Dear Cherished Friends,
The Republican Party has become intellectually and morally bankrupt, a mockery of its traditions -- corrosive to our society, our civility, and our capacity to govern. This is not a temporary condition; it is woven into the fabric of the party. Unless and until it reverses course, you should take your votes and money and walk away.
I never thought I would presume to say this. I respect that your allegiance is rooted in considered beliefs and years of loyalty which, at the beginning of my political journey, I shared. I certainly don't think I have all the answers, and I enjoy exploring our differences. You inform me, correct me and, most generously, tolerate me. You care, as do I, about the world we are leaving the next generations.
Our friendship far transcends our political beliefs. We share each other's celebrations, enjoy each other's successes. I value your advice. You've helped me through hard times, and some of you have helped my kids as well. You are loyal friends, generous members of the community, and deeply committed parents and grandparents. My world, and the larger world, would be a grayer place without you.
"To compare the two parties at this time in our history is to indulge in false equivalency."
Knowing you as I do, I know that you are troubled by the direction of your party. Little wonder -- you are mainstream Republicans whose mainstream has run dry. But I also accept that, for you, the Democrats may not be the answer -- that you see them as feckless devotees of identity politics and too much government, don't trust Hillary Clinton, and believe that Bernie Sanders would drive us off the fiscal cliff. I'm not writing to quarrel with these beliefs. Nor do I suggest that unchallenged dominance by the Democrats would serve the country well.
But to compare the two parties at this time in our history is to indulge in false equivalency. For rationalizing the GOP's pathology by responding with a partisan tit-for-tat is not adequate to the circumstances. The sins you perceive in Democrats are the usual ones -- misguided policies, ill chosen means for dubious ends, and the normal complement of rhetorical dishonesty and political squalor. However mistaken you may find Clinton and Sanders on the issues, their debate is addressed to the world as it exists and therefore open to a sensible critique. The squalor to which the GOP has sunk, an alternate reality rooted in anger and mendacity, transcends mere differences in policy, threatening the country with profound, perhaps irreparable, damage.
This is not simply about Donald Trump. For Trump is not the result of forces which will come and go, but of a deterioration within the Republican Party that has been accelerating for years. The GOP has become a Frankenstein monster, assembled from dysfunction, demagoguery, myopia and myth, nurtured in a fever swamp where lies and hysteria kill off reason. Nothing better will arise until you help drive a stake through its heart.
One of our ongoing disagreements has been about the nature of the party, and where you fit within it. With respect to GOP extremism in areas like climate denial, gun violence or reproductive rights, you often say, "but I'm not like that." But the party is. You may be moderate in your views; the party is not. Even candidates with temperate instincts must go along to survive, or meet the fate of Jon Huntsman, mocked for publicly accepting climate change and evolution.
Long since, the GOP killed its moderates and trashed everything they stood for. It has replaced respected figures like William Cohen, Richard Lugar and John Danforth with rigid ideologues like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, and social illiterates like James Inhofe, Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby. On issue after issue, they have embraced an orthodoxy rooted in extremism and divorced from fact. These dynamics forced Mitt Romney to win the nomination by running so far right that he could never get back. And what was the lesson learned among the party base? That Romney was not nearly extreme enough.
In short, the Republican Party no longer belongs to you, or you in it. 2016 has proven the point.
I saw this coming not because I'm uniquely prescient, but because I began writing reality-based political novels 20 years ago. I hung around with party pros, consultants, lobbyists, donors, pollsters, officeholders and political partisans, some of whom became my friends. Bit by bit, I saw the party sell out its agenda for short-term gains with disastrous long-term consequences. Eventually the GOP's train wreck became inevitable -- no longer a matter of if, but when.
How did this happen? Start with the relationship between the party establishment and its base. Your family, and mine, occupy a privileged slice of American society. Not so for most members of the GOP electorate. They are folks that few of us know very well: evangelicals; modestly educated whites threatened by economic dislocation; and people whose distrust of government partakes of paranoia.
Economically, they are not natural allies of the party of business or its wealthy donors, who tend to focus on tax cuts and free-market principles irrelevant to the base. So in exchange for pursuing its economic agenda, the party offered evangelicals a faith-based vision of America: barring abortion, banning gay marriage, and giving government preferences to fundamentalist religious institutions. Why should business people care, the reasoning went, when we can rally these voters with promises which, however illusory, cost us nothing?
But as "promise keepers," the party failed its fundamentalist flock. Abortion remains legal; gay marriage became a right; the constitution prevents government from enshrining religious preferences as law. So there was nothing to stop evangelicals from noticing that their own lives were often harder and less secure.
Ditto other members of the middle and working classes. The real causes of their woes are globalization, the Great Recession, the housing crisis, and an information society which marginalizes blue-collar jobs. But the GOP never addressed these complex forces with any kind of candor -- let alone proposed solutions like job retraining and educational access for their kids.
Barren of ideas for helping its base voters, it resorted to blame-shifting and scapegoating -- of government, Obama, illegal immigrants, Muslims and other minorities. Instead of looking forward, the party indulged a primal nostalgia for simpler times, an imaginary white folks' paradise which can never be resurrected.
"Typical was the establishment's darling, Marco Rubio, who claimed that Obama was not simply wrong, but trying to destroy America as we know it. Republican politics became not faith-based, but hate-based."
Some of this was shameful. The GOP countenanced a race-based birtherism directed at our first black president, giving Donald Trump a political foothold. It nurtured xenophobia that targeted all Muslims at home and abroad. It pretended that illegal immigrants were poisoning our economy. It aped the mindless masters of talk radio and trafficked in conspiracy theories. It embraced Tea Party dead-enders who claimed that shutting down the government, at whatever cost, was the only answer.
In Congress, the party resolved to deny Obama reelection by grinding the legislative process to a halt, then blaming him for gridlock as if its tactics played no role. Political polarization polluted foreign-policy -- as when all 300 Republicans in Congress turned the Iran deal into a political wedge issue, shunning the careful consideration it deserved in favor of shrill and simpleminded denunciations. In the world of the GOP, our many and complex problems had but one misbegotten cause: that Barack Obama was president.
So-called mainstream Republicans competed to fan the flames of outrage, poisoning political discourse. Typical was the establishment's darling, Marco Rubio, who claimed that Obama was not simply wrong, but trying to destroy America as we know it. Republican politics became not faith-based, but hate-based.
For the Republican base, nothing changed.
Except, of course, their rising anger, stoked by yet more empty and diversionary anti-Washington rhetoric that only deepened their sense of impotence. Focused on the donor class, party leaders charged the Democrats with "class warfare" against the less than embattled rich, while still failing to acknowledge through substantive policies the very real struggles of its rank-and-file. The election in 2014 of yet more Republican senators and congressmen made no difference in the lives of the people who supported them.
Not unreasonably, the base came to believe that our governmental and financial institutions -- including the Republican Party -- were controlled by an elite that was indifferent to their plight. And so demagogues like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz became the agents of their frustration and despair. Like the sorcerer's apprentice, the party lost control.
Among the casualties was the agenda most dear to the Republican establishment. Its insensitivity to the base has eroded support for free trade. Despite its claims of fiscal probity, the GOP continued its meretricious complaints about deficit spending -- for which, as ever, it blamed the Democrats' self-serving rhetoric about protecting Social Security and Medicare -- while proposing tax cuts for the wealthy that would explode the national debt. And consider this: How do tax cuts at the top benefit the struggling middle and working classes? And wouldn't slashing or privatizing Social Security further threaten their fragile place in our society?
But set aside the party's disingenuousness with respect to the economic and fiscal concerns that, in many cases, have gained it your allegiance. In other important areas the party has abandoned serious thought. Instead, the alternate reality of the GOP has created a closed intellectual system immune to fact or reason, imposing a mindless political fundamentalism on its candidates which no reflective person, least of all you, can any longer support.
Here is the fact-free theology one supports every time one votes for a Republican candidate for president, senator or representative:
Climate denial. In the anti-science world of the GOP, man-made global warming is a hoax -- just ask Ted Cruz or Donald Trump. This is one of many areas where the party perpetuates ignorance among its base, separating them from the populace at large. In a recent Gallup poll asking if human activity was a factor in climate change, a 85 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of independents answered yes. Republicans? Only 38 percent. Faced with overwhelming scientific consensus, the party will not even consider how to combat this existential menace.
Denial of evolution and general scientific knowledge. I know you can't believe this, but a Pew Research poll showed that over 50 percent of Republican voters don't accept the theory of evolution. When the core of the party thinks that The Flintstones was a documentary -- and none of its presidential candidates dare say otherwise -- the broader implications for policies rooted in scientific inquiry are disturbing. Hence people like Trump who profit by suggesting that vaccination engenders autism.
Gun violence. The GOP slavishly follows the NRA line. It has opposed any effort to curb gun violence, hiding behind paranoid nonsense about disarming all Americans. Its only answer to our unique and devastating mass slaughter is that more Americans should carry guns -- quite literally, that the black churchgoers in Charleston mowed down by a madman should have brought weapons to their place of worship.
Racism. Given that all of you deplore it, I can feel you bridling. But the troubling signs proliferate. Voter suppression laws aimed at minorities in states where no evidence of fraud exists. Scapegoating American Muslims -- many of whom have more experience defending our country than any of us -- as potential terrorists. Targeting illegal immigrants whose presence owes as much to American business interests as to their own desperation.
Want more? Ignoring the glaring evidence of unequal law enforcement against blacks which, in some cases, includes unjustified police shootings. Upholding a death penalty that disproportionately targets minorities and the poor -- not a few of whom turn out to be innocent.
And still more? Gutting programs that seek to recognize the impact of race and class, often because they are deemed "unfair" to far more advantaged whites. Tolerating a relentless disparagement of our president that reeks of racism -- imagine, if you will, the outcry if a black congressman had shouted "liar" at George W. Bush during a State of the Union Address. The party which claims to be "race-blind" has become blind to its own tacit bigotry.
Curbing reproductive rights. Protected by Roe v. Wade and our own privilege, it is easy for us to ignore what the GOP is doing beyond our field of vision -- our daughters, after all, have access to safe and legal abortion and any form of birth control they need. But this is not so in America at large, where Republican legislatures and the Congress are working overtime to limit access to abortion and reproductive care, often at great cost to women and their families.
The GOP's senseless war on Planned Parenthood is only part of it. How many of us know that, due to draconian laws sponsored by Republicans, 90 percent of American counties have no legal abortion provider? How many of us have stopped to consider that no healthy family needs GOP-sponsored parental consent laws, which in authoritarian, abusive and incestuous families can lead to the murder of a daughter?
"The GOP has utterly abdicated its responsibility to participate in reasoned governance, and so given us Donald Trump."
All this is central to the rigid orthodoxy that Republican presidents and legislators will be forced to follow, now and in the future. Mitt Romney did; Marco Rubio has; Paul Ryan will. No matter how personally attractive, no candidate will change this party until forces outside the party make dramatic change imperative.
I appreciate that this conclusion is depressing. No doubt many of you will object to some aspect of my indictment. Fair enough. But I doubt that you are much inclined to dispute most of its particulars -- if only because you've acknowledged them yourselves.
And there are still more issues to consider. Why hasn't the GOP made creative efforts to confront the problems of middle-class and working people -- many of whom have now turned to Donald Trump -- seeking solutions that are consistent with its philosophy? Are we squandering the talents of our young people by saddling them with prohibitive student debt, cheating our society in the bargain? Are we stifling struggling families by not trying to retrain their breadwinners?
For that matter, what sense does this phony war on Obamacare make when the GOP offered no alternatives -- even to deal with pre-existing conditions or the ruinous effects of catastrophic illness? When did the GOP stop caring -- I mean really caring, not offering bromides about liberating the engines of free enterprise -- about the everyday life of citizens who are falling behind?
One can debate the best policies and solutions for all this -- and we should. But the GOP has utterly abdicated its responsibility to participate in reasoned governance, and so given us Donald Trump.
Trump's policies, such as they may be, are a disastrous expression of bottled up resentment among the base, a blind lashing out at all they feel besets them. Again and again, he offers phony and dangerous prescriptions that betray his complete ignorance of the most basic rudiments of governance, economics, domestic policy, and national security. He caters to racial antagonism, spreading its toxins in the party and the country as a whole. As a man, he is an intellectually vacant and self-obsessed misogynist clearly in the grips of a profound personality disorder which makes him unfit to lead. He is not simply a disgrace to the party, but a product of all that disgraces it.
And yet it is not Donald Trump who best captures the party's sickness. It is that the only possible alternative in the GOP as it exists is not John Kasich, but Ted Cruz.
Indeed, Cruz expresses the disease in its purest form. He is gratuitously cruel in his comments about others -- who can forget his deathless assertion that, in debate, "Mitt Romney French-kissed Barack Obama." He uses his own GOP colleagues as targets for lies, slander and smears. He panders to hatred and suspicion of all Muslims. He casts his irresponsible grandstanding -- like trying to shut down the government -- as lonely heroics. He denies climate change and compares himself to Galileo. He wallows in fake piety while perpetrating dirty tricks. He demonizes disagreement and lies without compunction. He shows no real empathy for anyone.
His campaign appeals to fear, not hope. His transcendent calculation is repellent; his apocalyptic and nihilistic "conservatism" exists solely to slake his craving for power. His coalition is evangelicals, gun fanatics, nativists, climate deniers and Tea Party atavists -- and even many of his ideological allies despise him. He is Joseph McCarthy reborn, a man without conscience, willing to say anything. Choosing between Trump and Cruz depends on whose personal and political pathology you fear most.
I can't imagine you will ever make such a choice. That this is the only choice you have makes it imperative to leave the GOP.
I'm not urging you to become Democrats. I'm not even trying to win an argument. I simply want our political arguments to make sense in the world of reality, the better to move our country forward with the goodwill and considered judgment required by these challenging times.
So what I profoundly hope is that, collectively, you will abandon the Republican Party until it becomes worthy of the country we love in common. Because, in the end, a big chunk of our common future may depend on you.
With abiding friendship,