For Being A Republican, I Helped Create Donald Trump?

Jim Huffman Dean Emeritus, Lewis & Clark Law School

Like millions of other Americans, I am a registered Republican. According to Timothy Egan, writing in yesterday’s New York Times, that makes me responsible for the vitriol and inanities currently being spewed by Donald Trump. Trump, writes Egan, “is a byproduct of all the toxic elements Republicans have thrown into their brew over the last decade or so.” Not some Republicans, mind you, but all Republicans including those who might disagree with Trump but have allowed “any amount of gaseous buffoonery [to go] … unchallenged.”

To be sure, many a Republican candidate for public office has been guilty of gaseous buffoonery. So, too, have many Democrat candidates. Candidates from both parties share responsibility for the sad state of our political affairs. Egan’s casting the blame on only one side in the mud slinging and bald-faced lying that permeates our national politics is just another half-truth added to the squalor.

Surely Egan has seen the emails that burst (in bold, red typeface) from the Democratic National Committee every time a new candidate announces for the Republican nomination. The message is always the same. Send money so we can make sure this creep does not bring the war on women and minorities and immigrants and children and the elderly to the White House. But really: does anyone actually believe that the husbands and fathers and sons pursuing the Republican nomination for president have declared war on their wives, children and parents? It’s all just more gaseous buffoonery that goes unchallenged by those who hope to benefit.

What to do about all of this political flatulence? A good place to start would be to think of ourselves and others as American citizens rather than as Republicans or Democrats. While a few of us are actually dues paying members of one party or the other, most Americans are officially associated with a political party solely as a result of having registered to vote with a party designation allowing us to cast ballots in partisan primaries. Otherwise we are just citizens who vote for one candidate or the other.

That I may cast more votes for Republicans than for Democrats is not because I am a Republican but because Republican candidates more often take policy positions with which I agree. Always the choice is between candidates neither of whom hold views with which I entirely agree. Voting for the one with whom I agree the most does not commit me to agreeing with everything he or she stands for, nor does voting against a candidate preclude me from supporting that candidate’s positions with which I agree.

In other words, for most Americans the party label borne by candidates may create a rebuttable presumption about where they stand on public issues, but voter identification with one party or the other conveys nothing about a particular voter’s views on particular issues or candidates and imposes no responsibility on voters for the positions taken by candidates identifying with the same party.

As commentators on the state of American politics, Egan and others would do well to recognize that our national political parties are very loose affiliations of people with widely differing views. While some individuals fairly might be said to be born to one party or the other, the reality is that most Americans are flexible in terms of party affiliation. But whether a voter is a true blue (or red) party loyalist or a fickle party registrant, they have no responsibility for the views of candidates who choose to run for their party’s nominations.

It is absurd to contend, as Egan does, that Donald Trump is a concoction of the Republican party. Trump is his own creation and if he succeeds in selling that creation as the Republican nominee for president of the United States (a prospect less likely than finding life on Pluto) I and many others predisposed to vote for a Republican may find ourselves voting for Hillary. Only then can we fairly be held accountable for the results.