Why I’m Registering as a Republican
When George F. Will, the Pulitzer-Prize winning conservative columnist, left the Republican party in 2016, he told a Politico reporter, “It is not my party.” He might just as easily have paraphrased Ronald Reagan’s famous explanation of his change 60 years earlier: “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party; the party left me.”
And so it goes for so many conservatives, including me who don’t recognize today’s Republicans as the party of individual liberty, limited government, and free enterprise that welcomed immigrants from around the world who sought a better life for their children. Republicans knew that America defended its allies and protected their “small-d” democratic ideals. Sadly, they were often behind the curve on social issues but embraced federalism, recognizing that the individual states were a laboratory of democracy where different issues could be settled locally.
I am a libertarian by instinct, but I vote as a conservative. I have occasionally registered Republican.
I sat out my first presidential election, because I couldn’t decide whom I disliked more — Nixon or McGovern. After that, I voted for Ford, Reagan, and two Bushes, twice. My votes for Dole and Romney were actually votes against Clinton and Obama. For McCain, I just held my nose.
In 2015, however, my conservative friends had the wind knocked out of them. A former Democrat with a loud mouth and a mean streak descended an escalator and began to dominate the news cycle. Embraced by a new breed of Republicans, he fed their anger and envy with nationalism and xenophobia. He ridiculed his competitors on the stump and on the debate podium with schoolyard name-calling, earning seemingly unlimited press coverage from the liberal media who disdained him. And month by month, he drove away conservatives like George Will who still believed in the ideals that had made us Republicans. Some stayed and justified their votes because they thought he would select good judges. I voted Libertarian — twice — which I regarded as “present” or “none of the above”.
His inaugural address foreshadowed the chaos to come. Scorning immigrants as “rapists” and “drug dealers”, he painted a dark picture of a declining society whose world stature was diminished by international adventurism and unfair trade policies. Serial cabinet secretaries quit or were fired, followed by insulting tweets from the president. Some of us held our breath as we waited for the next indiscretion.
But the economy prospered, and employment grew. New Supreme Court justices embraced “originalism”, which realized the hopes of many conservatives. Despite other missteps, a Covid vaccine was approved in record time.
On Election Day in 2020, he received more votes than he had in 2016. But Joe Biden got more.
The incitement to riot on January 6 was a shameful act, followed by his unprecedented absence at the inauguration of his successor. The shenanigans continue today as he reboots for a third presidential campaign.
I changed my registration to “unaffiliated” after Trump got elected, refusing to be part of any party. And so many voters followed suit that we have a record number of independent voters — voters who have no say in the primary elections that choose our candidates. Now the most extreme elements of the Republican party, who are most likely to vote in primaries, are selecting the candidates. And many of these outliers underperform or just lose in the general election. And, not surprisingly, Democratic operatives have occasionally supported some of the most extreme Republicans, because that’s the one that will be easiest to beat. Cynical, but effective.
Some see the divide in the Republicans as an opportunity to start a third party, but that’s a trap. Third parties steal votes from their friends, not their enemies. One promising exception is the No Labels movement, which may nominate a fusion ticket of two moderates next year. Let’s keep an eye on them and sign their petitions if asked.
In the 50 years that I’ve been eligible to vote, I have never been so discouraged about our national politics. But rather that sit on the sidelines and complain, I’ve decided to join up. I’m registering as a Republican and urging independents to follow my lead. Admittedly, Republican voters don’t hold much sway in “deep-blue” New York state elections, but I’m hoping Independents in Virginia, Kansas, Georgia, and Wisconsin share my discontent and come to the same conclusion.
Edmund Burke may or may not have said, “The only thing required for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing,” but the caution is apt. It’s time for independents and moderates to do something.