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Why I Have Chosen the Democratic Party

The end of the Weekly Standard [1] has led many of my fellow Never Trump conservatives to sit back and take stock. Quite a few are still Republicans, and still trying to find a way to reconcile their party membership with its leader. Others have left the party and are experiencing the apparent joy of nonpartisanship.

I also went from Never Trump conservative [2] who left the Republican Party [3] to a Clinton voter [4] in 2016, but I went further after she was defeated. These days, I call myself the conservative feather in the Democratic Party. Suffice to say, nearly all of my fellow Never Trump conservatives have chosen not to follow me.

I can certainly understand why. Leaving one political tribe can be harrowing enough without joining another one. I like to say that the political spectrum has thrown me like a Martian Congressional Republic Navy vessel dropping into combat maneuvers from a 3G burn with no crash couch (that won’t make much sense unless you’re a fan of The Expanse, so start binge-watching it).

Whatever partisan decision we took, we all had the same motivation: to find a way to a credible per-Trump center-right in the Trump era. Unlike most of the rest, I remain convinced that the Democratic Party is a far better home for decent center-right Americans than the Trump-led Republican Party.

For starters, I fear that far too many anti-Trump Republicans (that’s my term) still cling to the belief that the GOP can be rescued from Trump. History tells us that it can’t. I’ve already described the effect of Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign on Richard Nixon [5] – and Goldwater lost 44 states. The Trump nomination was not a divergence for the Republican share of an electorate; it was an unveiling. It was the coming out party for white nationalists, racialists, and outright racists – and they’re not going anywhere. Even now, Trump is effectively merging his re-election campaign with the Republican National Committee (Politico [6]).

Events of the last three years have also taught me something that still escapes many others – the voters are ahead of the parties, not the other way around. Trump won the nomination in 2016 despite a party leadership that ranged from ambivalence to outright hostility. It was the Republican voters who revealed themselves in nominating Trump.

Last month, a different set of voters revealed their power: moderate suburbanites who supported pre-Trump Republicans but now want nothing to do with the GOP. Those are the new swing voters, and they’ve made it clear which way they’re swinging.

That said, my new(-ish) party is also not yet up to speed. As polls repeatedly show Democratic voters are more likely to support freer trade, most (although not all) elected officials are still stuck in the 20th century – and that’s just one example. For most Never-Trumpers, the problems of the Democratic Party keep them out. I took a different approach, guided by my near-quarter-century as a Republican activist. I recognized that Democrats are more likely to hear and accept arguments for freer markets and for a more robust foreign policy from one of their own than from anyone outside it.

Moreover, whatever future the Republican Party might have, if the Trump critics can ever manage to convince primary voters to break their infatuation with him, there is still the GOP of the present to consider – a party that has jettisoned its beliefs and its values for the sake of Donald J. Trump.

If anything, the closest analogy to today’s Republican Party is its 1930s ancestor – infected with isolationism, with protectionism, and with nostalgia for a past long gone and never really as rosy as they remember it. It took that party 20 years to adapt. Whatever the Republicans of 2036 might be like, the ones in 2018 have made clear they can’t be trusted with power – and I’m not about to let the country suffer another 18 years just so the Republicans can fix themselves – if they even can, which I don’t think they can do.

I’ll also acknowledge that my views on LGBTQ-etc. issues are largely considered “on the left,” which also made joining the Democrats much easier for me than for others.

Still, the reality is that Republicans – as a group – are following their leader towards a nasty, racialist collectivism (or, if you prefer, “populism”) and show no real signs of turning themselves around. The Democrats are far from perfect, but if you’re looking for a political party that can protect what’s left of the democratic world from isolationism and from protectionism, they’re the only remaining option. The Republicans under Donald Trump have no interest in being part of the solution – because they think the problem is the solution.

Meanwhile, some Democrats are already adjusting to the new landscape – such as outgoing Congressman and presidential candidate John Delaney (full disclosure: he’s my choice for the nomination) and incoming Congressman Joe Cunningham (WCSC [7] – Charleston, SC).

Are the Democrats too far to the left on a number of issues? Yes, I think we are. The question to ask is this: which is more likely to happen? The Democrats become wiser on economics? Or the Republicans becoming more empathetic in general – and wiser on economics?

The Republican primaries of 2016 and of 2018 make it abundantly clear that they’re not changing at all, while the Democrats are already beginning to change (see above). I humbly submit to my fellow conservatives that we should recognize this reality and take advantage of it.