It can’t be easy.
Even if you like President Donald Trump’s policies, if you agree with his tax cuts and his judicial appointments and his attempts to build a wall at the southern U.S. border, these are difficult times for Republicans. Trump frequently violates the norms of decency and decorum and civility. He is, in summary, an awful human being.
At least that is my opinion; you might disagree. But in the name of journalistic integrity, I wanted to find out what Republicans think. What they honestly think. What they talk about with spouses and friends and trusted advisers behind closed doors. Because it is one thing to walk the tightrope between party loyalty and human decency in public; it can be quite another in private.
So, I reached out to several elected Republicans and promised to anonymously share their thoughts. Typically, The Columbian does not use unnamed sources; but we wanted officials to speak freely without concerns about repercussions from the Republican base. And there obviously is a strong base; Trump lost Clark County in the 2016 election by 0.16 percent, and he won Washington’s 3rd Congressional District.
Admittedly, I spoke with Republicans who tend to be somewhat moderate. Strident Trump supporters see his flaws as a feature, not a bug, and are unlikely to change their opinions. But among those interviewed, the consensus is that the president’s personality is insufferable.
“We are in interesting times,” said one. “It is completely different, the lack of civility, the lack of acceptance, and I don’t know if Trump caused this.”
“I think he’s hurt the Republican brand in general,” said another. “His school-yard style, the words he uses when he communicates. I don’t think he’s an accurate reflection of the party, in terms of statesmanship. It’s difficult to be a Republican in the Trump era.”
Indeed. And while there is good reason to criticize Trump or Republican leaders in Congress, there are reasonable Republicans out there. Not that abrasive behavior is limited to one party; there are clownish Democrats, as well. But only one of the major parties chose a dotard as its nominee.
“I don’t know if he stands for anything other than himself — self-aggrandizement,” one elected Republican said.
“Integrity, compassion, that’s what my vision of the party has always been, and I’m not sure it is now,” another said. “I would say there’s no home for moderate Republicans; and I would say there’s probably no home for moderate Democrats.”
Good point. And the 2020 presidential election could feature candidates who are easily demonized by the other side as extremists. But the hope is that voters will understand the need to elect somebody who is competent and civilized and can engender respect on the world stage — even if you disagree with them politically.
“Probably less proud,” one official said when asked whether they are more or less proud to be a Republican. “The lack of civility, the mannerisms, his treatment of women … There’s a part of me that says, ‘Why would you ever go down that road?’ If we stay in these times, it’s not as enjoyable.”
And it’s not as enjoyable for many Republican voters. Not that Trump is alone in diminishing the Republican brand. “I’m just disgusted how members of Congress kowtow to the guy,” one official said. “It’s disgusting; it’s a disgrace. They are not carrying out the duty of an elected official.”
All of this might seem like an excuse to bash the president. Instead, it should be viewed as the conundrum facing people who have been elected as Republicans and have faithfully served their constituents while navigating a changing party. It also should be viewed as a cloud hanging over American politics.
“It’s embarrassing to have Donald Trump as a president,” said one official, adding that they voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and will not vote for Trump next year. “My kids, they’re not going to vote for Republicans. I almost wonder if this is the last gasp of the Republican Party.”
That, in the end, might prove to be the last legacy of Donald Trump.