July 18, 2015 — The day I became NeverTrump.
If you know me at all, you know I am a woman fiercely loyal to my friends and family. And so it was on July 18 when I already knew that I had enough reason to never vote for Trump.
Following a line of other right-wing wacko birds, Trump insulted a man I esteem and love, a man who has risked his life in service of his country. He insulted my grandfather and attacked the very qualities — loyalty, bravery and selflessness — that he and countless other POWs embody. He mocked the sacrifice many have given and the anguish families have endured when their heroes have suffered alone miles away.
My grandfather responded with grace and forgiveness — as only a man who was held in captivity for years can. But I’ve been nursing a grudge ever since. Trump’s statement, in my view, is unforgivable, and speaks to the kind of man he is: a coward who has never faced danger in his life, an insecure brat who shirked duty for comfort, and a man who is wholly unfit to serve as commander-in-chief.
Donald Trump lost my respect that day, and he can never gain it back.
But there are many, many more reasons why I cannot vote for him.
It didn’t take long for it to move beyond the personal, as week after week went by, and Donald Trump laid brick after brick in a wall of racist comments, lies, misogyny and ignorance that slowly climbed taller than the wall he promised to build.
He lacks the temperament and the wisdom to navigate our ever-increasingly dangerous world. Policy decisions aside, being President of the United States requires a steady hand — and never moreso than now. A competent commander-in-chief must respond to threats to the Republic, but Trump only responds to threats to his ego.
He has repeatedly called for the increase of torture, and for murdering the families of islamic jihadists.
He is the result of a demand for ideological purity at all costs, and the bastard child of talk radio and entertainment TV.
He’s made promise after promise he never intended to keep — from giving money to veterans (which he never did) to protecting Americans jobs (while applying for foreign worker permits for his own hotels).
He is a misogynist — insulting and demeaning women in his professional and personal circles. He is a racist — calling immigrants rapists and suggesting judges of Mexican descent should be prevented from serving. And he is a demagogue — preying on people’s most base fears and promising to cure them like some demented salesman.
Never Meant Never
What began for me on July 18th only became further entrenched. Months later, never still meant never.
November, and “Never” was easy. I started working for a presidential candidate who embodied hope and could communicate a different kind of future than the one Trump was painting, a candidate who would carry a banner of conservatism that could shape an entire generation.
“Never” was convenient then, because it illustrated just how committed I was to my candidate and our team.
March 15, and “Never” was a bit irrational. But even in the disappointment of defeat, I held fast to the anchor I had let down in July — never would mean never. Even if my guy could not win this time around I would not bring myself to vote for a man I not only disagreed with, but who in my view posed a unique threat to conservatism and to our Republic.
But if “Never” meant No Trump, than who would it mean? I rationalized and reasoned with myself —in spite of knowing what was coming and what was at that point inevitable — that I didn’t have to decide anything now. I could still hold out hope (live in denial) and put off any actual decision until it was absolutely necessary. I still had choices, then.
These are the choices we have.
This is not the election I wanted. These are not the choices I wanted. But these are the choices we have. And to pretend otherwise is naivety.
If we lived in a system where third-party candidates stood a chance to win, then it would be a different choice. A third-party candidate could be a chance to exercise my civic responsibility while protecting my conscience.
But as things stand now, a third-party candidate cannot win the presidency. Additionally, without a coalition in other branches of government, a third-party candidate would be hamstrung and limited in their ability to pass meaningful legislation.
And still, there were bright spots and outside chances that a legitimate candidate could emerge. That a candidate better for America would rise up like a messiah and rescue us from this mess that we probably created. And even then, if that wasn’t possible, at least some conservatives stood in the face of retribution and suggested that voting your conscience was a brave and necessary act.
For the last several months, I’ve wrestled with my options. Sitting at home and not voting, voting for a candidate whose party I’ve long opposed, or exercising a vote of conscience with either a third party candidate or a write-in.
But I’ve realized that what matters about my vote is not whether it makes me feel good — it’s about whether it leads to the common good. And I started to realize that for some, “voting your conscience” has become a euphemism for protecting your self interest. An exercise in privilege.
If I’ve heard anything from my friends who are gay, my friends who are black, my friends whose rights have been pushed against and infringed upon while mine have been neatly protected, it is this: there is a real fear that a “vote your conscience” movement could siphon #NeverTrump votes away from Hillary, and in a cruel turn of events, a nation’s conscience is sacrificed to elect a clown.
On the penultimate night of the Democratic National Convention, the Democrats made a calculated play for disaffected Republican voters. I don’t think it was hard to miss, but maybe that’s because it felt like they were speaking to me.
I have never been on board with Obama’s agenda. I think he’s damaged our foreign relations and dramatically increased the power of the presidency in ways detrimental to our country. It is also a strange barrier to cross when he is the man who defeated your grandfather on a national stage. Did I mention I’m fiercely loyal to my family?
But that night as he spoke, and he talked about American exceptionalism, and he talked about hope, and he talked about ingenuity and the resilience of the American people, he spoke to me. He reminded me of the choice before me.
He could have pointed blame at the GOP for enabling Trump’s rise. He could have taken party leadership to task for falling in line behind Trump. But he didn’t. He instead presented the election as a choice between democracy and demagogue. He gave Republicans the option to abandon Trump rather than blaming them for his rise.
There are so many things I disagree with President Obama on, but this is a moment I will always respect him for. And maybe this was the moment I needed to fully own the choice I would have to make in November.
Can I even call myself a Republican?
Over a year ago, on a walk with a friend through the thick DC humidity, we talked about campaigns and politics and the primaries. We talked about Trump and his outrageousness, his ignorance, and the dangers he’d pose to my party (not hers), and the dangers he’d pose to our world. But then, he was just a joke. I was angry about his comments, but I was still able to laugh them off. He wasn’t a serious threat to our world, because he couldn’t possibly win the nomination. Yet even then, I said to her,
“If Donald Trump wins the nomination, I don’t know if I can call myself a Republican any more.”
And that is where I am. The party I grew up in, the party I want to work in and change and push to be more inclusive, betrayed me and countless others. The party chose for its king a demagogue who wears a wig instead of a crown, and a celebrity in pursuit of fame and fortune rather than service and sacrifice.
If this is where the party is going — building walls to keep immigrants out, irrationally objecting to international trade, railing against marriage equality, then I’m gone. If this is where the nominee — who was for abortion before it was politically expedient, who is a racist and a misogynist, who wants to carpet bomb the Middle East and ban Muslims, wants to take the party — then I want nothing to do with it.
Loyalty to party can never trump loyalty to country. And loyalty to party means nothing when the party has been poisoned.
Whether the party can recover from this cycle remains to be seen. But it’s impossible to predict what will happen to the GOP a year from now. It’s impossible to discern whether this is a reckoning, or simply an adjustment. Whether the party will self-correct or has been irreparably damaged.
There are those who insist the party is dying, and the RNC was its wake. There are others who believe, perhaps naively, that a rebirth is possible. I am hopeful for a rebirth, a restart — but it will be impossible with Trump and his talk-radio minions at the helm.
But I am not yet ready to call myself a Democrat.
My political philosophy is still fundamentally Republican — focused on self-reliance, states’ rights, a government that steps in when it should, for a free people who recognize it’s not the best option most of the time.
Meanwhile, the current incarnation of the Democratic party is pushing too far left on abortion, ignoring the realities of a disfigured Islamic jihad, and encouraging a ballooning government that is too large and tilted toward the executive office.
And I have issues with Hillary Clinton — and I don’t really mean the emails. Her family’s financial decisions with their foundation are questionable and raise potential ethical problems as she steps into the most powerful role in the world. Her inaccessibility to the press is troubling. And looking back on the 1990s, it seems like she made decisions that protected her own power and standing at the expense of others.
But I learned something important in 2000 and again in 2008: the picture the opposition and the media paints of a candidate is not the whole picture, and it is not the truthful picture.
I wanted our nation to see what I saw, and to believe the best about my grandfather — to believe he was driven by service more than ambition, that his decisions were always made in view of a nation rather than of himself. To believe that any mistakes he had made were not intentional, and to believe that his compromise was faithfulness to, and not a betrayal of, his duty.
So I can, and should, do the same for Hillary. I (and you) don’t have to buy into a demonized portrait that has been painted of her for years. I can question her policy without questioning her character. I can criticize her past decisions, without reading corruption back into all of them. I can believe those closest to her when they say her faith is authentic, her character good, and her ambition animated by a heart of service.
July 27, 2016 — The day I finally decided
I wanted a different candidate. I wanted a New American Century. I wanted an election with good ideas and good discourse. I wanted to win. But now I want my party to change. I want fresh leaders, of good character, in both parties. And I want Donald Trump to be humiliated in November and driven far from the political arena for the rest of his life.
So I’m not a Democrat — at least not yet. But this year, I’m With Her.