I Ran For Senate As A Republican. Now I’ve Left The Party.


Jim Huffman Dean Emeritus, Lewis & Clark Law School
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A growing number of Republicans are declaring that they will not vote for their party’s nominee Donald Trump. They and other Republicans should take one more step – they should abandon the Republican Party, at least until it once again warrants their support. That is what I have done, six years after being the Republican nominee for United States senator from Oregon.

I have changed my voter registration from Republican to unaffiliated not because I favored a different candidate in the primaries. That’s politics. Trump won, my candidate lost – reason, perhaps, to vote for another party’s candidate in the general election, but not reason to abandon the Republican Party.

Nor have I abandoned the party because of Trump’s policy positions on some important issues. That, too, is politics. A party in which everyone agrees on every issue will not have broad enough appeal to win any elections. Again, serious policy disagreements might be reason to vote for another party’s candidate, but not reason to leave the party.

Not even Trump’s egregious behavior and lack of qualifications for the job are reasons to leave the party. From a Republican’s perspective it is tragic that primary voters have selected a candidate almost certain to lose an election that was the Republicans’ to win. But one can hope that lessons will be learned and Republican voters will regroup for the future. 

No, the reason I have cancelled my Republican registration is that the vast majority of the party’s leaders and elected officials have embraced Trump as their candidate (even if while holding their noses). They have embraced him notwithstanding his indiscriminate and unacceptable derision of other human beings and his ignorance of the core principles of American constitutionalism. A party with leadership that endorses, even implicitly, a man of Trump’s demeanor and witlessness is a party to which no self-respecting individual should lend support.

Some Republicans with reservations about Trump urge that the party and its members are nonetheless obliged to support the candidate favored by the largest number of primary voters. But representatives in a democratic republic, whether elected to public office or party leadership, are responsible to counter what James Madison called “common impulse[s] of passion.” Delegates to the Republican national convention who sought to challenge the angry, populist nomination of Trump were denied even a vote. Since the convention, most Republican leaders have urged support for the party’s nominee.

The leader of the Republican Party in my state of Oregon, Bill Currier, contends that the party has “strayed from its mission” if it does not give undivided support to the nominee. But the mission of the party cannot be to go down with an irreparably flawed, sinking ship. And even if Trump could somehow win the election, he will remain the boorish, demagogic, know-nothing he has repeatedly proven himself to be. I could catalogue the condemning evidence as others have done, but the legal principle of res ipsa loquitur (the thing speaks for itself) suffices. Trump is who he has shown himself to be.

Furthermore, Trump has demonstrated, again repeatedly, that he does not embrace or understand the core values of our constitutional republic. His declarations of actions he would take and personal constraints he would impose demonstrate an absence of appreciation or understanding of the constitutional principle of limited government in service of equal liberty. The last thing the Republican Party and the country need is a president intent on perpetuating the whatever-it-takes, monarchical governance philosophy of the Obama administration.

Many Republicans, while acknowledging Trump’s significant shortcomings, urge support of him for purely pragmatic reasons. Notable among these arguments is that a Clinton victory will assure that the Supreme Court becomes a liberal bastion for a generation or more. (For example, see Representative Mark Sanford’s op-ed in today’s New York Times.) While I agree the election of Clinton could be a disaster for the high court, the risks to the core values of our constitution would be even higher with Trump in the White House.

But comparative risks to the American polity aside, I cannot in good conscience support a candidate who has continually demonstrated himself to be devoid of good judgment and human decency. Perhaps he has been a wonderful and caring father as his children attest, but whatever credit that might warrant has been forfeited to his indiscriminate derision of other human beings. Nor can I remain affiliated with a party that embraces such a man as its candidate for president.

What will I do in the November election? I cannot vote for Hillary Clinton. She stands opposed to many of the policies and principles that led me to register and run for office as a Republican in the first place. She also suffers from unacceptable character flaws, although she can’t hold a candle to Trump on that score. So I will vote for Gary Johnson and Bill Weld, distant long shots to be sure, but at least my conscience will be clear.