Another Lifetime Republican Official Left the Tent
This week, Michael Stafford of Indiana announced he changed his registration from Republican to Independent. In his written announcement, published on The Cagle Post, he states that even though he’s been a lifelong Republican, going back to elementary school and even serving as a state GOP officer, he can no longer support the GOP.
I reached this point through a long series of awakenings and realizations- a path marked by literally years of wrestling with, and finally accepting, the political implications of a number of difficult truths. It involved ever-increasing levels of cognitive dissonance, as I tried to square my experiences, concerns, and knowledge, with my continued loyalty to the GOP.
As a local GOP official after President Obama’s election, I had a front-row seat as it became infected by a dangerous and virulent form of political rabies.
In the grip of this contagion, the Republican Party has come unhinged. Its fevered hallucinations involve threats from imaginary communists and socialists who, seemingly, lurk around every corner. Climate change- a reality recognized by every single significant scientific body and academy in the world- is a liberal conspiracy conjured up by Al Gore and other leftists who want to destroy America. Large numbers of Republicans- the notorious birthers- believe that the President was not born in the United States. Even worse, few figures in the GOP have the courage to confront them.
Republican economic policies are also indefensible. The GOP constantly claims that its opponents are engaged in “class warfare,” but this is an exercise in projection. In Republican proposals, the wealthy win, and the rest of us lose- one only has to look at Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget to see that.
As Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein have written, “the Republican Party, has become an insurgent outlier—ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.” Its reckless behavior helps drive the political dysfunction crippling our nation.
In the end, it offers a dystopian vision of our future- a harsher, crueler and more merciless America starkly divided between the riders, and the ridden.
From the moment the Tea Party emerged on the scene, I had a premonition that I would eventually have to leave the GOP. But my mind conjured innumerable reasons for delay- for putting off the day of reckoning in the desperate hope that some game-changing miracle would occur, such as a victory by Governor Jon Huntsman in the Republican presidential primary.
But no miracle happened. Among all the difficult truths I’ve had to face, perhaps none has been harder than the realization that I, and those dissidents like me, are unrepresentative outliers far removed from, and largely unable to influence, the main currents of opinion within the GOP.
Ultimately, leaving the GOP was necessary in order to maintain my own integrity. Leaving is also a public act of personal protest. I am under no illusions about its broader significance- it will have no impact on the trajectory of the political narrative in this nation. But that does not make it futile. On the contrary, as the shadows lengthen, such minor individual acts of defiance and dissent are more critical now than ever before.
Perhaps, one day, a reformed and responsible Republican Party will reemerge.
I echo this last statement. I remember great Republican legislators. Great GOP senators of great integrity and honor who put the health and welfare of the nation first. Senators, like Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, who were not afraid to stand up on the floor of Senate to lecture her GOP colleagues. Senators like Howard Baker from Tennessee who became one of my favorite senators because of his honor, honesty and modesty. The path the GOP has followed since the promotion of Gingrich to House Speaker radically departs from the path led by these and many other truly great Republican politicians.