I’m pleased to be here today to discuss who I’ll be supporting for president, and why.
It was the honor of my life to represent my state, Arizona — my family’s home — in the United States House and Senate for eighteen years. I am a conservative. I’ve always felt that my conservative beliefs and values were best expressed in the Republican Party. I was a Republican long before the president ever called himself one, and I will be a Republican long after identifying as such is no longer useful to him. Principle does not go in and out of fashion, does not chase ratings, or play to the base, or care too much about polls. And principle is the provenance of no one party. That is one of the things I am here to talk about today.
The other thing I am here to talk about is the future — both of my party, but more importantly, the future of our country.
I was raised on a cattle ranch in Northern Arizona. Goldwater country. When I was a kid, the Republican Party under President Reagan was brimming with ideas, full of purpose and principle. It was coherent, and inspiring, and idealistic. So much so that it awakened the imagination of a kid from the town of Snowflake, and a whole generation of other kids just like him. Made us think big thoughts, and of our place in the world, and of what it meant to be an American in America, the shining city on a hill.
With Reagan, a conservative’s vision of America as the indispensable nation was benevolent and big-hearted, a beacon to the striver and to the subjugated and those locked behind an ideological wall that divided the world into free and oppressed. It was morning in Reagan’s America. It wasn’t perfect, but it was always getting better. We were the sum of our goodness, not our gripes — of our resolve, not our resentments.
I got into public service believing that for our politics to be healthy, the American government needed people who believed as I do, but also people who believed differently from me. This has become somewhat of a novel idea. But it is the genius of our founders that the Constitution forces compromise. Governing is hard. Democracy is hard. Decency shouldn’t be that hard, but apparently it is. You know what’s easy? Name calling. Demagoguery. The politics of vengeance is easy. Dehumanization requires very little talent.
By raging at each other, our minds vacant of reason and reeling with ill-will and tinfoil hat conspiracy theories, we have given in to the horrible tribal impulse to first mistake our opponents for our enemies… then become seized with the conviction that we must destroy that enemy… seemingly oblivious to the fact that not only are we not enemies, we are each vital organs in the same body.
It’s as if in order to save itself, your brain decided to destroy your heart. That’s about the level of care we are currently bringing to the proceedings. There is a sickness in our system, and we have infected the whole country with it.
We’re all old enough to remember when we elected presidents who spoke to our highest ideals and aspirations as a nation, not to our darkest dystopian fears. I can remember when, once an election was settled, a new president would reach out a hand to those who had opposed him, and pledge to do right by all Americans, not just those who were loyal to him.
That’s the way presidents once sought to lead and govern. In fact, it is the way every other president in the modern era, Republican or Democrat, tried to conduct himself in office. Each possessed a keen awareness that a president’s principal role is to serve not himself or his interests or the interests of his clan, but the people of the United States. That was once the American way.
Those of us of a certain age in this country have also had the rare good fortune of growing up and into adulthood not having to think too much about the consequences of our votes — or even whether we vote at all in a given election.
For our entire lives, through some very fractious political periods, we have taken steady self-governance for granted, and that is a luxury that so many of our fellow human beings living in other countries have never had for a single day of their lives.
But the story of the past 3 ½ years is the story of the power that we vest in the presidency, and the consequences when a president does not use that power well. And these times prove the folly of taking anything for granted.
In 2016, one candidate running for the Republican nomination described our current President as a “chaos candidate” and if elected he would be a “chaos president.” Can anyone now seriously argue against this proposition?
Of course, in 2016 the President was a private citizen, and thus was unaccountable for the chaos he caused. And these traits of the man who would become the standard bearer of my party were bad enough when exhibited by a mere candidate for president.
In 2016, it was bad enough when for months in advance of the election, the Republican nominee for president claimed falsely that the coming election would be rigged. Now, as president of the United States, he has said, and I quote: “The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged.” What kind of president talks like that? What kind of American leader undermines confidence in elections in his own country, as part of his strategy to hold power? This is extraordinarily dangerous to a free society and it stands to inflict lasting damage to our democracy.
It was bad enough when as a candidate he attacked a federal judge because of his heritage, saying that Judge Gonzalo Curiel couldn’t preside fairly over a certain case because Curiel’s parents were from Mexico. As President, he has only intensified his attack on judges. He has interfered in cases involving his friends and threatened jail for his opponents, demonstrating how little he knows or appreciates about the independent administration of justice in America.
In 2016, it was bad enough for a mere candidate for president to sweet talk the Russian dictator, calling Vladimir Putin a “strong leader for his people,” as if “his people” had a say in the matter. Watching that man as president stand with Putin at Helsinki and take the dictator’s side, defying his own intelligence community and denying the ongoing Russian attacks on our elections — was shocking and appalling. In that moment, and in so many other inexplicable moments of deference to dictators, a president of the United States degraded his office and diminished America’s role as leader of the free world.
It was bad enough in 2016 when as a candidate he resorted to calling his opponents childish names. That behavior in a president — which has only gotten worse, is an embarrassment to the office. Do any of us want our children to emulate this behavior?
I could go on, but the litany is all too familiar. It is apparent by now that the president’s behavior has not and will not change, whatever hopes we Republicans might have entertained about the office changing the man.
Some of my conservative friends will say, yes, we don’t like his behavior, but he governs as a conservative. Here, today, I will say to my fellow conservatives: Whatever else you might call the behavior I have just described, it is most assuredly not conservative. Indifference to the truth or to the careful stewardship of the institutions of American liberty is not conservative. Disregard for the separation of powers — the centerpiece of our constitutional system — is not conservative. Governing by tweet is not conservative. It’s not even governing.
And to the refrain — Well, it’s all about the Supreme Court, I say: To fall back on Supreme Court appointments as the last remnant by which we define a once vibrant conservative movement should offer little solace to conservatives.
Three conservative principles have defined and animated the Republican Party over the past several decades. A belief in limited government, a commitment to free trade, and a recognition that strong American leadership around the globe makes America a more secure nation and the world a better place.
So, how are we doing with these principles?
Well, we were running trillion-dollar deficits even before the coronavirus hit us. We have destroyed foreign markets for our goods and services. We have threatened security agreements that have kept the peace for nearly three quarters of a century. We have offended allies who we will desperately need to face China and other long-term threats to our security and prosperity. For no good reason.
Can any of us stand here today and claim that our party has remained faithful to conservative principles during the President’s time in office? No, we cannot.
If we are honest, there is less of a conservative case to be made for reelecting the President than there is a blatant appeal for more rank tribalism. And further division. And more willful amnesia in the face of more outlandish presidential behavior.
I cannot and will not be a part of that. There simply is no future in it. To my fellow Republicans who, like me, believe in the power of conservative ideas — ask yourself: Will we be in a better position to make a conservative case for governing after four more years of this administration? I think we all know the answer.
So here we are today. During the 2016 election, given what I had already seen during the campaign, I knew I could not vote for the President. Like many of my colleagues, I chose to vote for a third-party candidate. Today, given what we have experienced over the past four years, it is not enough to just to register our disapproval of the President. We need to elect someone else in his place, someone who will stop the chaos and reverse the damage.
Putting country over party has a noble history here in Arizona. In 1992, Mr. Republican, Barry Goldwater, endorsed a Democrat running for Congress over the Republican he felt would not represent the party well. Goldwater hadn’t traded in his conservative credentials. Far from it. He simply believed, in that case, that the conservative cause would be better served over the long term if the Democrat prevailed.
And that is what I believe today, in this election. And that is what a growing number of Republicans believe and are declaring today as well.
I have never before voted for a Democrat for president. But I’ve been asked many times over the past four years if I, as a conservative, could vote for a Democrat for President. “Sure,” has been my ready answer, “if he or she were a Joe Biden-kinda-Democrat.
Well, the Democratic Party just nominated a Joe Biden-kinda-Democrat, whom I am confident will approach his constitutional role with the reverence and dignity it deserves. I know that he will reach across the aisle, because that’s what he’s done his entire career.
After the turmoil of the past four years, we need a president who unifies rather than divides.
We need a president who prefers teamwork to tribalism.
We need a president who summons our better angels, not a president who appeals to our baser instincts.
That’s why we need Joe Biden.
If we have learned anything over the past four years, it is that character matters. Decency matters. Civility never goes out of style. And we should expect our president to exhibit these virtues.
I have known Vice President Biden for two decades now. I served with him in Congress for much of that time. He is a good and decent man. I haven’t always agreed with him, and there will be many policies on which we will disagree in the future, and that’s okay. The steadiness of leadership, and the health and survival of our democracy — those things far supersede any policy issues on which we might disagree.
And this much I know: With Joe Biden as president, we will be able to preserve the civic space wherein Republicans and Democrats can go back to merely disagreeing about issues of policy, without fear of revenge or reprisal.
That day cannot come soon enough.
And so, it is because of my conservatism, and because of my belief in the Constitution, and in the separation of power, and because I am gravely concerned about the conduct and behavior of our current president that I stand here today — proudly and wholeheartedly — to endorse Joe Biden to be our next president of the United States of America.
America’s best days are ahead. Go Joe.
Thank you very much.