I Guess I’m A Democrat Now: I’m leaving the Republican Party — here’s why you should too

Jan 22, 2020 at 11:02 am
leaving the Republican Party

I didn’t originally vote for President Obama... But man oh man, I miss him.

Well, crap. How did this happen?

I don’t have the wisdom, or wit, of George Will. I’m not a defecting GOP congressman. Nor state representative. Not even a retired party elder saying what others won’t.

But, I’m not politically apathetic. I was a door knocker for a Republican congresswoman. I interned for the GOP get out the vote effort in 2004. I had a leadership position in College Republicans. More recently, as a lawyer and political consultant, I helped elect numerous Republicans in four states while flipping the State House in one and the State Senate in another.

On paper, I’m that “five for five” primary voter that steadfast party loyalist politics is built on — and I’m leaving the Republican Party.

That discrepancy, between paper and reality, is just one of those contradictions that defines modern American life.

I’m a well-educated, straight, white man from one of the whitest and politically reddest states in the country. I regularly (OK, semi-regularly) attend church. My wife is one of our deacons. I’m a small business owner who, without exaggeration, would likely have to close our business upon the passage of progressive policies.

My family tree is more military than civilian. After 22 years in the Marine Corps, my father told me that one of his only career regrets was that he retired in early 1993 instead of a tad sooner. He wanted George H.W. Bush to have signed his papers instead of Bill Clinton.

Both my parents are Republicans.

I’m privileged. Those same parents, still married, have worked hard to improve their economic circumstances throughout my life. At every turn, like their parents before them, they have sacrificed to help me do the same.

Even when we had very little money, they spent time and energy teaching me, supporting me, and ensuring I was taken care of. My wife’s parents fit that same mold.

We’ve worked long hours to build a stable life for our family (and we’ve got a seemingly endless distance yet to go) — but I’ve never quite had to face the economic, systemic or prejudicial obstacles that others have.

I’ve been able to do it all with the belief that, no matter what, everything will be OK. I’ve had a personal safety net of support — emotional and financial — that many others don’t.

I’m a father. A dad who loves data. Is that a dadatician? Wocka wocka! (My kids are 2 and 4, so I’m working on my dad jokes.)

Like my parents and every other parent I know, I want my kids to grow up in a world that is better than the one I grew up in. I want them to have a shot at a better life and a better America.

And, as I look at the data — that’s becoming increasingly unlikely. The joint combination of the GOP’s eroding principles and the U.S.’s emerging challenges has pushed me to the point of switching parties.

Somehow, without trying and while avoiding it as long as possible, I’ve become a Democrat.

I’m not quite comfortable in my new political skin. I struggle with the idea of joining a party I disagree with rhetorically and, in some ways, culturally. Where I do rhetorically relate, I disagree with the party’s ideas. I’m not sure I can support many of its candidates outright — but you’re welcome to join me on the Yang Gang.

I haven’t changed my core beliefs, and Justin Amash (also no longer a Republican) remains one of my favorite members of Congress. But, even if they differ only in scope or scale, the partisan distinctions of old seem more like a relic of time gone by than a prescription for the future.

The world has changed, or is changing, and it seems that many of our core economic assumptions just don’t fit the challenges that lie before us.

I didn’t “choose” the Democratic Party. I still believe that most of their proposed solutions evince a fundamental misunderstanding of both economics and business. I believe that most of their ideas come with dark, unintended consequences that will harm the very people they seek to help. But in the end, I’d rather debate the people whose hearts are in the right place than those whose heads are in the sand.

And so to the extent there is a “choosing,” I’m sandwiched between what I believe to be bad ideas and an intellectually bankrupt opposition that increasingly has no ideas at all.

I tried to describe the modern GOP platform. I thought it might help me figure out why I don’t feel at home anymore. The problem? I have no idea what it is.

I’m not sure the GOP actually has a real platform outside of “Making America Great Again” or combining increased governmental borrowing with tax cuts and increased military spending. It has a policy agenda dead set on short-term gain for a specific subset of people.

It’s willingly blind to the troubles we increasingly face.

As long as the stock market is high, there won’t be nary a peep about how everyday people are increasingly squeezed by the rising combined cost of housing, healthcare, fuel and food.

As long as unemployment remains low, you won’t hear about underemployment. Nor are there proposals to deal with the consequences of automation. Their plan to address globalization seems to be demonizing everyone else around the globe.

The president doesn’t really have a foreign policy. The party doesn’t really have a backbone, so now it doesn’t have a foreign policy, either. But hey, we abandoned the Kurds for no strategic gain, and we just took one more step toward war.

There’s no real plan to control healthcare costs.

They aren’t small-government conservatives anymore — they’ve voted for increased spending at every turn.

They aren’t no-one-is-above-the-law anti-elitists — they turn a blind eye to the president’s increasing corruption and profiteering.

They aren’t in favor of free trade and free markets — they gleefully support tariffs that are hurting America more than anyone else.

To make matters worse, the Republican Party has not only abandoned its core conservative principles but has seemingly abandoned reality.

Just two years ago, a slew of respected conservative economists and advisors argued that:

The opposition of many Republicans to meaningfully address climate change reflects poor science and poor economics and is at odds with the party’s own noble tradition of stewardship.

Does it feel like we’ve made any headway since then? Nope. The administration is, instead, scrubbing the words from its website.

The party that routinely mocked liberals for their “bleeding hearts” has emotionally chosen to ignore the facts.

It shouldn’t have to feel like pulling teeth to get someone to acknowledge that:

Having the highest incarceration rate in the world is both unnecessary and shameful.

The war on drugs has failed.

Our complicated, government-driven and anti-competitive healthcare system is more expensive and less universal than those of every other developed nation.

Increased immigration has been good for the economy and helped limit the impact of our aging population.

We are underspending on infrastructure and accruing huge liabilities via deferred maintenance.

We have too much rent-seeking, regulatory capture and corruption.

The 2018 tax cuts did not “pay for themselves” and have only increased deficit spending.

Climate change is real. This one is particularly vexing — have modern Republicans just stopped going outside these last few years?

It gets even worse when shifting from policy and cost to principles and character.

Can you imagine the outrage if Hillary Clinton won the 2016 election, then didn’t divest conflicts of interest and let Chelsea Clinton control her finances? If it was patently obvious that the president and her family were profiting off the presidency itself?

At virtually every turn, the president has sought to advance his own interest through his office and at the expense of anyone in his way. As long as it gets the judges it wants, I guess the GOP won’t do a thing to stop him.

Sure, just like President Trump, AOC shares a shocking proclivity to bend facts and attack anyone who challenges her. 

Elizabeth Warren’s most well-known plan is to replicate European failure. 

Bernie Sanders doesn’t acknowledge either the lessons learned from failed socialist states or the free market and free trade reforms of his Nordic examples. I’ve got a lot of issues with these three, but that’s for a different piece.

For me, what it comes down to is this:

Democrats paint with too broad of brush. They’re every bit as partisan. They have their own issues with ideology — including a problem with large centralized businesses but a blind spot for an increasingly large and centralized government.

They speak holistically and evaluate their plans in isolation. Their economics can be shaky. Their evidence untested.

And yet...

The evidence regarding the problems they are trying to solve is quite real. They have legitimate debates about solutions.

The Republicans can’t participate in those debates because they won’t acknowledge underlying facts. Despite growing consensus and mounting evidence on a number of fronts, the Republicans have seemingly become deniers in every degree. 

In some cases, the GOP has led an all out assault on science, facts and truth.

Shouldn’t we have:

A system of shared prosperity with a broad social safety net, including some type of universal healthcare?

A restrained and engaging foreign policy that responds to global trends, ensures peace and protects the environment?

A morally just and inviting immigration policy that benefits the economy and promotes the “American Dream”?

A society where we have access to clean air, clean water and public land?

A government that roots out corruption, prosecutes corporate crime and preserves the free market?

An economy that promotes entrepreneurship while also endeavoring to protect those most harmed by the transition to an information age?

A plan to reform the criminal justice system, end mass incarceration and begin repairing the damage done by Jim Crow laws and modern segregation?

A modern tax system that isn’t rigged in favor of the rich and powerful?

An upgrade to our declining infrastructure and more investment in research with broad, public application but little private incentive to pursue?

Ultimately, I don’t think any of these ideas are that controversial. Or, at least they shouldn’t be.

Republicans once advocated for free trade, free markets, environmental conservation, universal basic incomes, increased immigration and pathways to citizenship. They were civil libertarians concerned with abuses of police power and skeptical of foreign interventionism. They funded and advanced infrastructure projects.

Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist and adviser to Ronald Reagan, once wrote:

“Suppose one accepts, as I do, this line of reasoning as justifying governmental action to alleviate poverty; to set, as it were, a floor under the standard of living of every person in the community.”

What did F.A. Hayek, conservative stalwart and another Nobel Prize winner, think?

“The assurance of a certain minimum income for everyone, or a sort of floor below which nobody need fall even when he is unable to provide for himself, appears not only to be a wholly legitimate protection against a common risk to all, but a necessary part of a Great Society ... “

They weren’t alone. 

Richard Nixon almost implemented a minimum income in 1969. Who oversaw his initial Universal Basic Income experiments? Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney.

Teddy Roosevelt’s legacy is one great quote and 230 million acres of public land. Dwight Eisenhower helped create interstate highways. Reagan and George W. Bush both supported a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

It’s not just social issues either. 

Which party do you hear talk about corruption and the rules of the game? 

Which one is concerned with combating technical monopolies? 

Which wants to evaluate our systems as we enter the information age?

We’ve somehow reached the point where anyone who reads the above largely assumes I’m a dyed-in-the-wool liberal.

These ideas have not just fallen out of Republican favor, but the very ideas underlying them have fallen out of the Republican platform.

Leaving the GOP is easy.

But, what do you do when you agree with one party’s premises while abhorring their conclusions? When the other isn’t premised on much of anything? If you don’t want to end up independently irrelevant, where do you go?

Someday the Democratic Party might split, and we’ll see the rise of a moderate/centrist party focused on practical solutions to everyday problems instead of using them to pursue a broad ideological agenda. It can be home to independents as well as disaffected Ds and Rs.

Until then, whether I’ve intentionally chosen them or not — I guess these are my people now.

So, here I am. 

A Democrat. 

I’m uncomfortable, but I’m OK.

That’s more than I can say for the party I called home. The party of the free market, checks and balances, the rule of law, principles and restraint — the party acutely aware of the corrupting power of government — abandoned all of that in blind loyalty to an authoritarian strongman and a small cadre of crony corporatists getting rich at our expense.

That’s just not a party I can be party to. •

Aaron Price is a lawyer, business owner and political consultant.