Like Neoavatara, I, too, can tell you the effective date of my membership of the Republican Party: August 31, 2004. The party was, as I understood it, a coalition of conservatives and libertarians. I was new to the country, and when the future Governator spoke to the GOP convention, he specifically addressed immigrants, and as a still-wet-behind-the-ears immigrant, I sat up and paid attention. He explained that if you believe in these things (which I felt I pretty well believed in), then you’re a Republican. He said:
To my fellow immigrants listening tonight, I want you to know how welcome you are in this party. We Republicans admire your ambition. We encourage your dreams. We believe in your future. And one thing I learned about America is that if you work hard and if you play by the rules, this country is truly open to you. You can achieve anything. Everything I have, my career, my success, my family, I owe to America. In this country, it doesn’t make any difference where you were born. It doesn’t make any difference who your parents were. It doesn’t make any difference if you’re like me and couldn’t even speak English until you were in your 20s. America gave me opportunities, and my immigrant dreams came true. I want other people to get the same chances I did, the same opportunities. And I believe they can. That’s why I believe in this country, that’s why I believe in this party, and that’s why I believe in this president.
Now, many of you out there tonight are Republican like me in your hearts and in your beliefs. Maybe you’re from Guatemala. Maybe you’re from the Philippines. Maybe you’re from Europe or the Ivory Coast. Maybe you live in Ohio, Pennsylvania or New Mexico. And maybe—just maybe—you don’t agree with this party on every single issue. I say to you tonight that I believe that’s not only OK, but that’s what’s great about this country. Here we can respectfully disagree and still be patriotic, still be American and still be good Republicans.
My fellow immigrants, my fellow Americans, how do you know if you are a Republican? Well, I tell you how. If you believe that government should be accountable to the people, not the people to the government, then you are a Republican. If you believe a person should be treated as an individual, not as a member of an interest group, then you are a Republican. If you believe your family knows how to spend your money better than the government does, then you are a Republican. If you believe our educational system should be held accountable for the progress of our children, then you are a Republican. If you believe this country, not the United Nations, is the best hope for democracy, then you are a Republican. And, ladies and gentlemen, if you believe that we must be fierce and relentless and terminate terrorism, then you are a Republican.
I ceased to be a Republican on Tuesday, May 3, 2016, as the results of the Indiana primary came in and it became apparent that a plurality of Republicans had nominated Donald Trump, a common, boorish, vulgarian boob with a long string of failed “businesses” (I use the term loosely; I mean “cons”), and no discernible principles beyond the vague liberal consensus of his New York stamping-ground. He is neither a conservative nor a libertarian; to the contrary, he seems instinctively hostile to us and everything in which we believe. It was immediately apparent to me that there was no way that I could remain in the party that I’ve called home for more than a decade—because if Donald Trump’s a Republican, I’m not.
How this came to pass is for the historians. Nevertheless, I will make two observations on that point.
First, like others, I must confess some feeling of culpability. When Trump entered the race, we all laughed; we didn’t take him seriously. Instead of strangling his campaign at birth, we indulgently made fun of it. By February, however, it was clear that there was a real possibility of Trump winning, and it was at this point that I (among others) warned that the math was now clear: It was Trump or Cruz, and Cruz was the only plausible option. The tragedy of this year is that it didn’t have to happen. It happened because of a childish, petulant personal grudge: “Trump’s terrible, but I don’t like Cruz! Waaah! I’m going to self-indulgently carp about Trump and do anything except the one thing that might actually stop him, because I don’t like that guy!” This was unbearably jejune—for the fate of nations to turn on personal antipathy. Those who said “yeah, never Trump, but never Cruz either”: This is on you.
And second, I agree with Ben Howe’s observations. When the tea party happened, I was generally approving, but didn’t jump in because I was worried by the populist cast of it. Still, the tea party professed to be about small government and fiscal responsibility and conservatism, and yay for that. But what we’ve now realized is that the populist overtones and undertones were because a lot of people backing the tea party were actually just pissed about “too many brown people” and “bring back my obsolete jobs” and “cut government spending on things that benefit people other than me—no more NEA but don’t you dare touch my social security!” In hindsight, it should have been a massive red-flag when we started seeing tea partiers claiming that “social security isn’t welfare.” These people were backing a completely different play from us, and perhaps neither they nor we realized it at the time. So it’s not that they sold out for Trump, it’s that they were never actually the “strong Constitutionalists” and “small government advocates” that we associate with the tea party in the first place—they just mouthed those words without comprehending them. They were just kind of swept along and they assumed that we wanted the same things as the and vice-versa.
But however it happened, what matters is that it did; we must now react. Conservatives and Libertarians need to walk away from this catastrophe, make very clear to everyone in America that we’re no part of it and that he doesn’t speak for us, and then we either take the party back or burn it to the ground without trace, lest the valuable infrastructure we built fall into the hands of the boarders and mutineers. Because he is the Republican nominee, everything that is associated with the Republican Party will now be associated with him unless we explicitly, repeatedly, and loudly condemn him. This is an existential requirement for the conservative movement: We cut the cords and let this barge-fire sink on its own, or it drags us down with it. Nothing that was associated with Trump 2016 will be electable in America for years to come. A vote for Trump on one’s record will be like a vote for segregation; the only way conservatism can compete is if conservatives make absolutely clear that Trump isn’t us, we aren’t him, and he have nothing to do with him, and we are absolutely as opposed to him as any other civilized human being. And the only way that the GOP can survive as a vehicle for any kind of idea is if a sufficient number of Republicans similarly reject Trump—loudly, publicly, explicitly, and repeatedly, every day from now down to the general. Otherwise they’ll be wiped out and the party will vanish into the ashcan of history along with the people who supported Jim Crow.
This is also a test of character: The problem isn’t that Trump believes things that are wrong, the problem is him. This is about a man who is, to paraphrase something that Bret Stephens wrote last August—before an awful lot more evidence came in—appalling, and if a person doesn’t find him appalling, I doubt their judgment and capacity to recognize that which is appalling. He’s a common, boorish, vulgarian boob, an oafish, misogynist con-man, a rash, dimwitted degenerate bully who is, by the way, demanding control of American’s nuclear arsenal; if we can’t walk away from such a man, shaking our heads and saying “anathema sit,” that would speak poorly of us.
The best outcome for conservatives of the 2016 cycle would have been President Cruz. The second-best outcome is certainly not President Trump—and even if it were, that won’t happen. For all the reasons given above, disassociating this walking disaster from conservatism is our best possible shot if we want to have any hope of coming back from the wilderness in 2020. I detest the idea of a Clinton presidency; unlike the Trumpkins, I know exactly what that will means, but because of the choice they forced on the GOP, it is now the optimal outcome. Sometimes the best you can hope for is still really bleak. But that is where we are.
Finally, and relatedly, I want to address the practical upshot of #NeverTrump. It’s important that none of you kid yourself: We are going to elect Hillary Clinton as President of the United States. If that obnoxious result is too far beyond the pale, if that is in your judgment a worse outcome than Trump getting his short-fingered hands on the nuclear button, you’d better get on the Trump train. That said, I do want to underscore that not voting for Trump is not the same thing as voting for Hillary: Voting for Hillary is voting for Hillary. I hope that Indiana will be clearly in the Clinton column, freeing me to cast a write-in ballot. The idea of voting for her gives me hives. But if there’s doubt on that score, and if voting for Hillary is what it takes to keep Trump out, I’ll do it and I won’t feel bad about it for a second. We are in this mess in large part because of cowardice: Because the people I mentioned above were rhetorically against Trump but wouldn’t dirty their hands with what it would take to stop him. I will. Sometimes you gotta roll the hard six.
In fine: Trump is going to lose; he’ll probably lose forty states, he may lose 45 if Hillary gets a tail-wind. The only question is whether we allow his people to tether the ship of conservatism to this barge-fire, to drag us down with them when they sink without trace. Also, I don’t have to worry that Hillary might start World War 3, or nuke Chicago because someone tweeted some lese majeste comment about his royal Donaldness. (Ilya Somin has more on the merits question here.) We are going to have to take drastic action; at this point, I will drop my objections to the article five strategy (the republic-ending consequences now being moot), and I agree with Robert Tracinski that we need to start building a third party immediately. But the immediate upshot is this: Like I suspect millions of people who woke up as Republicans on Tuesday, I went to bed that night as an Independent. It’s this simple: Donald Trump is not a Republican, but if he is, I’m not.