Here’s a question: When barely a quarter of voters in the most populous state in the union register as Republicans, is it possible to still consider that party electorally viable or anything remotely close to it?
The secretary of state’s office this week reported that the California Republican Party lost about 400,000 registered voters over the past four years, a decline of 8 percent. The Democrats are more or less holding steady, at around 43 percent of registered voters.
Meantime, about 500,000 more voters are unaffiliated with any party today than in 2012. Just shy of a quarter of California’s voters (24 percent) claim “no party preference.”
I’m about to become one of them.
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The reason? I’m a conservative in a party that has turned conservatism into a cartoon caricature. Truth is, I’ve been a “Republican in Name Only” for years and only remained registered out of a combination of inertia and sheer laziness. The comically inept state GOP hasn’t managed to mount a successful statewide campaign in a decade. The Republican standard-bearer in 2014 – I’ve forgotten his name and please don’t remind me of it – was a former Bush administration official who voted for Barack Obama in 2008. Good Lord, why bother?
But the biggest reason I’m dumping my party preference is Donald Trump. He isn’t the Republican nominee for president yet, but the damage is done.
Republicans have long needed a national candidate who could challenge its feckless leadership – somebody who could shake up the status quo and kick the Chamber of Commerce in the teeth. The party needed someone who could not only throw off the straitjacket of Reaganism – which served Republicans and the country very well 30 years ago when circumstances were much different – but who also could exorcise the debilitating legacy of George W. Bush.
For our sins, we got Trump.
Trump’s supporters know exactly what he is and they don’t care. He isn’t a conservative. He’s barely a Republican. He was until recently a generous donor to the Democratic Party.
He doesn’t know the difference between a collection basket and a communion plate and has famously said he has no need to repent or ask for forgiveness. Evangelicals vote for him anyway.
He’s making promises about a border wall he cannot possibly keep. Well, his supporters say, at least he’s made illegal immigration a national issue again!
Trump is vicious. He talks like a thug. A sizable chunk of his supporters are honest-to-goodness racists. Crowds love him.
Establishment Republicans are now in a blind panic. Can this madman be stopped? Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio seem to think the path to victory is to bash each other’s brains in until the weaker Cuban American keels over. Rubio said this week he won’t go out of his way to attack Trump.
There’s an old saying in the jiujitsu world: If you are reacting, you are defending, and if you are defending; you are losing. That not only sums up the Rubio campaign, that’s been the Republican Party strategy for 25 years.
Opposing Trump has become an exercise in futility. It’s all reacting and defending. No argument is possible. He’s tapped into the very real anger of a sizable minority of voters. Some Democrats even say they might vote for him.
Today’s national Republican Party resembles the Whig Party of 1850 – intellectually, politically and morally bankrupt. On the most pressing policy issues of the day – including health care, entitlements, religious liberty and national defense – the Republicans have broken their promises over and over again.
When no choice is acceptable, the only reasonable choice is to walk away. If Trump is the Republican nominee, then the Grand Old Party deserves the Whig Party’s fate. The only trouble is there’s no Abraham Lincoln waiting in the wings to build a Grand New Party.
Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.