I grew up in what you might call a genetically-Democratic family, but one in which partisan heterodoxy was not uncommon. My parents voted for Dwight D. Eisenhower twice, for Richard M. Nixon in 1960, and for the occasional Republican candidate for U.S. Senate from Maryland. But they were registered Democrats and, when I gained the franchise, it would have seemed somehow unnatural for me to register as a Republican. It would also have been stupid, in that Maryland was already en route to becoming one of the most reliably blue states on the map; and if one wanted a say in anything, it was going to be through the medium of the Democratic primaries.
In my early professional life in Seattle, I worked with and for Republican and Democratic representatives and senators and voted in a happily bipartisan way. But when I returned to Maryland in 1984, I had no hesitation about registering as a Democrat, despite admiring (and voting for) Ronald Reagan. (In fact, I haven’t cast a vote for a Democratic presidential nominee since 1980, when I voted for Jimmy Carter, but was delighted to see him defeated). Still, I told myself that I had to maintain my Democratic registration if I were to have any electoral leverage, however minor, in the Free State.
Declaring myself a Democrat, however, became impossible in principle after the 1992 Democratic National Convention. There, the last senior Democratic office-holder with whom I ever worked, Pennsylvania governor Robert Casey, was denied an opportunity to speak by the nascent Clinton Machine. Why? Because the twice-elected governor of a key state with a rich lode of Electoral College votes was ardently and intelligently pro-life. And pro-life people were heretics – misogynistic outliers to be expunged from the party’s national life – in the Democratic Party of Bill and Hillary Clinton.
So it was with a combination of relief and chagrin that I went to the appropriate county office and changed my registration, declaring myself a Republican – and getting a look from the clerk as if I’d declared myself a member of the Klan.
I now wonder if I’m about to make that journey again: not, of course, to revert to a Democratic Party that has ever more mindlessly arranged its affairs around an absolutist commitment to the sexual revolution and its relentless assault on traditional culture, but to declare myself the 21st-century equivalent, in party terms, of a stateless-person. The Democratic Party once left me. Now, the Republican Party has left me by embracing Donald Trump, a man utterly unfit by experience, intellect, or character to be President of the United States (a trifecta of disqualifiers, I hasten to add, that I would also apply to Mrs. Clinton).
I shall undoubtedly vote for Republicans down-the-ballot in November. Leading Republicans still promote an agenda of national renewal that seems to me more reflective of Catholic social doctrine than anything on offer from the Democrats. Prominent Republicans are still far more likely than prominent Democrats to defend religious freedom and to underscore the importance of the free associations of civil society in a healthy democracy, thus affirming the core Catholic social-ethical principle of subsidiarity. The pro-life agenda remains alive in the Republican Party; its lethal opposite is the declaratory policy of Democrats, ruthlessly enforced within the party. And for all that Republicans have failed in addressing the legitimate concerns of those unable to make it in a globalized economy driven by the IT revolution, I still think Republicans are more likely to come up with creative solutions to the chasm in our society between those who can prosper and those who can’t cope, than are Democrats chained to the notion that legislating further, deeper dependency on the state is the humane way forward.
But I cannot bring myself to cast a vote for Donald Trump for president, even under the rubric of playing strategic electoral defense. And while I hope the Republican Party repudiates Trumpism in the future, you’ll know where to find me if it doesn’t: among those who, taking their cues from Catholic social doctrine, will try to forge a new political instrument for advancing the truths in which we believe – and on which the future of the Republic depends.