Let me preface this article by explaining that my departure from the Republican Party began before Donald Trump was the nominee for President. A lifelong Republican who’s held internships and volunteer positions on over a dozen campaigns from borough council to Presidential races, I’ve had close ties with the party for many, many years. An intern for the Mitt Romney presidential campaign in northern Virginia in 2012, I firmly believed that Governor Romney would provide the strong, steady leadership needed in the United States to take us through a turbulent world.
Looking back on the 2012 presidential race, one easily is able to identify the ideological differences between President Obama and Mitt Romney- both level-headed, thoughtful leaders representing differing world views to the electorate. Whenever I think back to my time with the Romney people in Virginia, I remember the experience fondly. I was proud to represent a generally moderate, mainstream Republican candidate for President who had a strong CV and a powerful vision. Obama and Romney were counterparts, but still respectable men. Fast forward to 2015.
Something ticked in me. I didn’t know whether it was a result of my time abroad in Europe in Spring of 2015, the classes I was enrolled in at my university, or just my own exposure to more progressive writing, but I found myself becoming much less conservative. Everything from the environment, to gender and LGBT issues (though I’d always been socially liberal, even as a Republican), even my thinking on taxation and economic regulation, began to shift from a traditionally conservative point of view to a more moderate one, if not outright progressive. This was not solely due to the aforementioned experiences. I began to cringe at the way many elected and candidate Republicans across the country were talking about the issues. People like Representative Steve King from Iowa, Senators Cruz and Sessions, Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker Paul Ryan and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus made me think that my party didn’t represent me anymore.
Begrudgingly, I remained loyal to the party that had offered me so many wonderful experiences, and began to be actively involved in the student-wing of the Jeb Bush campaign. Here was a Republican I respected. Compassionate conservatism at its core- a believer in a softer approach to immigration reform, education reform and criminal justice reform. A proven leader as Governor and in the private sector, much like Mr Romney. I liked it. Unfortunately, no one else did and Jeb didn’t last long. But throughout the campaign, one thing struck me. All of the Jeb people absolutely despised Donald Trump. Not just disagreed with his style or his rhetoric- I’m talking, could not stand him.
At a Jeb fundraiser one night in Georgetown, DC, I met a student who was doing a semester in DC through his school in Iowa. His family were donors from the Hawkeye State who had been closely tied with the Bush family since the early 90’s. We got to talking, and he said something that surprised me. I asked him, “If Jeb doesn’t make it through this, who will you support?”. His reply: “Kasich, otherwise I’m With Her.” I was stunned. A wealthy Bush-donor was telling me he was for either Kasich or Hillary Clinton. I asked him why and his response ended up being exactly what I was use in later conversations when I was asked who I was supporting: “Because Donald Trump is the exact worst possible person for the job and the country, regardless of party affiliation, needs to rally around someone to stop him.” Powerful stuff.
It was in that moment that I realised I wasn’t a Republican anymore. I had been clinging on to my Republicanism desperately by supporting the most moderate candidate they had and I decided from that moment on, I was a Democrat.
The scenes at Trump’s rallies and the people supporting him were an especial turnoff for me. I’m not going to call them ‘deplorables’, because that’s not constructive. But the ugliness of the alt-right was front and centre throughout the campaign. The both overt and subtle racism, the fear-mongering about refugees and those of Muslim faith, the anti-globalisation rhetoric and ‘America First’ all shook me. For the first time, the Old Right of Pat Buchanan and Robert Taft was mainstream in the GOP. I disagreed with all of it passionately, and so I threw my support behind Secretary Clinton, who I genuinely believed was better qualified and certainly had the proper temperament to be leader of the most powerful nation on earth. We all know the election results and all that has happened since Trump took office. I’m proud to call myself a member of the resistance, opposing Trump’s far-right agenda where ever I can.
Like I said in the beginning of this piece, it was a lengthy transition from the GOP to the Democratic party. My ideology changed. Through rigorous study, research, experience, and listening to experts dissertate on a wide range of topics, I’ve developed my ideology into one of progressivism based on social justice, solidarity, tolerance, and equality. Donald Trump, to me, represents a bygone world that is continuing to cling to its traditions in an effort to resist new norms. He wasn’t the initial cause of my departure from conservatism, and thus the Republican Party, but he certainly finalised it. His rise could end up being the GOP’s fall. Let’s wait and see.