Published 2:59 PM EDT Mar 9, 2020
For many years I’ve loathed the Democratic Party. I still do. But I recently registered as a Democrat myself. Now that the Democratic nomination contest is on the verge of crystallizing, it is a critical moment for Republicans and ex-Republicans to join me in my seemingly incongruous act.
I became a Republican with Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980. This was the party of the Constitution, of limited government and a forward-leaning American posture around the world. It was Reagan who helped topple communism in the Soviet Union and shepherded countries like South Korea and Taiwan into the democratic fold. It was Reagan who enshrined an intelligent brand of originalism by appointing the great constitutionalist Antonin Scalia to the Supreme Court.
But on the day Donald Trump won the Republican presidential nomination, I was out the door. As a lifelong New Yorker until quite recently, I know that three-card monte is a scam. I would never lend an iota of support to Trump and his shills. I immediately registered as an independent and devoted my efforts as a writer to exposing Trump’s flimflammery.
The party that I once regarded as a pillar of our constitutional order is now eating away at that order like termites, indulging every one of Trump’s transgressions against longstanding constitutional norms and against decency itself. The party that once stood against dictators is now led by a man who admires Russia’s Vladimir Putin and says he fell in love with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. As much as I loathed the Democrats, I loathe these craven Republican cowards even more.
Last stand against Bernie Sanders
In 2018, I moved from New York City to Washington, D.C., and in January I changed my voter registration from independent to Democratic. Living in an overwhelmingly blue city, my vote has more meaning in a Democratic primary. I am passionately committed to bringing down Trump and I will support any Democrat who can achieve that result.
To that end, registering as a Democrat gives me an opportunity to take a last stand in Washington’s June primary against Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., an aged advocate of a failed ideology. His nomination would ensure Trump’s victory in November, along with a Republican-controlled Senate and perhaps also a Republican-controlled House — a triple disaster, a shipwreck for our democracy.
I still have grave misgivings about the Democrats. The party has made a cult out of abortion rights and driven right-to-life Democrats from its ranks. This is wrong on the merits and extraordinarily foolish as an electoral matter. It means turning away an untold number of voters who would stand with the Democratic Party on other issues, voters which it treats in a contemptuous and supercilious manner.
The Democratic Party is also rife with politicians hostile to the state of Israel, beginning with the “Squad” and extending outward on its left flank. Mirroring the British Labor Party, the Democrats have tolerated left-wing anti-Semitism, including time-honored tropes about Jews wielding undue power and control. This even as it practices a form of identity politics that divides Americans by race and ethnicity, celebrating some groups while remaining largely indifferent to the plight of others.
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But that is not the whole story. In the inverted world that Trump has brought about, the Democratic Party is becoming the party of the Constitution. It stands for the separation of powers, for independent courts, for an apolitical Justice Department, for a law-abiding presidency. In foreign affairs, it has become the party of NATO and alliances, of law enforcement and the intelligence community, of protecting the integrity of the FBI and the CIA.
Jolting Democrats onto a new path
Perhaps some or all of these reversals are entirely opportunistic if not hypocritical. Once in power, the Democrats might well lapse back to their familiar dovish ways and a President Sanders would no doubt accelerate that process. But words, even empty words, can change minds, and at least some Democrats might well have been jolted by Trumpism onto a new path.
Finally, there are various gaps between the two parties. The conservative political philosopher Harvey Mansfield has called the Trump phenomenon “a rebellion of the lower half of the IQ against the higher half. The uneducated against the educated.” That may be overstating the case, but when it comes to Congress, can there be any doubt that the Democrats are far smarter than the clownish Republicans? Compare the eloquent Adam Schiff with Devin Nunes, his sluggish, thuggish Republican counterpart on the House Intelligence Committee. This is a boxing ring in which the mighty Muhammad Ali is pitted against a 98-pound nebbish. Among elected officials, the mismatch largely extends across the board.
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The same holds for being principled. Look at what has become of leading Republicans like Sens. Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio. Before Trump was in the White House, they were calling him “a jackass,” “a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot” and “an embarrassment” who would not be respected around the world. When he won, they were hailing him as Reagan’s second coming. Republicans stand for nothing these days except the acquisition and retention of naked power.
I am hoping that come November, Trump’s Republican Party will die in an electoral firestorm, and that some sort of cleansed and chastened phoenix will one day rise from the ashes. As a newly minted Democrat, I have been busy gathering tinder. I call upon all those current and former Republicans who are disgusted with what has happened to their party to join me in igniting the spark.
Gabriel Schoenfeld, an adviser to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, is a senior fellow at the Niskanen Center, a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors and a recently registered Democrat. Follow him on Twitter. @GabeSchoenfeld