I am by no means a Republican. I’m not a big fan of Liz Cheney. I don’t support many of the Republican Party stances, but it doesn’t really have any right now. I’m thinking more nostalgically. I liked Ronald Reagan when I was in college, mostly because I was wooed by his image creators, but I’ve since learned he did no right by me — or us. I’ve never voted for a Republican presidential nominee.
Having said all of that, I want a Republican Party that thrives. Does that sound paradoxical?
This week, over 100 Republicans signed on to a letter threatening to form a third party if the current Grand Old Party keeps supporting Donald Trump. I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but Donald Trump has made me miss the Republican Party.
For our democracy to survive. For bipartisanship to exist. For coalitions to come together to get things done, the United States needs two strong parties, both moored in principle and both willing to meet in the middle, when it counts, to get the job done for the American people. Right now, only one party is moored in principle, and while I wholeheartedly agree with those principles, I also know that the Democratic Party would be stronger with a viable — and sane — Republican Party.
Sure, it’s nice for us Democrats to imagine that all of our “crazy liberal, socialist, overreaching” bills could squeak through the House and Senate and be quickly signed by the president. It used to be that those terms, which wrongly describe Democratic legislation, were uttered coherently and in a more thoughtful manner by Republicans of yesteryear. But they’re too consumed now with anger, lies, and words like “fraud,” “stolen,” and “Trump.” There’s no time or place for debate about policy.
Also, it used to be that verifiable Republicans were celebrated for standing up for their party or going toward the middle for their country, i.e. U.S. Sens. William Cohen, John McCain, and Olympia Snowe. So-called Rockefeller Republicans who were celebrated for being moderate, rational, and lucid.
Now the Republican Party, or whatever it’s supposed to be called, celebrates U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz who is under investigation for allegedly having sex with an underage girl (among other things) and U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who claims Democrats and Hollywood celebrities are Satan-worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles. How do you meet someone like that in the middle?
While Rep. Cheney got the boot from her U.S. House caucus leadership post, Gaetz and Greene are getting a boost by going on a national “America First” tour. Why are they treated like royalty while Cheney is treated like trash? Because Gaetz and Greene are talking to the all-white, all red cap-clad, big lie-loving, Black- and trans-hating, unmoored disciples of MAGA and Trump. America First — a reboot of Make America Great Again. Welcome to the new, unwelcoming Republican Party.
And while the ditzy twosome is traversing the country, Arizona Republicans are recounting ballots from the 2020 presidential election that have already been counted three times and certified by the governor and state legislature. Biden won, so get over yourselves!
COVID-19 still haunts, bridges and tunnels are crumbling, oil pipelines are hacked, Black men are still being murdered by police, unemployment remains high, there’s a war in the Middle East, but rest assured, Liz Cheney is gone from leadership, Gaetz and Greene are on the road, and Arizona is relitigating a resolved election. Ah, the priorities of the Republican Party!
Out former Republican Congressman Jim Kolbe, who left the Republican Party a few years ago but remains a Republican at heart, was one of the over 100 signatories of the GOP letter that threatened a schism. I reached out to him, because as his state goes loony, and loony runs his former party, I thought he might have some answers or perspective about why the party has gone so wrong, and why we need it to go right.
“Every day I read the news and watch it, and I’m just trying to understand why this is all happening. It’s incredibly frustrating,” Kolbe said during our FaceTime call after he signed the letter. “The view of the leadership of this Republican Party is that they sincerely think that they cannot win without Trump. And it’s incredibly dangerous, because they have convinced the majority of Republican voters that Biden didn’t win the election and that the election was fraudulent. You can’t govern with this message.”
When I asked him how the House Republicans could manage with a leadership that now has exiled Cheney, Kolbe just shook his head. “Good for her,” he said. “Now that she’s no longer in the leadership, she will be free to speak her mind.
“They gave her the opportunity to be the leader of anti-Trump Republicans. If she had stayed, she would have been somewhat constrained, but no more. She will be vocal. And what’s really nuts is that she’s being replaced by someone who has a much more liberal voting record than she has.”
Cheney said that she will do whatever it takes to keep Trump from going back to the Oval Office. Does that mean a presidential run for her in 2024? “It’s too far away,” Kolbe cautioned. “And right now, if she ran today, she wouldn’t have a chance. But who knows how long this situation with Trump will play out, so anything is possible.”
Since he’s from Arizona, I had to ask Kolbe about the Republican-controlled state Senate undertaking a full hand recount and audit of the 2020 presidential election ballots and voting machines in Maricopa, the state's largest county, and all of the controversy and shenanigans around this seemingly inept process. Are there any words for what’s going on?
“It’s insane,” he said bluntly. “And the fact that there have been reports that they are planning to go out and interview and verify voters, that’s just obscene and illegal. The whole thing is a disgrace to democracy and a real embarrassment to the state of Arizona. You just wonder when all the madness will end.”
Does Kolbe think the Republican Party is at risk of losing its identity forever? “It’s certainly heading in the wrong direction. It’s losing its bearing and it has completely stepped away from the party’s set of principles,” Kolbe explained. “As a whole, there are fringe elements on both sides of the aisle, and both parties need to stop running for the exits and meet in the middle. There is just so much polarization, and it’s really scary.”
I wanted to know more about the intent of the letter Kolbe signed, along with over 100 other Republicans. Is this missive a way to form a new party that meets in the middle and ignores Trump?
“We want to do something about this situation and start to speak out and work to get things fixed,” Kolbe noted. “The plan is to start a [political action committee] and support either Republicans with principles, and if we don’t have those, support moderate and centrist Democrats or independents who are interested in governing correctly and effectively.”
For Kolbe, it’s all about saving the Republican Party for the sake of democracy. “We need a thriving two-party system in this country. I’m sad and frustrated that Republicans today have lost their way. My hope is that the party goes back and fights for the basic Republican Party issues I support; less government, lower taxes, free trade, balanced budget, an immigration policy that allows people to come into this country, and a strong national defense. In order to flourish, our country needs less polarization and more rationalization.”
John Casey is editor at large for The Advocate.