I'm still a Republican, but my party needs to be fumigated: Tom Nichols

Source: USA Today | February 12, 2018 | Tom Nichols

One day we’ll be needed to recreate the GOP as a center-right party rather than a vehicle for inane populist keggers. For now, I hope Democrats win Congress in 2018.

Republicans once believed in limited government, fiscal restraint, support for the defense and national security establishments, family values, and a strong American role in maintaining global order. More than that, we were the party that believed in logic and prudence over emotion. Our hearts were perhaps too cold, but never bleeding.

Today’s Republicans, however, are a party of bellowing drama queens whose elected representatives blow up spending caps, bust the deficit, and attack America’s law enforcement and national security agencies as dangerous conspirators. Their leader expects banana republic parades, coddles the Kremlin, protects violent men in positions of responsibility, and overlooks child molestation. The rank-and-file GOP members who once claimed that liberals were creating a tyrannical monarchy in the Oval Office now applaud the expansion of the presidency into a gigantic cult of personality.

So, am I still a Republican?

I get asked this question a lot since coming out as a Never Trump Republican during the 2016 campaign. When it comes from Democrats, it’s almost always a question asked in bad faith, as they want me either to quit my party or to answer for all of its current (and past) sins. When asked “how could you stay in your party” by people whose party has plenty to answer for itself, including the nomination of Hillary Clinton, it’s not a productive conversation.

However, Republicans themselves (and not just the Never Trump variety) are having the same conversations, privately and publicly. Is President Trump now the avatar of the Republican Party, and if he is, how can anyone who once believed in the party of Lincoln and Reagan stay in it?


When Trump won, I stayed, because I believed that his victory was an aberration, a bizarre outcome that resulted from several factors, including Clinton’s impossibly inept campaign. There would come a day when Trump was gone, and reasonable conservatives would have to pick up the pieces and recreate the GOP as a functioning center-right party rather than as a vehicle for an ongoing series of inane populist keggers.

But for now, I really am a Republican In Name Only, because I actively want to see the Republicans defeated — soundly — in 2018 (and in 2020, if the president is not primaried out of his seat). Where I was once unaffiliated but quietly cheering on conservatives, I am now a member of a party I want to see cast into the political wilderness for a few years — or longer, if that’s what it takes to break the fever.

In terms of party loyalty, that makes me a pretty lousy Republican. On the other hand, I might argue that I am in fact a better Republican than the opportunists on the White House staff and Capitol Hill who have left the party but refuse to give up the name.

The same could be said for “Republican” voters. Do they really represent the party, or are they The Coalition of the Incoherent? Like the president himself, they have no political compass, no policy preferences, and no attachment to anything that cannot be expressed in a bumper sticker. Indeed, what seems to unite Trump voters is a generic hostility to immigrants and a demand that government resources and transfers not be shrunk but redirected — to themselves.

Many of them, of course, actually voted for Barack Obama. (If these Obama-to-Trump voters are “Republicans,” then the term has no meaning at all.) I have argued that these voters are better understood not as “Republicans,” but more generally as “white welfare-statists” whose party affiliation is up for bids every four years.


With all of that said, what could finally drive me from the party? If going to the wall for deficits, wife-beaters, mall creepers and Vladimir Putin isn’t enough, what is? And how much longer can this go on before the Trump administration damages the words “Republican” and “conservative” permanently?

My answer is to see whether enough of my fellow conservatives agree with me in 2018 to accept that the party needs to be purged of the New Know-Nothings. Perhaps Republicans like me need a new name: I am not a “Never Trumper” so much as I am a “Republican in exile,” as I wait for an end to the occupation of the party by people who never cared about its history or beliefs.


The GOP needs to be returned to its foundations in conservative ideas instead of left to drift in mindless rage and willful ignorance. It does not need to be abandoned, nor does it need to be burned to the ground. But it definitely needs to be temporarily evacuated and fumigated.

And so, for the near future, the GOP losing is the only way to win. I’ll stay for now, because I believe in a loyal opposition — even if it has to be within my own party.

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