I was once voted Vice President of my high school’s “Students for Republican Ideals” club. Make no mistake, we were a Young Republicans Club, but I guess we didn’t care for traditional nomenclature. A few months after being elected, I got voted out of office because I didn’t make it to enough meetings. Remaining on the football team took precedent in my mind, but I wish I could have made it to more meetings where they declared support for out-of-state Senate candidates.
Maybe that helped me get into college (“Look, I was an officer of a real club in high school! Oh, for how long? Uh…”) but I’m uncertain as to how well it reflected who I was politically. I was an 18-year-old Christian who thought that all good evangelicals should be Republicans. It just came with the territory. But the few political opinions I held were mostly fueled by conservative talk shows and (gasp!) Fox News. My views had never truly been challenged by anyone. After all, it was high school. Few students had enough real-world experience to adequately defend our beliefs, and those that did were smart enough to not become participants in the typical “BUSH SUCKS!” “NO, YOU SUCK!” shouting matches that arose.
I’m pretty well convinced that most 18-year-olds aren’t ideal voters. Eight years later, I cringe at what I allowed to mold my political views, but hey, learning is a big part of living. I’ve grown out of that worldview, and I’m largely better for having held it. The one significant political thing that I’ve held onto from those days is my voter registration. I had sided with the elephants from the day I became a registered voter, and while I’ve shifted away from much of the GOP’s line, I’ve remained a registered Republican. Sometimes it’s like a badge of courage, showing how I’ve stood tall through some of the uglier times within the party, but since most of the time the party is doing ugly stuff, my voter card is more like an unquenchable flame that sits in my wallet and burns my skin.
The obvious boundary for 2016 is Donald Trump’s hairline. There are those who stand before it, mocking Trump and his followers, and those who stand behind it, cheering him toward whatever his actual goal is (I’m not convinced it’s only the White House). It’s easy to point at Trump and his loud-mouthed hauteur as a joke. He’ll never become President because he’s too contentious and unlikeable. His Republican opponents all take umbrage with his attitude and tear him apart for his numerous lies and financial deficiencies. But through (finally) paying attention to the GOP debates and reading further on each of the party’s leading candidates, I’ve learned one important point: Trump’s not that different from Cruz or Rubio.
They all want to build a wall along the Mexican border. They all want to repeal Obamacare. They all want to reverse President Obama’s executive orders. They all think ISIS is a problem that the U.S. should be working to eradicate. They all believe Apple should provide the FBI access to the San Bernardino terrorist’s phone. These aren’t necessarily right or wrong views, but they are shared by all three candidates.
Current Republican candidates can’t cross the aisle to appeal to Democrats because they are already having to cross aisles within their own party (Thanks, Tea Partiers!). This means that the leading candidates for the GOP all end up holding to the same lines and beliefs, and they are pretty much clones of each other. This shines through in the debates: Nobody can directly attack Trump’s supposed policies because they all believe in those same policies. They are just nicer about wanting to close off our borders and telling Muslims they’re not welcome.
The party as a whole can’t even decide which candidate to back against Trump. Rubio or Cruz? Cruz or Rubio? There’s not enough of a difference to find the solution. Even the fringe candidates are contributing to the Trump madness by remaining in the race, vulturing anti-Trump votes well into the primary season. It’s great that the majority of Republicans aren’t voting for Trump, but while Carson and Kasich keep clinging to their pitiful percentages, Trump is racking up delegates.
It was frustrating enough when the Republican party put Mitt Romney up against a struggling Barack Obama in 2012. The GOP had a golden opportunity to regain the White House, and they squandered it by trotting out a guy named Mitt. Now, with several years to groom a candidate to go up against Hillary Clinton, they can’t get their head on straight enough to keep the unabashedly racist Donald Trump from picking up the most states on Super Tuesday.
If I were to list the transgressions of the Republican party from the past decade, I’d have to buy up more server space. Each one is a piece of straw on the weakened elephant’s back. I’ve held out hope that the party could return to, at the very least, coherence. But it’s March 2016, and I don’t like any of the candidates because they’re all the same. It’s March 2016, and the party’s debates are more like those high school arguments I mentioned earlier than pageants of civil discourse. It’s March 2016, and the leading candidate for the GOP is a guy who once sold poor cuts of meat through The Sharper Image. It’s March 2016, and I’m no longer a registered Republican.
Photo by Steve Rhodes