent on rejecting my point without thinking about it deeply. For example: the Republican party is the only game in town besides the Democrats, whereas there are puh-lenty of other blogs, sites, and newsletters. Etc. etc. etc. I get it. The two things are not the same. I’m not saying they are.
But I still see an analogy here. And it helps me understand Bill’s point of view much better. And maybe it will cause some of you — especially those of you who miss Bill’s presence at my blog — to take his argument a little more seriously.
See, I think Bill could make a more effective case for why one ought to be a member of the Republican party by doing so as a member of the Patterico.com commentariat — because as such, he would be a member of that community, making a case directly to other community members, even though many of them disagree with Bill and are hostile to his pro-party views. But if I believe that . . . doesn’t that same logic extend to the question of whether we former Republicans ought to make the case for our vision of the Republican party as members of the Republican party? Wouldn’t our case be more effective if we were party members making a case directly to other party members, even though many of them disagree with us and many are hostile to our views?
Not everyone is unpersuadable, after all. In my missive to Bill, I took the liberty of quoting to him some comments from people at my blog who miss him. There is one comment that stood out to me and that I think is worth repeating here, because it is relevant to the analogy I am trying to make: “Beldar, do not leave us. Your words do not fall on deaf ears. I am inspired by the stand you take – if returning to the GOP were ever to appeal to me, it would be a direct result of efforts by you and others like you, both within and without the GOP, to preserve the remnant of the heart and soul it once had.”
Beldar sees my blog as a “hostile forum” for people like him who want to reform the Republican party from within — and frankly, he’s right. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t reaching anyone. He was reaching people, as that comment illustrates. Now, Bill may believe that his efforts at persuasion are more likely to bear fruit in a less hostile forum, and he may be right about that as well.
Similarly, I see the GOP as an essentially hostile forum for people like me who have harshly criticized Trump. I think I am right about that. But that doesn’t mean I am unable to reach anyone. Surely, I could reach some folks as a member of the party. Then again, perhaps my efforts at persuasion are more likely to bear fruit outside the party. Right now, it’s hard to know.
Honestly, while this analogy makes me more sympathetic to Bill’s position, I’m not planning to rejoin the party anytime soon. I see polling saying half the party members think the election was stolen, and that huge percentages (how huge depends on the poll) actually supported the insurrection at the Capitol. A distinct majority of the House caucus voted to overturn a free and fair election. That is not just disgraceful, but to me feels representative of a group that, currently, is dominated by people I can’t persuade. All of this is consistent with how I felt the moment Trump got the nomination. So I left.
But of course the unpersuadables are not everyone. For example, if you got this far in this newsletter without closing it in anger, there is a decent chance that you did not even need to be persuaded, for example, that Trump is poison. You always knew. And there are others like you.
There are persuadable people in the GOP, and there are persuadable people at my site.
It is possible that neither Bill nor I will rejoin the community to which we used to belong any time soon. (Although we would love to have him back!) But we probably shouldn’t rule it out forever. The one thing we know about life is that everything changes with time. I’ll continue to give this thought as time passes, and I hope others like me do the same.