Spoiler Alert, RNC: Eroding Support Among Republican Women Like Me Will Be in Your Next Autopsy
For nearly two decades, I have written speeches with Republican candidates, only one of whom won their race. Until 2013, I spent most non-election years teaching and studying suffragists, feminists, and female candidates while getting a Ph.D. Like any good writer, a decent amount of my money has gone to therapy, so I’m familiar with emotions like disappointment and outrage—both of which I’ve experienced regularly throughout 2016. And because all campaign writing eventually leads to stress eating, I haven’t bought anything in a size two since Sarah Palin made her national debut.
Throw all of this into your Donald Trump decoder ring, and here is what comes out: a not-very-attractive, ivory-tower, crazy, feminist loser who has never worked with a winner and is in bed with The Establishment.
The mention of a bed being important because it reminds you that I am a woman and suggests that I may be easy. (Or, in Trump speak: Does she have a bad reputation? I don’t know. I’m asking you. I don’t know. Maybe slept around to get where she is? I’m just asking, ok? I’m not saying anything. Except that he’s actually saying everything, and none of it is true.)
Point being, Donald could come up with lots of things to call me. But the only label that should really matter is this one: Republican voter in a battleground state.
That’s a label I first adopted in 1999. By then, Donald, 53, had already joined and dumped the GOP once. In 2000, he called the party “too crazy right,” and flirted with becoming the Reform Party’s presidential nominee. That year, he also donated $50,000 to something called the Donald J. Trump New York Delegate Committee. I’d like to tell you more about it, but the FEC filings seem a bit murky.
Here is what I do know: By 2005, Donald was in the middle of his eight-year rendezvous with the Democrats (within four years he would return to the GOP). Fresh off the first season of The Apprentice, he spent his days bragging to Howard Stern about violating the privacy of naked beauty pageant contestants and entertaining Billy Bush on a bus with tales of sexual assault.
The media, the Clinton campaign, and some Republican leaders think that bus is where Donald Trump lost my vote. The truth is he never really had it.
For most of us, there are things in life that transcend party. My list includes integrity and the dignity of every person, even if they don’t vote like me or look like me.
Post-primary, Trump’s message to Republicans who share my view that his rhetoric and conduct has crossed a sacred line is basically this: What choice do you have? There is nowhere else for you to go. Or, the autocratic version: Get in line, or else.
Here’s the thing that Donald doesn’t seem to understand about loyalty: you don’t inherit it or win it; you have to earn it. In July, I gave him that opportunity.
By the time I arrived in Cleveland three weeks before the Republican National Convention to meet with the Trump staff stationed there, I’d mentally backed out more than a dozen times. Long before the primary wrapped up, I had agreed to write messaging documents for the convention’s Committee on Arrangements (COA). The COA is like the Olympic Committee. It doesn’t root for a specific candidate. It simply prepares the way for, and generates interest in, the main event. When voters finally select the presumptive nominee, COA makes sure the convention it’s been building reflects the candidate’s priorities.
Throughout the spring, people who had agreed to work and volunteer with COA dropped out in droves. With every new tweet and insult, I considered joining them. But I was in charge of surrogate talking points, and good people, many of them rising stars, had agreed to go on radio and TV to explain Trump’s policies. Someone needed to figure out what those were and how, if at all, they could be communicated effectively.
Without exception, I found the Trump staff in Cleveland to be thoughtful, kind, and hard-working. Many were military veterans who had sacrificed much already—and for a cause far greater than one man’s political career. Although very few had experience in political communication, they couldn’t shake the feeling that the campaign was woefully behind.
I took an inventory of the materials available, a process that confirmed their suspicions. The biggest gap I found in the Trump campaign was in the area that matters most: policy. Every request for detailed proposals and research materials was met with a shrug and the campaign’s website address.
That night, I called a good friend who is a key figure in the party. I told him about the absence of any meaningful document outlining a policy or a governing philosophy.
“They don’t think they need that to win,” he said.
“Maybe not,” I replied. “But they need it to govern.”
Since then, Trump has had some good moments. But a few speeches and a handful of tweets are no substitute for a lifetime of serious thinking about policy and political philosophy. They don’t make up for rhetoric and behavior that has not only offended me, but also deepened the distrust that many Americans already felt toward my party. They don’t explain the revolving door of Trump’s political identity, which has ricocheted more than once from conservatism to liberal progressivism and back again.
That last observation, by the way, is how I know that Trump is no Ronald Reagan. Reagan had a convincing, thoughtful conversion story that shaped and grounded his leadership and his legacy. All Trump has is a knack for exploiting a political opportunity.
So, I now find myself wrestling with an uncomfortable, new label: swing voter in a battleground state. When I walk into the voting booth today, for the first time in 16 years, I will cast my ballot for someone other than the Republican presidential nominee. I won’t feel good about it, but as the Trump campaign is so fond of asking, what choice do I have?
Turns out, the only choice I can live with is the one Donald gave me: to become a living example of yet another self-inflicted wound that we’ll all read about in the next GOP autopsy.